RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
All right. Over the years, hundreds of people left the U.S. to go fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Only 14 of them came back. Two of them are women with extraordinary and similar stories. Both say their husbands forced them to go, along with their young children. One woman has built a new life for herself in Texas. The other is jailed in Indiana. Here's NPR's Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: By her own account, Samantha Sally had a comfortable life in Elkhart, Ind., with her husband and their children. But on a family vacation to Turkey in 2015, she says her husband, Moussa Elhassani, tricked them into crossing the border into Syria. She described that fateful moment and the abuse that followed to CNN last spring in Syria.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SAMANTHA SALLY: The position I was in was to stay there with my son or watch my daughter leave with my husband. And I had to make a decision. I thought, like I said, we could just walk across the border, and we could come back again.
MYRE: Once in Syria, her husband joined the Islamic State. The nightmare that unfolded included her 10-year-old son being forced to appear in an ISIS propaganda video.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: This battle is not going to end in Raqqa or Mosul. It's going to end in your lands.
MYRE: These examples involving the wives of extremists are complicated, says Christianne Boudreau.
CHRISTIANNE BOUDREAU: In some cases, the women made a conscious decision. It was theirs and theirs alone.
MYRE: Boudreau is a Canadian who leads a group, Mothers For Life, that seeks to counter radicalization. She started it after her own son ran off to join ISIS and was killed in Syria.
BOUDREAU: In other cases, no, it's an abusive relationship. It's a very complex situation. It's very difficult to determine which of those two that it could be.
MYRE: Samantha Sally's story resonates with Tania Joya, who lives outside Dallas.
TANIA JOYA: I definitely can relate to her.
MYRE: Joya, who spoke via Skype, is British and Muslim. She moved to Texas in 2003 to marry an American convert to Islam. By 2013, they were living in Egypt with three children and a fourth on the way. Then her husband insisted they go to Syria. Joya resisted.
JOYA: Yeah, I just wasn't prepared to die for Syria. And I didn't - of course, I didn't want my children to die for Syria either.
MYRE: Her husband persisted. With great reluctance, she agreed to go for two weeks. When her husband decided to stay longer, she fled with the kids. She called U.S. authorities and asked to be allowed back in the U.S.
JOYA: Finally, they said, OK, we want you back. You can come back, you know, on the condition that you tell us everything you know.
MYRE: Joya returned to Texas, cooperated with U.S. officials and was never charged with a crime. She divorced her husband, who's still believed to be in Syria. She dated for the first time, going on match.com with a very candid profile.
JOYA: I'm looking for a husband. I have four kids. I want someone older than me. I want (laughter) (unintelligible). And my ex-husband's crazy. And I'm here. And I'm, like, applying for a green card.
MYRE: So how many guys responded to that?
JOYA: Like, 1,300. And then I got, like, top 10 most-reviewed profile of the month. So I was quite pleased about that.
MYRE: One was a man named Craig Burma whom she married in June. Wedding photos show a stylish bride in a sleeveless lemon dress, a woman transformed from the one who used to wear a traditional Islamic hijab.
JOYA: I'm just trying to rebuild my life, you know, from scratch. And it helps that I'm married.
MYRE: Happy endings are the exception for the roughly 70 Americans, mostly men, known to have traveled to Syria and Iraq. Some died on the battlefield. Of the 14 returnees to the U.S., 11 have been prosecuted, according to George Washington University's program on extremism, which brings us back to Samantha Sally, the woman from Indiana.
TOM DURKIN: I'm not a psychiatrist. But if she's not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, I'll be surprised.
MYRE: Tom Durkin is a lawyer, and he represents Sally. She spent most of the past three years in Raqqa, the Syrian city that served as the ISIS capital. She says her husband not only fought for ISIS, he bought two teenage girls as slaves and raped them in their home. She says she was also abused. She gave birth to two more children in Raqqa and now has four altogether. While largely cut off from the outside world, she had occasional contact with her family. Again, Tom Durkin.
DURKIN: She has strong family support. They're behind her all the way.
MYRE: Sally's husband was killed last year as the U.S. reduced Raqqa to rubble. The U.S. military picked up Sally and her kids from a detention camp run by a Kurdish militia and flew them to Indiana on July 24. She's now in jail, charged with lying to the FBI but not with supporting ISIS. The state of Indiana currently has custody of her kids.
DURKIN: She needs help more than she needs prosecution.
MYRE: Samantha Sally's trial is set for September. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF TOKIMONSTA'S "SMOKE AND MIRRORS")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.