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The wife of a suspected member of ISIS holds her child as she waits to be questioned after fleeing Raqqa. Photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Samantha El Hassani, an American mother who traveled with her husband and children to the Islamic State's base in Syria, was charged with lying to the FBI two weeks ago, the Department of Justice announced last month. She'll be facing trial in Indiana "at a later date."

The big picture: El Hassani and her children are just one of thousands of cases of women and minors returning to their home countries after living under ISIS' rule —  and the world still isn't quite sure what to do with them.

By the numbers

According to a new report from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King's College in London, 25% of international citizens affiliated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria were women and minors.

  • At least 730 children have been born inside the Islamic State to foreign parents.
  • Only 4% of recorded returnees are women, and 17% of returnees are minors.

These are likely underestimates. Gina Vale, co-author of the report and research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, told Axios that, because of "huge data gaps," her team has concluded that "the figures that we have are vast underestimations of potential figures." The difficulties women and minors face in leaving the Islamic State contribute to the data shortages, Vale explained.

Why it matters

There isn't much of an established process in place for what to do with the returnees. Around the world, these women and minors are facing "varying levels of accountability," Vale said — and this problem is something that "has lacked consideration until now."

  • There's "a risk that many IS orphans will become stateless and fall through the cracks of repatriation and rehabilitation efforts," per ICSR.
  • Vale told Axios it's important to assess the role women and children play in ISIS. Children as young as 5 are used in propaganda videos "as spies, executioners, combatants," and the West must acknowledge that kids may have "participated in violence."
  • While there is a security risk for some individuals who return, it needs to be examined as "an individualized issue...we cannot sensationalize this, and we can't use broad-brush generalizations," Vale said.

Countries are all approaching this differently, Vale explained. Some are stripping dual-citizen adults of citizenship. Australia is taking citizenship from minors as young as 14 years old. And some countries have a blanket policy of prosecuting all adults who return, while others are more lenient with returning women than they are men.

The bottom line

These figures give insight to broader understanding about the role of women and minors in the Islamic State which, Vale said, which has "been considerably underestimated":

"This has great implications for threat assessment from both those traveling to foreign conflict zones and then obviously the potential threat of returnees, military targeting in-theater, legal frameworks upon return and prosecution thresholds, as well as partnerships with regional and international organizations."

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Skripal poisoning suspects linked to Czech blast, as country expels 18 Russians

Combined images released by British police in 2018 of Alexander Petrov (L) and Ruslan Boshirov, who are suspected of carrying out an attack in the in the southern English city of Salisbury using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and also the2014 Czech depot explosion. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbětice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two with the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Indianapolis mass shooting suspect legally bought 2 guns, police say

Marion County Forensic Services vehicles are parked at the site of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday. Photo: Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images

The suspected gunman in this week's mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally purchased two assault rifles believed to have been used in the attack, police said late Saturday.

Of note: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's statement that Brandon Scott Hole, 19, bought the rifles last July and September comes a day after the FBI told news outlets that a "shotgun was seized" from the suspect in March 2020 after his mother raised concerns about his mental health.

U.S. and China agree to take joint climate action

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry waves as he arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace on March 10, 2021 in Paris. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.

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