Prosecutors have charged an Indiana woman whose 10-year-old son appeared in an ISIS video in Syria with providing equipment and money to the terrorist group’s fighters.
In an indictment announced by the Justice Department Thursday, prosecutors say Samantha Elhassani—a former Elkhart, Indiana, resident—conspired with two unnamed individuals in the fall of 2014 and the summer of 2015 “to provide material support and resources” to ISIS, “including funds and tactical gear.”
In July, U.S. Marshals transported Elhassani from Syria to Indiana to stand trial on charges that she lied to the FBI during an interview in Syria. Since then, her children have remained in the custody of Indiana child-welfare officials.
Elhassani was not raised a Muslim but converted to Islam after meeting her husband, Moussa Elhassani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Raqqa in 2017. In an April interview with CNN, Samantha Elhassani claimed that her spouse tricked her into traveling to ISIS-held Syria during a 2015 vacation in Turkey and held her there against her will along with her two children (a third was later born in the caliphate).
The charges announced against her Thursday, however, tell a different story. Prosecutors allege that Elhassani worked to fund and arm ISIS as early as the fall of 2014—well before she traveled to Syria.
While in Syria, Elhassani’s then-10-year-old son, Matthew, appeared in an ISIS propaganda video dubbed “The Fertile Nation 4.” Appearing under the name “Yusuf,” Matthew described his journey from the U.S. to the caliphate while reading from an off-screen script. The camera followed him walking around the bombed-out ruins of Raqqa as he threatened the U.S. government. “My message to Trump, the puppet of the Jews: Allah has promised us victory and he’s promised you defeat,” he said.
Elhassani claims that ISIS fighters forced her son to appear in the video at gunpoint and beat her when she tried to stop it. “I ended up with two broken ribs on that video. I fought. I fought,” she told CNN.
After her husband’s death, Elhassani made it out of the caliphate’s de-facto capital on the final convoy that U.S.-led coalition officials allowed to leave the city unharmed, along with other ISIS family members. Elhassani and her children were later detained by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria and held at a Syrian Democratic Forces prison camp.
Elhassani admitted to spending $10,000 of her own money to purchase two Yazidi slaves, a boy, Ayham Elias, and a teenage girl, Soad. Sinjar is home to many members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, whom ISIS considered Satan-worshippers. Members of the terror group systematically enslaved and raped Yazidi women and children, selling them off to fighters for thousands of dollars. The head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria declared that ISIS had committed acts of genocide against the Yazidi people and said that “ISIS has subjected every Yazidi woman, child or man that it has captured to the most horrific of atrocities.”
Elhassani’s husband, Moussa, brutally raped Soad in front of her. CNN later found the girl alive in a refugee camp, and she was apparently still full of affection for her former captors. “I miss you so much and I miss your children. Anything I can do to help you get out, I will do. I love you so much," she told Samantha Elhassani in a message relayed by the cable-news network.
CBS News also eventually tracked down Ayham, who was reunited with his family after fleeing to a refugee camp. Ayham appeared in the 2016 video alongside Matthew as “Abdullah from Sinjar.” He, too, expressed affection for Elhassani and buttressed her story that Matthew was forced to appear in the video at gunpoint.
Elhassani’s husband purchased another Yazidi girl with his own money and raped her, as well. In her CNN interview, Elhassani expressed no regret for participating in the slave trade and accepted no responsibility for the sexual abuse her slaves suffered at the hands of her husband. “I would never apologize for bringing those girls to my house. They had me and I had them,” she said. “I was like their mother.”
Despite her legal troubles, Elhassani has fared better than many ISIS wives left behind in the wreckage of the caliphate. Western and Middle Eastern countries have struggled with how to handle family members of ISIS fighters who joined husbands in flocking to the caliphate. Iraq has taken a harsh line with many of them. In one recent example, an Iraqi court handed down death sentences to 40 ISIS wives after perfunctory 10-minute trials.