Chechnya sends ex-IS women into schools, not jails
Mother of five Zalina Gabibulayeva says she was "tricked" into joining the jihadists in Syria five years ago. Now, repentant and repatriated to Russia's Chechnya, she goes into schools to teach others of the dangers of extremism.
Countries around the world are grappling with the question of how to treat citizens who travelled to the Islamic State "caliphate" and have since decided to return. That problem is felt particularly keenly in Russia, which has seen thousands of people leave to fight alongside jihadists in Syria, according to President Vladimir Putin.
While some Western nations have stripped IS recruits of citizenship or banned them from coming back, Russia has actively repatriated women and children – though the return of women was suspended more than a year ago over security concerns.
Liberating Mosul from "Islamic State"
What has happened in Mosul since the operation to retake the city from the so-called "Islamic State" started in October? Photo essay by Nadine Berghausen
Iraqi army discovers a mass grave: while Iraqi troops advanced further into territory held by the so called “Islamic State” in their campaign to recapture Mosul, they found a mass grave which holds about 100 bodies, many of them decapitated. AP footage shows bones and decomposed bodies dug out of the ground by a bulldozer. This Iraqi federal police officer holds a stuffed animal he found on the site
Evidence of brutality: the grave, found near the town of Hammam al-Alil near Mosul, proves to be a dark testimony to the Islamic State′s brutality. IS militants have carried out a series of massacres since seizing large areas of southern and central Iraq in 2014. This photo shows a member of the Iraqi security forces inspecting a building that was used as a prison by Islamic State militants in Hammam al-Alil
Freed from terror: these displaced Iraqi men from the Hammam al-Alil area celebrate their liberation as they return to their homes after the recapture of their village from Islamic State by Iraqi forces
Oil fields on fire: oil wells have been set ablaze by IS in an apparent response to the ongoing military offensive to drive the extremist group out of its stronghold. A military commander said more than 5,000 civilians have been evacuated from eastern parts of Mosul and taken to camps. The surprise attack showed that even while under siege, the group could still sow chaos in parts of Iraq far from its base in Mosul
What is the fight for Mosul all about? Smoke rises during clashes between peshmerga forces and IS militants in the town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul. Initially used by IS to establish their caliphate and henceforth the key source of prestige and resources, Mosul is also the base for IS′ chemical weapons operation. The ancient Assyrian city has also been a vital source of tax revenue and forced labour
The role of the Iraqi army and its allies: Iraqi special forces take cover as their unit comes under fire from an Islamic State sniper. Together with Kurdish peshmerga and Shia militias, Iraqi forces intensified fighting and moved into more densely populated areas of the city without air support from the US-led coalition due to the high risk of civilian casualties
Kurdish peshmerga: meanwhile, Kurdish peshmerga forces decided to focus on other strongholds of resistance in northern Iraq and on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, where IS initiated a campaign of violence in response to the advances of the Iraqi army towards Mosul
Fleeing from the fighting: the United Nations says over 34,000 people have been displaced from Mosul since the operation began on 17 October, with about three quarters settled in camps and the rest in host communities
Most of Russia's IS recruits came from Muslim-majority Caucasus republics such as Chechnya, the site of two bloody separatist conflicts with Moscow in the 1990s and now notorious for human rights abuses.
The republic however has welcomed in women like Gabibulayeva – with the expectation some go to work to prevent young Muslims from becoming radicalised.
"We're useful. We can tell the new generation about what happened to us, so they don't make the same mistakes we did," the 38-year-old says as her two youngest children play on the floor of her flat in regional capital Grozny.
Wearing a leopard-print khimar veil covering her head and body, she describes visiting schools or colleges a couple of times a week across Chechnya and neighbouring republic Ingushetia. There she tells young people how she fell for propaganda from the Islamic State group before her family moved to the "caliphate" and found "cruelty, horror...it had nothing to do with Islam".
Gabibulayeva was already widowed when she went to Syria with her children, but married a Macedonian there after discovering discrimination against women without a husband. Later the pair tried to escape via Iraq, where he was arrested and she was sent to a refugee camp, from which she was eventually brought back to Russia.
Gabibulayeva moved to Chechnya after receiving a suspended sentence in her native republic of Dagestan. While using former members of extremist groups in education is not unusual, analysts told journalists this was the first such schools programme they were aware of using returnees from the Islamic State.
"It's very difficult for (the women) to talk about their experience, but we get them to understand it's a way to show they repent," says Kheda Saratova, who sits on the rights council of Chechnya's authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Saratova – who manages repatriation efforts with Kadyrov and Moscow's backing – said young people were turned off by traditional lecturing about the dangers of extremism. "But when someone appears before them to say in detail how they were radicalised, what they did there, how they managed to escape...they see the real picture, the real face of this terrorist organisation."
In a video from one of the classes, another returnee's voice cracks as she describes the pain she caused her family by going to IS. "There were special groups who taught children how to fight, they treated it as a game, they taught them how to shoot," the woman tells the class of Grozny teenagers.
Saratova hopes Russian federal authorities will remove their ban on repatriating women from Syria and Iraq. The activist says around 200 women and children have already been brought back and she is planning a trip to collect more children of Russian families.
Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, director of the independent Conflict Analysis and Prevention Centre, said in some ways the initiative was a "showcase" to balance out reports of rights abuses from Chechnya. At the same time she believes the use of such personal experience "is considered to be one of the most effective ways of trying to ideologically counter terrorism."
"It's not easy to do because usually in democratic states you can't push people to speak – you have to ask for their consent and most are reluctant to do it" because of psychological difficulties, stigma or personal risk.
Fenna Keijzer of the European Union's Radicalisation Awareness Network said similar education projects in other countries tended to use the experience of people who had been longer out of extremist environments. Saratova insisted that the five women involved in the programme, which has reached around 600 young people over the last year and is seeking support to continue, took part voluntarily.