Skyping with the enemy
May 29, 2015 12:55 AM   Subscribe

That was an extremely scary article to read. A very risky undertaking that hopefully will not end badly for her.
posted by greenhornet at 1:31 AM on May 29, 2015

The conversation came to an abrupt end. I tore off the hijab and rose to my feet. I called my editor-in-chief and explained. She told me that the story had to end here. Urfa was too big a risk. Two French journalists sent to the region by a radio station had just been freed after 10 months of captivity at the hands of Isis. The next morning, we flew home.

Had not that conversation taken place, how far would she have gone for this assignment?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:32 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Short answer, no. I hope she survives the next several years.
posted by happyroach at 1:51 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, that was a pretty harrowing read. I was expecting to read that she spoke with him a couple of times on Skype, maybe learned his name and rank, and then called it quits. Did not anticipate it going as far as to involve an elaborate backstory for Melodie, the partially-executed travel plans, etcetera.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 2:00 AM on May 29, 2015

Had not that conversation taken place, how far would she have gone for this assignment?

She was just waiting for that final shoe to drop:

"You can trust me. You’ll be really well taken care of here. You’ll be important. And if you agree to marry me, I’ll treat you like a queen.”

“Don’t say anything!” Bilel ordered. “I don’t want anyone to see or hear you! You’re my jewel; you’re pure. OK? Do you understand?”

"A video call from Bilel came in. “Salaam alaikum, my darling, are you really in Amsterdam? I can’t believe it. You’ll be here soon. I’m the happiest man on Earth. I love you, my wife.”

And then the gig was up.

"Bilel’s tone changed. I’d never seen him like this before. “Do you think I’m an idiot? From now on, you’re going to shut up. I’m part of a terrorist organisation. You can’t talk to me like that. Don’t you know who I am? I command 100 soldiers every day. I haven’t even told you a quarter of the truth. I’m wanted internationally; that’s why I can’t even go to our cities in Turkey. I can only travel to Iraq. I’m 38, and you and your friend can’t bring me down. You’d better tread lightly.”

Tough guy.

I don't think there is a woman in the world that doesn't recognize this pattern and surely the journalist saw it. She bailed at just the right time.

Bilel thinks he's good at his job, but it doesn't take any skill to recruit wankers like himself and it doesn't surprise me that this is the sort of person attracted to ISIS.

And having revealed that, she didn't need anything more to report.
posted by three blind mice at 2:29 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

So... It's about ethics in terrorism?
posted by chavenet at 4:10 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

"I was disgusted. Going after a girl like Mélodie was so easy: I’d met a thousand girls like her, with limited education and guidance. They were vulnerable."

Way to frame this as a problem of those innocent girls, and the warrior priests who trick them.

Way to take away and agency in the part of girls, who may very well know what they want from interaction like these.

Yes, this story is about poorly nuanced ideas of geopolitics and how young people form their early notions of where they fit into an imperfect and unfair world.

Being taken in by convenient but flawed ideas of geopolitics is not limited to young women only.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:53 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Way to frame this as a problem of those innocent girls, and the warrior priests who trick them. Way to take away and agency in the part of girls, who may very well know what they want from interaction like these.

Yeah, the reporter's the one who took away their agency. They clearly knew full well they were signing up to be abused as sex slaves in a bombed-out hellhole.
posted by Behemoth at 7:07 AM on May 29, 2015 [11 favorites]

Society is all about modifying agency. That pretty well defines the game.

Great story - and genuine war journalism; this war reaches all the way into our homes. The packet will always get through.

I do wonder if there's work to be done by mass trolling the communication channels ISIS use to recruit the vulnerable. Not so much to take up their resources or just poisoning the well, but to run a campaign of humiliation and shame against the recruiters, so the risk to their egos becomes too great for them to want to play. Black propaganda is a tool of war, and if we are at war and receiving the stuff, I see that as an effective (and non-lethal) option, and one that would require good planning, excellent security and inspired leadership. We're supposed to be able to do those things, right?
posted by Devonian at 7:22 AM on May 29, 2015

Jesus, that was scary. I'm quailing inside for the young girls that actually got there.
posted by glasseyes at 8:18 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

She bailed at just the right time.

Uh-uh. Totally disagree. That dude KNEW what she looked like, sounded like, and where she was located ("Are you really in Amsterdam?").

She was expecting to meet some person from his crew there. Sure she was told it was going to be a woman to bring her into the fold, but it could have just been 10 dudes in 3 cars. I'm SERIOUSLY surprised that this organization didn't kidnap or kill her while they knew her location in Amsterdam.

She flew to a foreign country (NL, but still) to meet someone to bring her into a terrorist organization as a wife. I'm so happy these organizations are bumbling idiots most of the time, and thats why she's alive. I think someone fucked up somewhere by accident, and thats why we're hearing of this from HER.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:46 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Holy shit was that ballsy! I don't know if it was a good idea but she seems very brave.
I'm hoping that news organizations that greenlight projects like this know exactly what they are getting into and have very good protocols in place.
posted by savitarka at 5:15 PM on May 29, 2015

Maybe this means I've been on the internet too long-- this reads more like the next season of Homeland than a plausible story. Can it really be that easy for a foreign stranger to have contact with a high-level, wanted terrorist? Wouldn't we have already infiltrated ISIS with our mercenary crew of teenage-looking American spies? We spend billions on intrusive surveillance, but ISIS is just hanging out on Skype giving out their personal information? Details unverifiable by anyone except the newspaper's internal staff, and I can't envision a scenario where giving over 250 statements to law enforcement is plausible-- 10 meetings a day for nearly a month? Counting "threatening emails [she] forwarded to the cops" or something?
posted by Gable Oak at 5:41 PM on May 29, 2015

"From a YouTube video, I’d worked out how to scramble the IP address."
Nobody who has to write that sentence has any business playing that game. That is really stupid. And, yeah, so was the whole "travel somewhere to meet terrorists" bit.
posted by Hizonner at 8:54 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

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