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Her husband was an ISIS sniper, her son appeared in propaganda. What’s next for this American family?

What should the U.S. government do with American citizens who traveled to live among the Islamic State? Sam El Hassani is an American woman who is being held with her children by Kurdish forces in northern Syria after living in Raqqa with her husband, who was an ISIS sniper. Special correspondent and filmmaker Josh Baker reports in partnership with Frontline and the BBC.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to a story from the war in Syria against ISIS.

    Our PBS colleagues at “Frontline,” in partnership with the BBC, have been following the story of an American woman, Sam El Hassani, who lived with her children in the ISIS capital, Raqqa.

    Filmmaker Josh Baker has this first interview with Sam El Hassani, who is being held with her children by Kurdish forces in Northern Syria.

    The family’s situation raises anew the question – what should the U.S. government do with American citizens to travel to the Islamic State?

  • Josh Baker:

    This is Sam El Hassani’s husband, Mousse (ph), before he took his wife, Sam, and her children from Indiana to join ISIS.

  • Sam El Hassani:

    For five years, we had a great life. We worked together. We did everything together. He was very relaxed.

    OK, get off. Give Moussa big hug and tell him, thank you so much.

  • Child:

    Thank you so much.

  • Man:

    You’re welcome, buddy.

  • Sam El Hassani:

    About a year after we met each other, we got married. He bought me nice things. I drove a BMW. He drove a Porsche. He wore nice clothes, took very good care of himself. He was really good at kind of giving me attention and giving the kids attention.

    He was really good at it. There is not one dollar he wouldn’t spend on us. After a while, he became bored of his life, I think.

  • Josh Baker:

    Sam says that drove her husband to take the family to Turkey in 2015. He said it was a vacation, but she says he then forced her and the children over the border to join ISIS.

  • Sam El Hassani:

    From there, we ended up in Raqqa.

  • Josh Baker:

    Do you think that there’s anything you could have done more to protect the kids? Do you think there’s a point where you could have escaped?

  • Sam El Hassani:

    But you have to understand I was afraid for our lives.

  • Josh Baker:

    While in Raqqa, Sam’s son Matthew (ph) appeared in an ISIS propaganda video.

  • Child:

    My measure to Trump, the puppet of the Jews, Allah has promised us victory and he has promised you defeat. Islam is not going to end in Raqqa or Mosul. It is going to end in your land. By the will of Allah, we will have victory. So get ready, for the fighting has just begun.

  • Josh Baker:

    A lot of people will look at that video, and they will see Matthew as a threat to Americans.

  • Sam El Hassani:

    Yes.

  • Josh Baker:

    They will see a kid that knows how to use weapons, apparently, that maybe knows how to use a bomb.

  • Sam El Hassani:

    That’s the way it’s meant to look. It’s propaganda. But how can you convince somebody that sees something like that? I don’t know.

  • Josh Baker:

    Who is Matthew?

  • Sam El Hassani:

    He is my son, and he is my best friend.

  • Josh Baker:

    And what’s he like?

  • Sam El Hassani:

    He plays marbles. And I bought him a soccer ball the other day. He kicked it outside the fence. He goes up to the security guys. He talks so politely. He says, “Can you go get my ball for me, please?”

  • Josh Baker:

    Her husband, Mousse, became an ISIS fighter. He was killed Raqqa to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces last fall.

    Now Sam says she wants to stay in Syria.

  • Sam El Hassani:

    What’s going to happen whenever they go back to the U.S.? Will the government try to take my kids away from me, when I have done nothing but try to protect them, when here they give them school, they give them food, they give them everything? I will go there, I’m broke. I have nothing.

  • Josh Baker:

    Sam’s sister, Lori, in Indiana says she is trying to get the U.S. government to intervene and bring Sam and her children back home. She says her sister deserves some blame, but doesn’t think her children should suffer any further.

  • Lori:

    There should be some sort of structure. There should be a plan to help families get out of Syria.

    I mean, should people be punished for going to Syria and doing what they’re doing? Absolutely. But should we abandon them over there? No.

    I am hopeful that they will be able to come home. I am aware that Sam will most likely go to prison, but, eventually, after rehabilitation, I’m hoping the kids will come here and live with me.

    There’s a sense of urgency from the United States government to infiltrate and get the information they want. There is not a sense of urgency to save any Americans in Syria.

  • Josh Baker:

    Both the FBI and the State Department declined to comment on the family’s story.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” reporting with “Frontline” and the BBC, I’m Josh Baker.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    “Frontline” and the BBC will continue to follow this family’s story for an upcoming documentary.

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