STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One mother tried to keep her daughters from joining ISIS. She lives in Tunisia.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It's a country with a precarious new democracy - the place where the Arab Spring started in 2011.
INSKEEP: It's a country with many links to Europe.
MONTAGNE: It's also part of the Arab and Muslim worlds and is inevitably drawn toward the conflicts of the Middle East.
INSKEEP: More than 5,000 Tunisians - women as well as men - have joined militant groups abroad. It can be as easy as crossing the border from Tunisia next door into Libya. NPR's Leila Fadel spoke with a mother who wanted to keep her daughters at home.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Olfa Hamrouni sits with me in a cafe in central Tunis to recount how she lost her two oldest daughters to ISIS. Their story starts, as many stories about teenagers do, with a mother's attempt to curb her children's behavior. The older girls were getting a little rebellious - playing wild music and wearing skull-and-bones T-shirts. They'd been acting out, she says, since their father left the family with no money and no support.
OLFA HAMROUNI: (Through interpreter) After the divorce, the two girls were lost. They didn't know what to do. My oldest girl, Ghofran, she was looking for a reason to live.
FADEL: Hamrouni, the mom, she confesses that she wasn't the best parent. She hit the girls, taking out the pain of the divorce on them. And she had no money to support them. She realized none of them were coping, so she was happy when, four years ago, the oldest girl sought guidance from a religious group that proselytized from a tent in their impoverished neighborhood. Maybe faith could help them.
HAMROUNI: (Through interpreter) In 2012, we never even heard of ISIS. I thought my girls were just learning from a local preacher at a prayer tent.
FADEL: Hamrouni is devout, but her daughter's beliefs were starting to scare her. They were scolding Hamrouni about television and music in the house, saying it was forbidden. Their preacher was telling them they should fight and die in places like Syria. And they didn't know enough about their faith to know any better.
HAMROUNI: (Through interpreter) They just knew to pray and to fast in Ramadan.
FADEL: So, their mother says, they were vulnerable to extremists distorting Islam - young, uneducated, poor and forgotten. Two years later, the oldest daughter, Ghofran, was 16, and she ran away. Her mother knew it was to join ISIS because she'd been talking about it at home. Hamrouni tried to save another daughter by placing her in the hands of the authorities. But they released her, and she ran away too. Both had joined ISIS in Libya. In February, that second daughter, named Rahma, sent her a shocking text message.
HAMROUNI: (Through interpreter) I'm in Sabratha. It is very dangerous. Pray for me to be a martyr.
FADEL: There had just been a U.S. airstrike on the Libyan town Sabratha, and the target was the girl's prominent ISIS husband. He was a Tunisian man named Noureddine Chouchane, believed to be the mastermind of two attacks on Western tourists in Tunisia last year. She followed the message with a phone call.
HAMROUNI: (Through interpreter) It was the first time I heard her cry. I felt she wanted to leave them, and that she was afraid.
FADEL: But she refused to come home. Hamrouni says her two teenage daughters are now under arrest in Libya by anti-ISIS forces. And she doesn't know if she'll be able to see them again or meet the baby one of them now has. She's appeared on local TV asking for help to get the girls back and help to protect her remaining children.
HAMROUNI: (Through interpreter) I'm poor. I can't afford a psychologist, school and books. I can't afford to give my kids a life or religious education. That's why this happened.
FADEL: Her younger girls sit next to her. Taysir is only 11, and she's confused.
TAYSIR: (Speaking Arabic).
FADEL: She says her older sister showed her videos on how to load a Kalashnikov and of a child fitted out with an explosive belt to kill so-called unbelievers and go to heaven. I ask if she really believes that that's Islam.
TAYSIR: (Speaking Arabic).
FADEL: I don't know, she answers, and giggles.
AYA: (Speaking Arabic).
FADEL: The other girl is Aya. She's 13. She's depressed, and she has tried to take her own life more than once. Usually, she spends her nights in a city shelter for orphaned or poor girls. She says she knows now that ISIS is bad, but she does wonder if the group's promises of heaven through martyrdom could give her things she's never had, like toys and her own room. Her mom shakes her head.
HAMROUNI: (Through interpreter) I want them to know this is wrong. They're brainwashed.
FADEL: But without money and access to mental health care, she doesn't know what to do. If I die, Hamrouni says, I leave behind two little bombs. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Tunis.
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