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SDF Needs Our Help Now as Another Woman in Camp Hol Killed by ISIS Enforcers

As published in Homeland Security Today:

by Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci

One woman was killed and seven others were wounded in Camp Hol, Syria, where a gunfight broke out this week after ISIS enforcers tried to impose shariah upon other women in the camp.[1] Camp Hol is the largest of three family camps administered by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It houses 12,000 foreigners—4,000 women and 8,000 children of ISIS families, alongside another 60,000 Syrians and Iraqis. The overcrowded conditions occurring since the mass surrenders and captures of ISIS fighters and their family members in Hajin and Baghouz last spring are straining the capacities of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) who guard them. Numerous security incidents have occurred in recent months, creating a number of security breaches and unsafe conditions for both the detainees and the security personnel. In interviews last month in all three camps, ICSVE researchers were told about ISIS female enforcers[2] who cruelly require former ISIS women to cover themselves and refrain from criticizing the group. These ISIS enforcers met out punishments in a series of escalations, according to a YPJ security officer working in Camp Hol. The YPJ security officer also added, “They punish them first by delivering a written warning, then a knife, then kerosene in their tents, and then it varies what they do—burn their tents.” [3]

These women are afraid of no one and they believe that their ISIS male fighters, still on the loose, will be coming to their rescue and to reinstate the Caliphate. They instill fear in all, attacking guards and inmates alike, beating, biting, stabbing and setting fire to tents and killing. Just this week, they killed another woman in Camp Hol, Syria. This is the second woman to be killed there by ISIS inmates.

“One woman was killed and six others were wounded in the sector reserved for foreign women,” an official of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria told the AFP [4]. This same source said that the ISIS enforcers had set up “courts” to try their peers and had stabbed to death a woman that the camp’s guards had been trying to rescue. After the riots, 40 women from the foreigners’ section at the camp were detained. The local Kurdish news agency ANHA also reported that one ISIS woman was killed and that seven were injured and more than 50 arrested by the security forces after riots broke out over the shariah courts being held in Camp Hol.  ANHA also reported that upon the arrival of the security forces to the camp, some of the women had guns and had opened fire, creating a battle, lasting about fifteen minutes, as they chanted ISIS slogans.[5] The Telegraph also reported  that an ISIS enforcer had a gun and that the riot “broke out when a group of female ISIS supporters ordered that several other women in the foreigners’ section of al-Hol camp be given lashes for refusing to attend an informal Koranic studies class.”[6] 

That ISIS enforcers have set up shariah courts in prison is not surprising. A similar situation occurred in Camp Bucca when the first author was working there in 2006-2007.  Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS’ precursor organization, also set up shariah courts, breaking the arms and otherwise punishing those who defied them.[7]

This September, YPJ guards in Ain Issa Camp told ICSVE researchers about a charismatic ISIS female enforcer who goes around preaching ISIS propaganda to the other women, telling them that the men are soon going to reinstate the Caliphate and return for them. For most of the European women in these camps, who have long ago lost their enthusiasm for ISIS and now seem disillusioned, this is a chilling prophecy, one which they hope cannot play out.[8]  Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s October 2019 audio broadcast, provided it is authentic, seem to confirm this as an ISIS priority. He urged his followers to break the ISIS prisoners out of the camps and prisons where they are being held.

A pregnant Indonesian woman in Camp Hol was recently beaten to death by ISIS enforcers. Photos shown to ICSVE researchers by the camp officials showed her body covered with extensive dark bruises. These women who cook for themselves in the camps basically have weapons at hand, such as in the case of ISIS women who have used kitchen knives to threaten other prisoners and, in Camp Hol, to stab a security officer in the back. [9]  A Yazidi woman is also reported to have been beaten to death in Camp Hol.[10]

A YPJ female soldier who guards the foreign women in Camp Ain Issa told us about being attacked by a female ISIS enforcer who bit her arm drawing blood. “She [an ISIS wife] came from behind, here outside at this security post. The gate was open, and she came inside to beat me. She bit my arm and drew blood before I could fight her off,” the guard told us, as she rubbed her forearm, seemingly recalling the painful attack. These ISIS enforcers also shouted at her, “When the Islamic State comes back, I will put your head on one of these poles.” Her ISIS comrade’s attitude towards the guard was equally threatening, “No that’s too good for her. We have to sell her as a sex slave.” [11] 

A well-regarded male security officer taking ISIS women to the market in Camp Hol was also brutally attacked; he was stabbed in the back by one of the extremist ISIS wives, a female security commander in Camp Hol told ICSVE researchers. “When these ISIS women attacked the security forces of the camp on two different occasions, they shouted, “Do you think we are scared of bullets? We are not scared of the bullets. We know how to use guns too!” the security commander further shared. In Ain Issa, a YPJ security guard told ICSVE researchers of being attacked while conducting a routine check in the camp. The ISIS enforcers grabbed hold of her hair and beat her until other SDF guards came to her rescue. While they beat her, they shouted, “What your women (YPJ soldiers) did in al Bab, we will do the same. We are not less than them.” [12]

That ISIS women can get weapons is not inconceivable, as we were told about women having phones and trading in illicit sim cards that they somehow procure from locals. Medecins Sans Frontieres staff is reported to have treated four women in the camp for gunshot wounds. Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a member of the YPG who defeated ISIS forces in Syria earlier this year, in a Monday tweet warned of worsening conditions in Al-Hol camp, stating,  ” [conditions in the camps] are deteriorating sharply… Daesh (IS) militants have stepped up their regrouping efforts through women in the camp recently”, adding ” “This is going to be very dangerous in future unless governments take responsibility for their citizens.” [13]

This is the second killing in the camps this year indeed, and thousands of innocent children, most very young, are on a daily basis being exposed to these violent women who want to convince them to join and support ISIS. “The lack of action on al-Hol will certainly come back to haunt us,” former Syria adviser to the Pentagon Jasmine El-Gamal warns, adding, “This is no longer a disaster in the making; it is a full-blown security threat.” [14]

To date, ICSVE has interviewed over 200 former ISIS cadres, many of them wives held in the SDF administered camps, where they are housed with their small children. We find the majority of ISIS former members are disillusioned and now view ISIS as an un-Islamic, corrupt and overly brutal organization that they have no desire to keep serving.  While many Europeans fear ISIS women and their children, ICSVE researchers have been working with European justice and security officials to try to repatriate ISIS men and women to have them face justice at home. Arguably, some should rightly be feared, as they continue to be violent. However, the majority are exhausted and ready to return to their home countries and face justice. In the camps, most of the women are living in fear, and their children, who are innocent of any crimes other than being taken to or born in ISIS, are subject to violent enforcers and ISIS propaganda on a daily basis.  The children need to be brought to safety and the SDF needs to be relieved of this burden.  All of them need to be brought home, where their respective justice systems can deal with them appropriately.

Reference for this Article

Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (October 1, 2019). Another Woman killed in Camp Hol, Syria by ISIS Enforcers: The Syrian Democratic Forces Need Our Assistance. Homeland Security Today.

Author Biographies

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=196) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing counter narratives from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). He has conducted primary research on ISIS and al Shabaab, as well as trained key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, education, and other CT and CVE professionals on the use of counter-narrative materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally. He has conducted fieldwork in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, mostly recently in Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Disengagement from terrorism, violent extremist and terrorist group media communication strategy and information security, messaging and counter-messaging, and the strengthening of resilience to violent extremism and terrorism through the application of the rule of law represent some areas of research interests. He holds a doctorate in Public Policy and Administration, with a focus on Homeland Security Policy, from Walden University. He obtained his M.A. degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University and a B.A. degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Dominican University. He is also an adjunct professor teaching counterterrorism and CVE courses at Nichols College. 


[1] Wladimir van Wilgenberg (October 1, 2010) One woman killed after ISIS-motivated riot in Syria’s al-Hol camp. Kurdistan24.

[2] Speckhard, A., & Shajkovci, A. (2019). “Waiting for the return of Islamic State caliphate among ISIS enforcers in al Hol, Ain Issa, and Roj Camps in Syria.” ICSVE,

[3] Ibid.

[4] 24France. (2019). “Woman killed, dozens detained in Syria camp: Kurd source,”

[5] ANHA. (2019). “One ISIS woman killed, 7 injured, 50 women arrested in al-Hol camp,”

[6] The Telegraph. (2019). “Female Isil supporter killed in row over makeshift Sharia court in Syrian camp,”

[7] Speckhard, Anne (2012). Talking to Terrorists: Understanding Psychosocial Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers and “Martyrs”.  Advances Press,

[8] Speckhard, A., & Shajkovci, A. “Waiting for the return of the Islamic State Caliphate among ISIS enforcers in al Hol, Ain Issa and Roj Camps in Syria.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Eisa Saadu, a Yazidi activist reported that a kidnapped Yazidi girl in her twenties was beaten to death by ISIS women inside the al Hol camp after she tried to escape from them. See, for example,

[11] Speckhard, A., & Shajkovci, A. “Waiting for the return of the Islamic State Caliphate among ISIS enforcers in al Hol, Ain Issa and Roj Camps in Syria.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] Dadouch, S. (2019). “Security forces respond with gunfire to protests at Syrian detention camps.” The Washington Post,

[14] The Telegraph. “Female Isil supporter killed in row over makeshift Sharia court in Syrian camp.”

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