American Mom Charged with Aiding Terrorists After Living Under ISIS

Moussa and Samantha El Hassani in 2013.

Moussa and Samantha El Hassani in 2013.

August 23, 2018

Prosecutors today announced more serious charges against Samantha El Hassani, an American woman who traveled to the Islamic State with her family in 2015 and who was charged with lying to the FBI last month.

El Hassani now faces a felony charge of conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS, and a charge of aiding an individual to provide material support to ISIS. The charges were filed on Aug. 22.

For the past 18 months, FRONTLINE and the BBC have been investigating El Hassani and her family’s journey for an upcoming documentary. El Hassani traveled with her husband, Moussa, their two children at the time, and one of Moussa’s brothers to the Islamic State. She fled in late 2017 after her husband was killed fighting for the terrorist group. This March, in her first interview, in a Kurdish detention camp, she told FRONTLINE and the BBC that she had been tricked into traveling into Syria.

The indictment says that El Hassani “knowingly conspired to provide material support and resources” to ISIS, which prosecutors defined as “personnel, including funds and tactical gear” to be used by the group. It said she also helped two people — identified as “Individual A” and “Individual B” — in “providing themselves as personnel to ISIS, including by procuring tactical gear and funds for their use in fighting for ISIS.”

The charges against El Hassani were unsurprising — and “relatively run-of-the-mill” when it comes to Americans who have traveled to the Islamic State, according to Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s program on extremism. The charge of providing material support for a terrorist group is broad,  and encompasses even minimal contributions to a designated group like ISIS, said Hughes, who has tracked such cases. “It can be fighting alongside it, that’s one extreme, but it’s also everything in between,” he said. “If you’re providing safe haven, or a home-cooked meal for someone in ISIS, that’s enough.”

Being the wife of the fighter, as El Hassani was, would be “more than sufficient,” he said.

Her attorney, Tom Durkin, said the charges were “wrongheaded and cruel.” “Samantha is a victim of her jihadi husband and his absurd beliefs, which she never shared, he said. “She should be receiving treatment, not incarceration and she should not be separated from her children.”

El Hassani was brought back to the U.S. in July, and transferred to law enforcement custody in Indiana, where she remains in jail awaiting trial. Her children are currently in foster care, under the supervision of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

—Joshua Baker contributed reporting.

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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