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What Happens When Islamic State 'Brides' Want To Come Home?

Currently living in Syria's al-Hol refugee camp, Islamic State recruits Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana have begged to come home to their respective countries.

The demise of IS has been heralded since the caliphate suffered major losses in Syria and Iraq, with a number of the terror group's recruits now wanting out.

Two female conscripts -- British-born Shamima Begum and American Hoda Muthana -- recently issued pleas to travel back home, stating they were "young" and "weak" when they joined the militant organisation. Begum has since had her British citizenship revoked by the UK Home Office.

Despite their reasoning "these women knew what they were doing when they joined", political sociologist Dr Joshua Roose told 10 daily.

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"It's important not to get too caught up in this idea of brainwashing," said Roose, an Australian Catholic University professor writing a paper on IS.

"It implies a distinct lack of agency by people who are going overseas. Some of these people who are going -- including the women -- are quite vicious."

Alabama-born Muthama told The Guardian she was "brainwashed" into joining Islamic State in 2014 because she was "really young and ignorant".

“I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East," she told the newspaper.

In Begum's case, the 19-year-old told the BBC that her "being a housewife and sitting at home is not helping [Islamic State] really."

Shamima Begum said she believed her "being a housewife and sitting at home is not helping [Islamic State] really." Image: BBC.

This particular burden of proof makes it difficult to prosecute many of Islamic State's female recruits, Roose said.

"If someone stayed inside and was covered in a burka or was very difficult to identify, it's almost impossible to prove that person was involved in anything illegal over there, apart from being in the zone," he said.

While women members of Islamic State often aren't as visible their male counterparts, there are those who have been charged with war crimes.

A German-born woman -- an Islamic State recruit known as Jennifer W -- faced Munich's terrorism court last year and is currently facing life in prison.

The now 27-year-old and her husband had bought a five-year-old Yazidi girl as a "slave" while living in Mosul in 2015 and the child reportedly died from thirst.

Renu Begum, eldest sister of Shamima, holds her then-missing sister's photo as she is interviewed by the media in 2015. Image: Laura Lean - WPA Pool/Getty.

"After the girl fell ill and wet her mattress, the husband of the accused chained her up outside as punishment and let the child die in agony of thirst in the scorching heat," court prosecutors said in a statement.

"The accused allowed her husband to do so and did nothing to save the girl."

The German woman was alleged to be an active member of Islamic State's morality police, which ensured "women complied with the behavioural and clothing regulations established by the terrorist organisation."

According to Roose, these stories prove that viewing Islamic State terrorism as a male issue is "missing the point".

"These women are open to the use of violence to people they consider enemies of their faith," he said.

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"If you're married to a guy like [late Australian IS recruit] Khaled Sharrouf, you have to know. You've made a conscious decision to be with that person."

During her BBC interview, Begum said she joined IS as their videos showed "fighting" but also because of "the good life they can provide you".

Roughly 10 percent of Australians who've gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State have been women, up to one in five total.

As of December 2018, the Australian Government estimated 230 Australian Muslims have travelled to Iraq or Syria to fight with IS, with up to 95 killed.

About 35-40 recruits have returned to Australia, with around 70 Australian-born children still trapped in Islamic State-controlled territories.

One of two detained French women who fled IS speaks to a reporter at al-Hol camp in Syria, February 2019. Image: BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty.

The number of IS fighters still in Iraq and Syria is estimated at 20,000-30,000, according to recent reports by the Pentagon, United Nations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

While Begum and Muthana have argued their young age joining IS should be considered, Roose said teenagers everywhere aren't exempt from the law.

"People who commit crimes when they're teenagers don't get let off the hook and the state will bring them to justice in some form.

"The challenge is, how do we hold them to account when we can't prove they've actually done anything? That's an issue facing the government, and women are no different."

Contact the author: samelia@networkten.com.au.