Just weeks before Scotland’s independence referendum, the country joins the rest of the UK with the growing crisis of disenfranchised, and subsequently radicalized, Muslim youth. After disappearing from her Glasgow home in November 2013, 20 year-old schoolgirl Aqsa Mahmood, now known as “Umm Layth,” resurfaced in Syria apparently married to an ISIS fighter and living with other British Nationals. During a press conference on Tuesday, Mahmood’s father Muzaffar said, “[Aqsa] may believe that the jihadists of Isis are her new family, but they are not, they are simply using her.” He called her change the result of “bedroom radicalization,” referring to the influence of internet forums, blogs, and even Facebook as the source of his daughter’s metamorphosis from schoolgirl at the private Craigholme School to ISIS bride. Friends describe her as an average, fun-loving girl who enjoyed clothes, make-up and gossip. This description of a fully Western adolescent is now a common refrain among Muslim families and communities left stunned by the radicalization and subsequent departure of their youth to join ISIS.
Until this last week, Mahmood frequently communicated with other Muslims and potential converts to ISIS’s cause through social media, especially through Twitter. Her tweets include references to life as an ISIS bride, but also references to recent terror attacks: “Follow the example of your Brothers from Woolwich, Texas and Boston etc. Have no fear as Allah swt is always with the Believers.” (@ummLayth), June 27th, 2014. Her chilling 140 character call to arms was deleted with her account around September 3rd when her name and story gained national attention.
Mahmood represents a growing number of young British nationals leaving their homes to join ISIS, with an estimated 500 British-born Muslims now active in Iraq and Syria. Concerns over UK Muslims joining ISIS escalated after the murderer of James Foley in August appeared to be British.