Sally Jones, an infamous British recruiter for the Islamic State known as the ‘White Widow’, is believed to have been killed in an airstrike near Raqqa, Syria, last June. Jones rose to notoriety as the leading female recruiter for the terrorist organisation after leaving her home in Chatham, Kent with her son JoJo to join the Islamic State in 2013. Jones is believed to have been radicalised online, leaving her life as a perfume saleswoman for L’Oréal and a guitarist in an all-female rock band to take her youngest son to Syria with her to wage jihad. The mother-of-two married the infamous Junaid Hussain, a British-Pakistani hacker for the Islamic State who was listed third on the Pentagon’s “kill list”, upon arriving in Syria. Jones and Hussain are believed to have lived together in Raqqa with Hussain’s second wife, where they trained her son JoJo to join the “Cubs of the Caliphate” faction of child soldiers.
The ‘White Widow’ in a propaganda photo uploaded to her Twitter account. Source: Daily Mail.
Jones and her son JoJo were allegedly killed by a US Air Force Predator drone strike in June near the Syria-Iraq border. The Sun reportedly received information from UK associates of the CIA that Jones had been successfully targeted in the strike. However, due to the difficulty of fact checking on the ground, it is impossible to confirm whether she and her son are in fact dead. JoJo, born in December 2014, would have been 12 years old at the time of his death – he is understood to have been brainwashed and trained for combat after a propaganda video posted by IS surfaced in 2016, appearing to show him carrying out the execution of Kurdish prisoners alongside other child soldiers.
Joe Dixon pictured in a still from an IS propaganda video posted in 2016. Source: Birmingham Mail.
The death of JoJo – born Joe Dixon and renamed Hamza upon arriving in Syria – raises difficult questions about the legality of targeting the wives and children of terrorists. At the age of twelve, JoJo is too young to be legally considered a combatant; however, evidence of his committing such gruesome crimes implicate the young Briton in the global war on terror. JoJo’s death therefore places American authorities in a compromising position, whilst the air strike itself indicates the recent intensification of US military action in Syria under the Trump administration.
Major General Chip Chapman, former head of counterterrorism at the Ministry of Defence, spoke to The Guardian on the issue: “It is a difficult one because under the UN Charters he is under the age of what we would classify as a soldier. Even if he got up to really bad things, he shouldn’t have been targeted. We don’t know for sure whether he was with her or not”.
The death of Sally Jones and her son begs a broader question of the fate of the rest of the wives and children of the ever-weakening Islamic State. Human Rights Watch reports that since August 30, Iraqi authorities have detained 1,400 foreign women and children fleeing from Islamic State-controlled areas torn apart by conflict. The report, titled ISIS’s Other Victims, details how the women and children escaped from the areas recently liberated from IS control and turned themselves into the authorities, only to face human rights abuses in detention. The families of these IS fighters are being held in an overcrowded prison in Iraq, the women face torture and the death penalty whilst their children face the risk of being treated as combatants, like JoJo Dixon, rather than rehabilitated by the state. Human Rights Watch argues that it is impossible for the Iraqi authorities to provide the families of IS with a fair trial, as the political consequences of being seen to treat anyone affiliated with the terror organisation ‘well’ are far too great. The women and children are reportedly from at least ten foreign countries, including France and Germany, yet their home countries and the international community have done little to help determine their legal situation. Whilst membership to the Islamic State is a crime under Iraqi terrorism laws, Human Rights Watch points out that it is also illegal under Iraqi and international law to condemn anyone for the crimes of their spouses or parents. As a result, the wives and children of IS are caught in an indefinite limbo; whilst denied due process, it is impossible to determine precisely how many should be charged with crimes or resettled elsewhere as personal victims of the Islamic extremists.
A young girl pictured at a firearms class to defend against IS in Baghdad, Iraq. Source: Flickr.
An estimated 850 Britons alone are believed to have travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State. The membership of foreign nationals to the terrorist organisation is significant to this issue; an estimated 5,000 women have borne children with IS soldiers from foreign countries who, now that their fathers are dead or defeated, are “stigmatised, traumatised, and stateless”. The children of foreign IS members are a pressing matter of international concern – the UNHCR has a mandate to protect stateless peoples, which is precisely what these young children born into conflict are. The issue of radicalisation complicates diplomatic procedure, however, as European countries in particular fear the influx of radicalised individuals amidst the current refugee crisis. The Guardian quotes a British official as stating, “The women who chose to leave the UK and go there need to be responsible for what they did. They will not be coming home. The children, though, deserve compassion”.
The issue of children born into terrorist organisations is both a legal and a human rights one; these are young people held victim to their circumstances, and often left without means to protect themselves and seek peace, citizenship, and stability. The radicalisation of the young family members of extremist groups is a well-publicised tragedy, such as the case of JoJo Dixon. Meanwhile the mistreatment of their innocent relatives falls on deaf ears in the diplomatic circles of their parents’ countries.