Last month in Syria, Siddhartha Dhar stood in front of a banged-up yellow pickup truck, holding an assault rifle in his right hand and cradling his newborn son with his left.
Dhar’s first four children had been born in London, his native city, but his new baby, wrapped in a fuzzy brown onesie, was born in territory controlled by the Islamic State.
Someone snapped a photo of Dhar, 31, and he proudly tweeted it out as proof that he; his wife, Aisha; and their children had fled Britain and were now living in what the militants consider an Islamic caliphate that will one day reign over the world.
The arrival of the Dhar family in Syria last month represents a key strategic goal of the Islamic State: to build not just an army but a society. The group has vowed to create a nation ruled by Islamic sharia law, and its leaders and online recruiters have encouraged doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers and accountants to join them in building the institutions of a new holy land.
Entire families — fathers, mothers and children — have answered that call in numbers that have surprised and alarmed analysts who study the extremist group.
“These families believe they are doing the right thing for their children,” said Melanie Smith, a research associate at the King’s College International Center for the Study of Radicalization in London. “They think they are taking them to a kind of utopia.”
Back in London, Dhar’s younger sister, Konika Dhar, 27, said she was heartbroken when she saw the Twitter photo on her phone.
Her brother was now an armed jihadi calling himself Abu Rumaysah, who fled to Syria with his family while he was on bail in Britain after being arrested on terrorism-related charges. In his caustic tweets from Syria, he taunted the U.K.’s “shoddy security system” that had allowed him to jump bail.
But Konika Dhar still thought of her brother as “Sid,” the stylish British kid who gelled his hair, dated girls, listened to Nirvana and Linkin Park, rooted for the Arsenal soccer team, and loved to watch American action movies.
“I think he has actually forgotten Siddhartha Dhar, and he has become this other person,” she said. “I just want my brother to know it doesn’t have to be this way. He really doesn’t have to leave his life. I really miss the children; I can’t imagine not seeing them again.”
SOURCE: The Washington Post
Kevin Sullivan and Karla Adam