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Her Son died for ISIS: This British Woman wants to Work to Prevent Radicalization

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A government worker whitewashes an IS flag painted on a wall in Surakarta (Solo), Indonesia, Aug. 5, 2014. BenarNews

– by Ellen Wulfhorst

New York,November 22, 2016: – When Nicola Benyahia’s teenage son slipped away one day to join the Islamic State in Syria, the frantic mother anguished over his disappearance for months while keeping it secret from her friends and most of her family.

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“I kept it secret because of the shame of it,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We didn’t know how to answer people because we couldn’t even make sense of it ourselves. One minute we were just doing our daily life and the next day he was gone.”

Hoping to spare other families such loneliness and despair, Benyahia this week launched Families for Life, a counseling service to help cope with the complexities of radicalization.

Thousands of fighters from the West have joined the ISIS and other radical militants in Syria and Iraq, according to the New York-based Soufan Group, which provides strategic security to governments and multinational organizations.

Some 850 of those fighters and supporters went from Britain, according to authorities, and about 700 there are from France.

They include teenagers like Rasheed Benyahia who became radicalized and, aged 19, made the drastic and, in his case, irreversible decision to leave home and fight.

Families for Life will help those worried about their vulnerable children and those grappling with children they have lost to violent radicalization, said Benyahia, 46, who lives in Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city.

Her son, who was working at an engineering apprenticeship, left home on May 29, 2015, a day etched in her memory.

“That particular morning I missed him,” she said. “He used to come down and give me a quick kiss and go out the door, but that morning I was a little bit late getting up and missed him.”

The Benyahia family did not know where he was, or if he was dead or alive, until weeks later when he sent a message from Raqqa, a city in northern Syria, where the ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim Islamic State runs training camps and directs operations.

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The family corresponded with him sporadically by text and telephone in the months that followed.

WARNING SIGNS

That ended with a telephone call saying Rasheed Benyahia was killed in a drone strike on Nov. 10 last year on the border of Syria and Iraq.

Before her son left, Benyahia said she saw no signs that could have predicted his fatal move.

But now in hindsight, she said she sees the warning signs and hopes her insight and experience will help families in similarly precarious situations.

For example, her son had switched to go to a different mosque from the one his family attended, and he refused to cut his hair, she said.

He also asked her to shorten his trousers to above his ankle, which she now realizes is a style worn by some strict Muslims.

With Families for Life, Benyahia, a trained mental health counselor and therapist, also plans to work in prevention, such as speaking to school students.

But its most critical task may be helping families wrestling with feelings of shame, guilt and responsibility, she said.

Rasheed Benyahia had been convinced by someone – she still does not know who – that he was not a good Muslim if he did not join the jihadists, she said.

“He was vulnerable, and somebody swooped in,” she said.

While he was missing, she sought help from the Berlin-based German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies (GIRDS) and Mothers for Life, a global network of women who have experienced violent jihadist radicalization in their families.

There was no such support in Birmingham, she said.

The city in central England, however, was the site of a bitter controversy two years ago over allegations of a hardline Muslim conspiracy to impose extreme cultural norms and values in some schools.

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“When I speak to people and they realize I lost my son through this, they start opening up and start disclosing their concerns,” said Benyahia, who will join a panel next week on radicalization at Trust Women, an annual women’s rights and trafficking conference run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I’ve decided to fill in a gap that seems to be there.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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US Will Deploy Necessary Resources to Counter Dangerous Actions by Iran, Says General

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since the Trump administration last year withdrew from an international nuclear deal with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions

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FILE - Then-Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 4, 2018. VOA

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said Saturday that the United States would deploy the necessary resources to counter any dangerous actions by Iran, Sky News Arabia reported.

“We’re going to continue to reach out to our partners and friends in the region to ensure that we make common cause against the threat of Iran,” McKenzie, on an official visit to the Gulf region, was quoted as saying.

“I believe we’ll have the resources necessary to deter Iran from taking actions that will be dangerous,” he said, according to a transcript released by the Abu Dhabi-based channel. “We will be able to respond effectively.”

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Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops Syria in December after he said they had defeated Islamic State militants there. VOA

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since the Trump administration last year withdrew from an international nuclear deal with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions. Earlier this month, the United States blacklisted Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

Sanctions for oil purchases

Washington on Monday demanded buyers of Iranian oil stop purchases by May or face sanctions, ending six months of waivers that allowed Iran’s eight biggest buyers, most of them in Asia, to continue importing limited volumes.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and some senior military commanders have threatened to disrupt oil shipments from Gulf countries if Washington tries to strangle Tehran oil exports. McKenzie also said a reduction of U.S. troops in Syria would be done cautiously.

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Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since the Trump administration last year withdrew from an international nuclear deal with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions. VOA

“On the long term, we’re going to reduce our forces in Syria. We recognize that; that’s the guidance in which we are operating. That will be something that we will look at very carefully as we go forward,” the general said.

ALSO READ: Trump Urges Japan’s PM Abe to Produce More Vehicles in US

President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops Syria in December after he said they had defeated Islamic State militants there. In February, a senior administration official said the United States would leave about 400 U.S. troops split between two different regions of Syria.

McKenzie also said he was confident that the U.S. is going to have “a long-term presence in Iraq, focused on the counterterror mission.” (VOA)