An 8-year-old girl who was born in America and grew up under ISIS rule has reportedly been rescued from a Syrian camp and is now waiting to hear whether she can return to the United States.
Aminah Mohamad was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on December 8, 2011 to an American woman and an Iraqi father.
She has been living under ISIS rule since her parents joined the terrorist organization in 2014. After her parents’ death, Aminah sent to a Kurdish-controlled detention camp for people with ties to the Islamic State.
Aminah was rescued from the facility on July 17, Buzzfeed reports. She is now being held at a secure location in northeast Syria and is waiting confirmation that she can return to the states.
The girl’s American relatives said they hadn’t been in contact with the family and was unaware of her mother’s death, noting that they were also concerned about the status of her younger brother.
Aminah Mohamad, 8, was reportedly rescued from a Syrian camp after she was left in the care of one of her step-father’s other wives, a devout ISIS supporter
Aminah was born to Chattanooga-native Ariel Bradley, who grew up as an evangelical Christian.
Bradley, who grew up in poverty, was homeschooled by her mother with a curriculum based on the beliefs of the Pentecostal Church of God, according to the Herald-Sun. She had several gaps in her knowledge, such as not learning to read until she was a pre-teen and never obtaining a high school diploma or GED.
As she aged, Bradley grew embarrassed of her mother’s evangelism, became an atheist and denounced religion as a ‘delusion.’ She ran away from the family home around age 16 and spent the next decade bouncing between relationships, homes, and religion.
‘Not to throw her under the bus or anything, but she was definitely always looking for love, always looking for that sense of belonging,’ one friend told Buzzfeed in 2015.
‘Her life was a solar system without a star, without a sun,’ another echoed.
Bradley later committed her time to social activism, pushing for racial equality, teachers’ rights and fair housing, while also volunteering with the homeless.
Her friends claim she got tattoos, drank and smoked weed, before developing a crush on a young Muslim man she met while working at a local restaurant.
She then started dressing more modestly, made Muslim friends and wore scarves over her head, and officially converted to Islam in 2011.
‘The thing about Ariel that was just so weird was that she had a clearly segmented life,’ a friend said after Bradley joined ISIS. ‘It was like when I first met her, she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist and then a Muslim.
‘As far as I could tell it was always in relation to whatever guy she was interested in. So if she meets a guy that’s an atheist, she falls into that for a year. Then the guy leaves and she becomes somebody new and it starts all over again.
‘It seemed like whatever guy she was with, she would just crawl into his skin and kind of become him.’
Aminah’s mom, Ariel Bradley, grew up in a devout Christian household in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and converted to Islam in 2011
Bradley started talking to Yasin Mohamad on a dating website that year, and traveled to Sweden to meet him in person in December 2011. They wed during her visit.
Her friends, particularly her Muslim friends, were concerned about the arrangement. Some believed that Mohamad, a refugee from Iraq who was not a Swedish citizen, was using her to obtain American citizenship.
‘Everybody warned her and just said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, you don’t know him, you don’t know anything about his background, you don’t know his family.’ It could be a trick or something,’ a close female Muslim friend told the news outlet.
When she became pregnant, Buzzfeed reports, she returned home to give birth in her hometown, before moving back to Sweden to be with Mohamad and eventually to Syria so Bradley and Mohamad could join ISIS in 2014.
Aminah was 18-months-old when her family relocated to Syria. At the time, Bradley was pregnant with her second child, a boy.
She used social media to document her life inside, Buzzfeed reported at the time, sharing stories about her children and bemoaning the barrage of bombs as she would eat breakfast with her kids.
She reportedly wrote that she would take her kids to the park to play – an adventure that ended with the family watching ISIS propaganda.
Mohamad was reportedly killed in an airstrike in June 2015, and Bradley soon remarried Tareq Kamleh, a devout ISIS follower from Australia.
But their marriage did not last long – both Bradley and Kamleh were reportedly killed in 2018, at which point Aminah was put in the care of one of her step-father’s other wives, a Somali woman who remained devoted to the cause even as the Syrian Democratic Forces gained traction against the terrorist group and rounded up its supporters in detention camps.
Aminah was held at Camp Roj in Syria, and was reportedly rescued in a July 17 raid
A woman sits with her child on the ground at Camp Roj, where relatives of people suspected of belonging to the Islamic State (IS) group are held
In one of the Syrian detention centers, Camp Roj, a Canadian woman who had met Bradley while living under ISIS – an ideology she now opposes, said Somali women tried to hide Aminah from the Kurdish guards.
‘They knew the camp authorities were always searching for orphans,’ the Canadian woman told Buzzfeed on the condition of anonymity.
She said the Somali women lived together in the camps, and ‘all helped each other avoid being identified by the Kurds.’
They would reportedly dress Aminah up in long robes and a niqab to conceal her identity and race, since her caretaker was black and she was white, even though it is not part of the Muslim faith for children to wear naqibs.
The woman used Kurdish authorities to alert former United States diplomat Peter Galbraith, who dealt with the Kurds for the United States government and has spent the past three years trying to repatriate women and children from the detention camps, of Aminah’s condition.
Word of Galbraith’s successes spread through the camp, Buzzfeed reports, and he said that when he found out about Aminah he decided he needed to free her.
He said he ‘couldn’t just leave her there if it was possible to get her out’.
‘This is a part of the world where I’ve worked for decades,’ Galbraith said. ‘I have friendships and contacts in a part of the world where relationships are very important.’
Galbraith managed to secure the release of the Canadian woman, who is now in Iraq waiting to be repatriated to her home country, and on July 17, a team of SDF soldiers descended on the Somali enclave and retrieved Aminah, according to Buzzfeed.
It is unclear what happened in the raid.
A State Department spokesperson would not confirm to Buzzfeed whether Aminah had been rescued and whether the department was involved in her return to the United States.
But, the spokesman said, the country’s official policy is to: ‘repatriate, prosecute when appropriate, rehabilitate when possible and reintegrate their foreign terrorist fighter nationals and associated family members currently living in northeast Syria and Iraq.’
Peter Galbraith, a former United States diplomat who worked with the Kurds, has spent the past three years trying to repatriate women and children from the detention camps
Aminah was reportedly interviewed by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism following her release.
‘She clearly self-identified as Aminah and talked about her family with deep sadness,’ director Anne Speckhard told Buzzfeed, adding she ‘doesn’t have a clear context as to where she’s from.’
Speckhard said she needs ‘a safe, predictable and loving environment to replace the traumatic one [she] lived under.’
According to the Canadian woman, ‘Children in the camps have the worst start to life. They are already traumatized y losing one or more parents and growing up around violence, poverty and misery.
‘They deal with constant danger, lack of food, lack of education and their lives are simply going to waste.’
Galbraith said he wants to do whatever he can now to ensure that her new life in America will be different from the one she escaped.
He said he wants her to play with other children, attend school and ‘get the counseling and the mental health support she’s clearly going to need.’
‘My ability to do anything is limited,’ Galbraith said. ‘But I want the people who make the decisions to know where she came from and what she went through.’
Custody arrangements for orphaned children of Americans who joined terrorist organizations are handled by the individual states, Buzzfeed reports, and Aminah still has family in Chattanooga.