All three small children of a slain top Malaysian recruiter for Islamic State in Syria have perished and their detained mother wants to return home where she has to undergo a mandatory deradicalization process, a top counterterrorism official told BenarNews on Tuesday.
The children of the late Muhammad Wanndy Mohd Jedi – aged 1, 2, and 3 years old – were killed on Nov. 9, 2018, when a bomb explosion caused a portion of their house to collapse during fighting in the Syrian city of Hajin, according to Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, who heads the Malaysian police’s counter-terror branch.
This is the first time news of the children’s death – 19 months after Wanndy was killed in an airstrike – has been made public.
Their mother, Nor Mahmudah Ahmad, who survived the blast, had vowed after her husband’s death to continue in the Islamic State terror group and had married another fighter with whom she had a child.
“The only one left of her four children is the one she has with her new husband. The other three were killed in the attack [in Hajin],” Ayob said in an interview with BenarNews in Kuala Lumpur.
Hajin, a small city in northeastern Syria, was the last major town controlled by Islamic State (IS) in the country before it fell to U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in December 2018.
Nor’s family contacted Malaysian authorities in April to request that Wanndy’s widow, now married to a Belgian IS fighter, be allowed to return home from Syria where she is in detention, Ayob said.
Her new husband will not be allowed into Malaysia because he is not a citizen of the country, Ayob said.
Nor, who is from the northern state of Kedah, traveled to Syria with Wanndy in 2014 where all three of their children were born.
Wanndy was responsible for recruiting new IS members from Malaysia, and was the alleged mastermind of the first attack claimed by IS on Malaysian soil. The hand grenade attack outside a Kuala Lumpur nightclub injured eight people in June 2016.
In an interview conducted via Facebook in 2015, Wanndy told BenarNews he had no regrets about abandoning his life in Malaysia.
“I must say that I do harbor the hope of returning to Malaysia, but it is not my priority as my focus now is to stay here and fight, to achieve my dream of defending the IS,” he said at the time.
Wanndy was killed in a drone strike in Raqqa, Syria, on April 29, 2017, the Malaysian government confirmed about two weeks later. In a Facebook posting later that year, Nor vowed to carry on his efforts in Syria.
Nor’s family has prayed for her return.
As early as October 2015, Ahmad Hussin, Nor’s father, said he hardly knew his militant son-in-law and lost touch with the couple when they left for Syria.
“Over there, they are staring at death day in and day out. As a father, of course, I am deeply concerned for her safety,” Ahmad told BenarNews at the time.
Malaysians in Syria
Ayob said Nor was one of 39 Malaysians being held in Syria for alleged involvement in terror-related activities in the country, who have contacted their families and authorities seeking to return home.
In October 2018, authorities announced the return of a Malaysian woman and her two children from Syria, calling it the government’s first attempt in efforts to deradicalize Malaysians wanting to return from the war-torn country.
The woman in her 30s was identified as “Aisyah.” Her husband, an IS fighter who was influenced by Wanndy through Facebook, died in an attack in Syria, according to authorities.
Since 2013 as many as 116 Malaysians traveled to Syria to join IS. Of those, 40 were killed, 11 returned home and 65 remain, police data shows.
Ayob said Nor and others, if they returned, would be monitored by the counter-terror unit for an unspecified period for assessment. During the assessment, they would attend sessions with counselors and religious classes before they can be released to their families.
“Only women and children will go through the special rehab program that we have for returnees,” Ayob said. “If there is evidence they have serious involvement in IS, they can be charged in court. As for the male returnees, they will definitely be brought to court.”
Once they complete the program, women and children with no direct involvement with IS would be released and monitored, the senior police official said.
‘Teach them a lesson’
Security analyst Ahmad Ghazali Abu Hassan, a retired university professor, believes the government should take a firm stand and not allow Malaysian citizens who went to Syria because of links to IS to return home.
“We need to teach them a lesson. I don’t agree that we should take them back,” he told BenarNews.
He said they were eager to return to enjoy the comfort of food and shelter. “But do they feel remorse? No.”
He cited the example of Britain which this year revoked the nationality of “Jihadi bride” Shamima Begum, who left London to join the Islamic State in 2015 at the age of 15.
Another analyst disagreed.
“We cannot just leave them like that. It is not the best option in the long term. It is also against human rights,” said Ahmad El Muhammady of Malaysian International Islamic University.
He said those who return could be put through several phases of rehabilitation. The first phase would be where authorities extract information about IS to share with international foreign intelligence agencies such as Interpol, the FBI or CIA.
“We can also do ideological profiling and see to what extent they are exposed,” he told BenarNews. “How they think, how they see things and what experiences they have.
“It is because some go there not to wage war but to live under the caliphate,” he said. “The role of civil society is to help those who returned home to adjust in the community. If we can do all this, the chances of them retaliating are low.”