Tania Choudhury, 33, remembers how she grew up in London. Aged 17, she went to school after the September 11 attacks and told a friend "Isn't it dreadful what happened", to which she replied: "Is it really?" "At that point I became really jihadi hardcore," she said in an interview. Years later, she wed jihadi John Georgelas. Her road to Islamic extremism was partially a retaliation against her awful neighbor.
"I faced a lot of racism," said Tania, who was one of five children of her British-Bangladeshi parents raised in Harrow, North West London. “We had bad neighbours, they would smash our windows, but generally I just felt like an outsider. I was looking for a way to retaliate.” After 9/11, Tania started going to anti-British rallies as well as signing up in a forum to meet like-minded people.
One of such people was John Georgelas, an American and the son of former US military doctor Colonel Timothy Georgelas. A rebellious youth who had gone into hard drugs before converting to radical Islam, John shared with Tania his dream of Muslim caliphate. They fell in love and "fantasized about becoming a family of itinerant holy warriors, a sort of Islamic version of the Von Trapps, substituting slaughter of infidels for Alpine show tunes."
They couple wed in Rochdale, Gtr Manchester, in October 2004, where they started their family. "I’ve had these children for one reason only, and that was so they could serve God as Muslims, as mujahideen," said Tania. “Our dreams were to have land of our own, raise a family and train them to be assassins or whatever, soldiers, and then eventually go join the jihad". They had three children by 2013 and were expecting the fourth.
Then, ISIS appeared in Syria and Iraq. “John wanted to go to Syria, and I said I wasn’t ready, not while the kids are small,” Tania said. However, they still went to join the jihad in August that year. They stayed in an abandoned villa of a Syrian general in the town of A’zaz. There was no running water and hardly any food - unsurprisingly, Tania and her children soon fell ill. It took several months for Tania to realize that she needs to escape the jihad.
Tania's parents-in-law helped her retreat from Syria to Turkey, then flew her to Plano, Texas, where she lives with them and her five children. She divorced and is now dating again: “I went to the dating website Match, I wrote an essay: 'I have four kids, my husband abandoned me to go become the next Osama bin Laden'. I got 1,300 replies.”
Her 44-year-old ex husband is now known as Yahya al-Bahrumi to other ISIS fighters. “He thought what he was doing was for the greater good," said Tania. “I can’t help but love him. I don’t know how to make that feeling stop.”