A German schoolgirl who joined the Islamic State terrorist group and married one of its fighters before being captured by Iraqi troops earlier this year has been briefly reunited with her mother and sister. Linda Wenzel, 17, is being held in an Iraqi prison while she awaits trial in Baghdad next month.
In an interview for German media which captured an emotional but fraught reunion with her mother, Linda said the life she had been led to believe she would have in the Isis caliphate evaporated soon after her arrival. Finding herself trapped in a house with other women and surrounded by the sound of falling bombs, she said she had asked herself: “Why, you idiot, did you come here?” Linda, from Pulsnitz in Saxony, joined Isis at the age of 15, having been groomed online and shown videos “which were so rosy – where men and their wives and children wandered together through parks … they baked bread together. It was like being in another world.” In reality, she said, she was surrounded by fighting, haunted by the jets and drones that flew over the house she shared with other women in Mosul, and forced to carry dead babies. Linda told her German interviewers she had been unhappy at school, despite being the third best in her class, and had sought another life. She had formed a friendship with a Muslim man on Facebook for whom she had converted to Islam.
One day in summer last year she left a note on the kitchen table saying: “I’ll be back on Sunday about 4pm.” She travelled via Turkey to Syria and then Iraq, and was arrested a year later by special forces in Mosul . Filthy and dazed, her hair full of dust, she was photographed by triumphant Iraqi soldiers, and the pictures went around the world. In footage of the interview, her mother, who is not named, said to her: “But we could have talked about it,” to which Linda replied: “It was not possible to talk to you. You said you wouldn’t accept that I had converted to Islam.” German sources say they would like to see the teenager returned to Germany but there is currently no extradition agreement between the two countries.
In September, the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said Linda might face the death penalty, but that would depend on what charges were laid against her by the Iraqi judiciary. There is no evidence Linda was involved in any violence. It appears she was mostly forced to undertake domestic duties as a servant to her fighter husband, who died in combat five months after they married. However, she was likely to have been part of a brigade that checked women on the streets were dressed according to the rules of the caliphate.
Those who were not were reportedly whipped on the spot by members of the brigade. Part of the evidence against Linda, which would probably play a part in any trial she might face in Germany if she was extradited, are the text messages she sent to her family. When her husband died, she wrote to her mother: “He is dead because of you, because your taxes paid for the bombs here.” She also paid tribute to Anis Amri, the Tunisian asylum seeker who drove a lorry into a Christmas market in Berlin a year ago , killing 12. One German security official told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that Germany was “not looking to roll the red carpet out” to the hundreds of women such as Linda who had joined Isis and now wanted to return, aware that she had voluntarily joined it and had shown some regret but little repentance for her decision. The official said it was possible that, on her return to Germany, Linda would seek to make contact again with the Salafist scene.
However, authorities were keen to see she received a fair trial in Iraq, and would try to intervene on a diplomatic level if it looked like she might face the death penalty. Before hugging Linda goodbye at the end of the interview, her sister said to her: “Most of all I’d like to stuff you into my suitcase, close it up and take you with me,” to which Linda replied: “I’d very much like to come with you.”