Psychiatrist reveals the grim brutality inside Islamic State
Interviews with former members of militant group indicate deep-seated psychological trauma suffered by those who were ‘made into monsters’
Psychiatrist Anne Speckhard has collected more than four hundred research interviews with jihadist extremists and their families all over the world but Islamic State (IS) is the worst of them all.
“IS is the most brutal and terrifying terrorist group to date so there is a lot more post-traumatic stress disorder and terror among the cadres from their own group,” Speckhard said in Kuala Lumpur, where she was a speaker at the IASCP Asean Security Symposium and Awards.
Speckhard recounted her interview with a young female IS defector who was tasked with biting the flesh off women who violated the militant group’s strict Islamic code.
“This girl is only 20. Her teeth would be fitted with metal and she would bite the flesh off women who violated IS’s strict Islamic code,” Speckhard said. “The women could be punished for things like not being covered up enough.”
Women have been known to die from this gruesome punishment, according to Speckhard.
“In my interview with other refugees from IS, a woman died after her breast was bitten off by Hisbah police,” she said. “She bled to death. I am not sure whether it was this 20-year-old who bit her.”
The young woman told Speckhard “she enjoyed inflicting pain on other women”. “She said it made her feel strong when she did that to other women,” Speckhard said. “I think she was quite sick. I don’t think she started out sick. I think she became sick from all the war and violence. She was only 14 when the war started and both her parents were killed.
“At first I liked her, I felt sorry for her. I thought she was a smart girl, she wanted to be a doctor. But when I heard her story of how she enjoyed inflicting pain on other people, I didn’t like her any more.”
The female defector lived in IS’s capital Raqqa in northern Syria which is being bombed by a US-led coalition in attempt to defeat IS. She told Speckhard the world never sees the bodies she has seen and she was angry – that was her reason for joining IS.
“They [IS] take young people like that and make them into monsters,” Speckhard said.
The female defector, who cannot be named for security reasons, has been married three times. All three husbands are dead from the war. Two of them died fighting for IS. She paid a smuggler to escape to Turkey
“We interviewed her in Turkey and she said she still believed in IS. She ran away from IS but still believed in them,” said Speckhard. “She needs treatment ... [for] anger, confusion, trauma. It made me really sad ... and also angry because she was part of the trauma, passing them on to other people.”
Accordingly, Speckhard believes such victims can be cured.
“Of course it can be cured but someone needs to put a stop to it [IS] and there is a need for justice to be restored, healing, forgiveness and trauma therapies applied,” said Speckhard, who is also the director for the International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism.