Former Melbourne lady Zehra Duman, one of Australia’s most well-known Islamic State brides, was freed from prison in Turkey and currently lives there with her two young children.
Despite being sentenced to roughly seven years in a Turkish prison only two months prior for being a member of the terrorist organization, Turkish courts freed Duman in November.
Duman was a dual Australian and Turkish citizen until mid-2019 when her citizenship was revoked by the Australian government due to her ties to the Islamic State extremist organization (IS).
When she made a series of social media posts ridiculing Western governments in early 2015, she became one of the most well-known Australian women living under IS.
When IS was defeated in 2019, Duman and her two small children were among the about 70 Australian women and children detained at the al-Hawl detention camp in Syria’s northeast, where she gave an interview in which she expressed her desire to return to Australia.
Duman, a dual Australian-Turkish national, received a letter from the Australian government four months later informing her that her Australian citizenship had been revoked.
“The Minister for Home Affairs has become aware of behavior as a result of which you have ceased to be an Australian citizen as a national or citizen of a country other than Australia, namely Turkey… In particular, the Minister has learned that you were working for Islamic State outside of Australia” According to the letter,
Duman left al-Hawl with the aid of smugglers shortly after but was apprehended as she reached Turkey.
A court in the southern Turkish city of Sanliurfa condemned her to six years and ten months in prison for being an ISIS member on September 21 of last year.
She did, however, appear in court in another southern Turkish city, Gaziantep, two months later, according to the ABC.
Because she is the only person capable of caring for her two daughters, Jarrah and Layla, who are under the age of six, the court consented to release her from detention for that appearance.
As a consequence, Duman, 26, is currently living with her children in an undisclosed location in Turkey on what amounts to parole.
The ABC obtained a copy of the September court decision that condemned Duman to prison.
The decision is the first time she has given detailed and direct testimony on why she traveled to Syria and what happened to her during her five-and-a-half years as an ISIS captive.
The ABC was unable to independently verify Duman’s assertions before the Turkish court, and it is unclear what Turkish officials did to check them.
According to Duman’s testimony, she was forced to remarry twice, and each of her husbands was slain in a struggle.
It further claims she was imprisoned by ISIS in early 2017 for attempting to leave the group, and that she gave birth to her two children to her second and third husbands while in Syria.
Duman testified in court that she had a terrible childhood, which included her parents’ divorce and episodes of melancholy throughout her adolescence.
She dated a boy named Mahmoud Abdullatif when she was 14, but the relationship ended, and she didn’t talk to him for years.
In her late teens, Duman began to gravitate towards Islam, and in 2014, Abdullatif, a Melbourne party boy turned fundamentalist Islamist who had traveled to Syria to join Islamic State the previous year, reached out.
“Mahmoud located me and contacted me through social media,” she claims in the court order.
“Mahmoud was well aware that I am naive and had had a difficult childhood. ‘I’m going to offer you a great life,’ Mahmoud promised. I had faith in Mahmoud.”
In late 2014, at the age of 19, she snuck away from her family and traveled to Turkey and then Syria.
She was transported into Islamic State territory in Syria by Abu Bakr and placed in one of the group’s homes for unmarried women until someone decides to marry them.
“My phone was taken from me. My passport was taken from me. I was terrified, “”Duman” stated.
Abdullatif picked her up from her home after a month and drove her to Raqqa, where they married.
They shared a complex with several of Abdullatif’s Australian ISIS comrades, including famed Sydney-born ISIS fighter Khaled Sharrouf, also known as Abu Zarqawi in Syria.
Abdullatif was murdered in an airstrike a month later, in January 2015.
Following Abdullatif’s death, one of his acquaintances, identified as Ebuzerkavi in the court document, stated that she would have to make a tough decision.
“He expressed his desire to marry me, but I declined. He was a jerk to me,” she stated.
“Later, this individual and his family drove me to Mosul, Iraq. ‘You either marry me or marry my buddy,’ this individual remarked after my period of Iddah (mourning) was ended “”Duman” said.
Iddah is a period of time during which Muslim women are not allowed to remarry following a divorce or the death of their husband.
Duman opted to marry Ebuzerkavi’s companion, Nedol, according to the document and became pregnant with him. She said that Nedol was murdered in an airstrike in 2016.
Duman returned to Syria after the death of her second husband, where she gave birth to her first child, Jarrah.
“ISIS abandoned me on the street,” she explained.
Duman attempted to leave ISIS with the aid of smugglers when Jarrah was seven months old, but Turkish officials deceived her and instead delivered her to ISIS, who imprisoned her for attempting to leave.
She informed the court, “I was in prison for three months.”
“They mistook me for a spy and attempted to assassinate me.”
Then, in the jail, an Arab-Australian guy named Baran approached her and made her an offer.
“[He] stated to me that he could get me out of jail if I agreed to marry him,” she explained.
“I was also forbidden from using the internet for the rest of my life. I accepted it, we married, and I became pregnant as a result. My plan was to flee once more.”
She gave birth to her second child, Layla, in late 2018, and then Baran was killed in combat in January 2019.
By March 2019, Islamic State had been defeated, and Duman and her two small children were detained at the al-Hawl prison camp.
She paid smugglers to transport her to the Turkish border crossing at Tel Abyad in northern Syria when her Australian citizenship was revoked, where she was caught by Turkish police and later convicted of being a “member of an armed terrorist organization,” a reference to Islamic State.
Turkish criminal courts often imprison anyone who lived under ISIS for being a member of the organization – this does not necessarily imply the individual fought for the organization or served in its bureaucracy, but it does imply they lived under them.
There is no indication in the ruling that Duman was a member of the gang. It also documents Duman’s repeated denials that she had any official ties to ISIS other than residing in ISIS-controlled territory.
According to the ruling, Turkish officials began investigating Duman shortly after she left Australia in late 2014 when her family contacted a distant relative who worked as a Turkish counter-terrorism official.
Women in Australia are still at risk.
Duman filed a High Court appeal to the Australian government’s decision to revoke her citizenship in April of last year. Since October, the matter has been on pause.
The Australian citizenship of dual nationals is automatically revoked if they “acted inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia, by engaging in terrorism-related conduct, or if they fought for, or were in the service of, a declared terrorist organization overseas,” according to the Department of Home Affairs.
Duman’s freedom in Turkey contrasts sharply with the plight of at least 63 Australian women and children who have been held in detention centers in Syria’s northeast despite repeated pleas to return home, where some may face lengthy prison sentences.
Kamalle Dabboussy, the father of one of the women and three children kept in Syria, expressed worry that Duman, who the Australian government had sanctioned, was now free in Turkey, but his family and other Australian women and children who followed the government’s instructions were stuck.
“[Duman] is free, and it appears that the women that the government cares less about, if at all, are the ones who are successfully punished.”
Duman, a third-generation Australian until her citizenship was revoked, is one of roughly a dozen Australians, including two women, whose citizenship has been revoked since 2015 due to their ties to ISIS.
The government has only revoked the citizenship of dual nationals or persons who were allegedly entitled to citizenship in another country, according to the administration.
People who solely have Australian citizenship cannot be removed of their citizenship since they would be stateless.
Duman is also one of a number of Australians and former Australians who have been apprehended while fleeing Syria and accused by the Turkish authorities for claimed ties to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The presence in Turkish cells of Mohamed Zuhbi, a Sydney man wanted by the FBI, and Suhayra Aden, a Melbourne resident and New Zealand citizen, was previously exposed by the ABC.
Others are being incarcerated in Turkish prisons, including Neil Prakash, a Melbourne man who was apprehended in Turkey in 2016 after appearing in an Islamic State propaganda film.
Another Australian, Queenslander Agim Ajazi, was deported to Australia by Turkish officials in December 2019.
It comes only a month after the Turkish ambassador to Australia urged Canberra to assist in the coordination of the repatriation of Australians detained in Turkey for ISIS-related offenses.
Turkey also repatriated Zuhbi to Australia earlier this month.
The ABC was unable to contact Duman’s family for comment despite several attempts.