The Lure of Becoming a Bride of ISIS

Austrian girl

PIC SHOWS:  Interpol is searching for two Austrian teenaged girls who they believe have been tricked into going to Syria to fight for ISIS.

Samra Kesinovic, 17, and her friend Sabina Selimovic–two beautiful, young Bosnian immigrant girls who left their families in Vienna, Austria in 2014 are reported again today to have been beaten to death after being caught trying to flee the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa

Indeed the fates of those who join ISIS with wide and shining eyes, only to later get disillusioned, is not pretty and often ends in death, beatings, beheadings and more. What makes Westerners, particularly young girls, want to join ISIS?

The allure for Western girls, particularly from Europe, to join ISIS as brides emanates from a number of things. First, if they perceive discrimination and marginalization as standing in their way to finding success in Europe, ISIS is offering a new world order in which race, ethnicity and particularly being Muslim are no longer obstacles. They also offer for Western women a traditional life style, marriage, adventure, a home (taken from others of course) and even a car to be part of the bargain. Likewise when young Western women first express interest in joining they are typically swarmed and/or groomed for hours with painstaking attention paid to helping them buy into the ISIS worldview. Sadly when they get there the facts on the ground don’t match the reality and then they have to risk their lives to escape and may not be able to–facing the prospect of beatings and beheadings as a result.

ISIS in its call to the Caliphate is also offering a new world order in which the current geo-political conflicts will, according to ISIS, be resolved with everyone ultimately living as Muslim in a utopian life governed by Islamic ideals–heady stuff for the young who are disheartened by real injustices in the world and still believe in the possibility of utopias. The violence necessary to get there is dismissed by recruiters as necessary for revolutions to succeed and who point out the current level of violence that many innocent Muslims are enduring living under despotic regimes. Who will save the Muslim world from suffering they ask, if not Muslims themselves? Certainly the West is failing to do so they point out.

To counter the narrative that groups like al Qaeda and ISIS are currently selling, we need to address the conflict zones, particularly in Syria and Iraq with speedy and well-thought out political solutions, and back home we need a civil rights movement–at least in Europe–to encourage the integration of now sidelined second generation immigrant Muslim kids, to help them succeed and be able to see their futures in the West, instead of with a horrific and violent organization–whether or not it claims to be the true Islam. Then their passions to change the world and their desire to be self actualized can happen without the involvement of groups like ISIS or al Qaeda coming into the mix.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and author of Talking to TerroristsBride of ISIS: One Young Girl’s Path into Homegrown Terrorism, and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She also has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe.To see more on this topic, and to read an account based on an American girl who tried to join ISIS as a bride, see Bride of ISIS.

Taking in Refugees is not a Risk to National Security

Aylan Kurdi

Our concern should be about humanity, not terrorism

The image of the body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying facedown on a Turkish beach has the world reeling in horror. Aylan’s journey ended in death amid a growing crisis in Europe surrounding the plight of refugees pouring in from Syria. Countries across Europe are at long last stepping up to receive desperate refugees. The U.S. should do more to help.

The U.S. has resettled only about 1,500 Syrian refugees since the crisis began in 2011. Congressional opponents opposed to taking in more often cite security concerns. Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said Sunday that the U.S. should be “very careful about who we let enter this country from these war torn regions to ensure that terrorists are not coming here.”

But as a national security expert who has spent more than 20 years working alongside government defense and security experts, I know that the majority of Syrian refugees fleeing war are not using the opportunity of refugee status to embed themselves as terrorists in the West. The majority are trying to escape barrel bombs, chemical attacks, and barbaric violence, caught between the violence of a dictatorial regime and that carried out by terrorists.

They are, for the most part, much less likely to have been involved in terrorism than to have been the victims of it. In fact, refugees who become terrorists are extremely rare. There are only a small number of cases of refugees admitted into the U.S. who have been arrested on terrorism charges—the actual data shows that this is a rare phenomenon.

Refugees from Syria will be carefully vetted, and those with terrorist ties refused. Security concerns should not be a reason to turn away desperate doctors, teachers, nurses, engineers and salt-of-the-earth laborers who simply want to escape a horrific humanitarian crisis alongside their innocent children.

The world is experiencing the largest refugee population since World War II. Yet the portion of the U.S. budget going to help refugees has remained flat-lined. The entire U.S. foreign assistance budget makes up less than 1% of the federal budget and is stretched thin across a range of life-changing programs addressing issues including maternal and child health, water and sanitation development, vaccines, medicines and disease prevention, farming assistance, and children’s education. Only about an estimated 12% of the foreign assistance budget goes to humanitarian support for refugees caught in the crosshairs of war. The U.S. can do better.

After the fall of Saigon, President Gerald Ford set up an interagency task force that in one year resettled 130,000 Vietnamese refugees. In response to news reports that women and children were dying on overcrowded boats, President Carter made refugee resettlement a priority. These weren’t popular decisions, but these presidents showed moral leadership.

There has been a collective failure to halt the war in Syria. Resettlement is not the only solution, but it is a critical way the U.S. can support countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and our European allies that are hosting millions of Syrian refugees. No parent should be faced with packing their family on a clandestine journey that ends in drowning as Alyan’s did.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She served with her husband, U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Daniel Speckhard from 2007-2010 during which time a large influx of refugees made their way from Turkey to Greece. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She also has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe. Her newly released book is Bride of ISIS. Website:

This piece was published by TIME September 9, 2015

Why Ethical Psychologists Play an Important Role in Interrogations


On Aug. 7, the American Psychological Association overwhelmingly approved a sweeping ban on any involvement by psychologists in national security interrogationsconducted by the U.S. government. This ban includes even non-coercive interrogations.

The vote was a knee-jerk reaction that some members felt was sorely needed to restore the organization’s reputation after an independent investigation led by David H. Hoffman, a Chicago-based lawyer. The probe found that some association officers and other prominent psychologists shielded APA members who participated in the CIA and Pentagon’s harsh interrogation programs during the George W. Bush administration. These programs involved “soft” torture and “enhanced” interrogation techniques and allowed the government to shield itself from claims of torture by saying health providers were overseeing what was being done.

The new APA ban forbids psychologists from conducting, supervising, being in the presence of or otherwise assisting in national security interrogations for military or intelligence entities, including private contractors working on their behalf. Psychologists also may not advise on conditions of confinement insofar as these might facilitate such interrogations. Psychologists are permitted to consult with the government on broad interrogation policy but may not become involved in interrogations or consult on the specific detention conditions for detainees.

In 2006 and 2007, I worked in Iraq with Task Force 134 on a program to challenge ideologically committed Islamic extremists. The Defense Department’s Detainee Rehabilitation Program was to be applied to 20,000 detainees and 800 additional juveniles. The idea was to try to engage detainees who had been exposed to, or adhered to, militant jihadi ideology in order to redirect them to other, nonviolent solutions. The initiative challenged the militant jihadi ideological attempts to justify violence against innocents and that addressed the psychological vulnerabilities in individuals for whom these hateful terrorist ideas resonated.

Far from violating human rights, APA standards or other ethics pertaining to the treatment of prisoners and minors, I was well aware of the abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay and took extraordinary care to write the highest level of ethical care into my program. I also instilled in all the psychologists and imams I trained that our prisoners be treated with respect, care and dignity and not tricked or mistreated.

For me the APA ban is simply sidestepping responsibility for what the organization failed to do, and still has not done, in regard to the psychologists who took part in harsh interrogations or witnessed and abetted “soft” torture or so-called enhanced interrogation techniques for the U.S. military, other countries’ militaries and police, the CIA and so forth. Those psychologists should have been, and should still be, called up on ethics charges and have their APA memberships revoked. That the APA blindly allowed such ethics and human rights violations by its members is shameful, and that it continues not to address what was done is also shameful. It is also pure foolishness to tell all of us who risked our lives doing the right thing that we can no longer guide the military, the intelligence community and others who will certainly continue to use harsh techniques if not guided otherwise.

Those of us who abided by ethical guidelines and made sure that our government was provided with programs that were based in sound research and grounded in the humane treatment of other human beings, including detained prisoners, should be lauded and encouraged to continue doing so. Our military is full of ethical and well-educated psychologists, and it hires people like myself who maintain the highest principles — even when the APA is sticking its head in the sand. Sticking one’s head in the sand doesn’t undo past wrongs, nor does it prevent new ones from occurring.

Banning involvement in what the government is doing is simply refusing to take a stand for what is right. Enhanced interrogation and “soft” torture are, in my opinion, ethically wrong and not useful in obtaining reliable information. Some may find times and circumstances to justify their use — others like myself won’t. The interrogation of prisoners is not wrong and is a necessary part of our continued fight against terrorism. Psychologists can, and must, continue to play an important and ethical role in guiding our governments to do the right thing.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and Bride of ISIS and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi and Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender. She has interviewed in the field and in prisons over four hundred terrorists, their close associates, family members and hostages and in 2006-2007 designed and wrote the psychological and Islamic challenge portions of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq for the U.S. Department of Defense. (This post was first published in the Washington Post, August 16th, 2015.)

Probing into the Mind of the Chattanooga Attacker for Clues on his path to Violent Extremism


Just as Ramadan is ending—a time when ISIS had called for an increase in terror attacks—one has occurred in Chattanooga. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a naturalized citizen of the U.S., born in Kuwait and also carrying Jordanian citizenship carried out what appears to be an ISIS inspired, active shooter attack at two military recruiting centers on July 16, 2015. Abdulazeez who had won awards for high grades in high school, was a 2012 electrical engineering graduate from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and well liked in his community appeared an unlikely candidate for terrorism.

Abdulazeez, however fired from what a witness called a high-powered rifle out of a silver Mustang into a military recruiting center in a Chattanooga strip shopping mall. He then carried on to another military facility operated by the U.S. Navy where he shot and killed four Marines and injured at least two others. The actual weapon was according to law enforcement officers an AK-47 style rifle and Abdulazeez was also carrying thirty-round magazines when he opened fire. The silver Mustang turned out to be rented.

An ISIS affiliated account tweeted about the shooting around the same time as the shooting was occurring. The tweet read “O Americans Dogs soon YOU Will see wonders #Cahttanooga #USA #ISIS”. This follows a similar pattern to the tweet sent out moments before the ISIS-inspired attacks on the “Draw Muhammad” event in Garland, Texas last May. The time stamp on the Chattanooga tweet is under dispute, but it looks as though there may have been some foreknowledge of his attack.

Abdulazeez was like many recent “stay and act in place” lone wolf attackers a “clean skin”—meaning he was not previously known to law enforcement as a potential violent extremist. He may or may not have been directed by ISIS, and simply self-radicalized online, like many ISIS followers now do. All of the ingredients of the lethal cocktail of terrorism that I identified in my book, Talking to Terrorists, based upon interviews with over four hundred terrorists and their family members and close associates are all present 24/7 nowadays over the Internet—the group, its ideology and social support are all there readily available to hook in a vulnerable person to move him along the terrorist trajectory, while no one suspects a thing.

What were Abdulazeez’s possible vulnerabilities to radicalization and resonating to a hateful ideology such as ISIS propagates? Well first off, it appears Abdulazeez grew up under the influence of, and witnessing, violence.

According to the Chattanoogan, Abdulazeez’s father, Youssuf Saed Abdulazeez was a violent abuser. Court papers document that he repeatedly beat his wife, Rasmia in front of their five children. Her complaint states that Youssuf, who is a city of Chattanooga public works employee, repeatedly beat her, once so badly that she went to a crisis center. It also claimed sexual assault while the children were present in the home and that Youssuf planned to take a second wife back in their native home of Palestine. Rasmia sued her husband for divorce in February of 2009 but like many victims of domestic abuse, later withdrew her request.

The complaint also said that Youssuf beat his children as well “striking and beating them without provocation or justification” and that he was verbally abusive to his wife in front of the children and to them as well. It also documented that Youssuf, like many domestic abusers, controlled all the money and property in the family. The abuse was bad enough that Rasmia’s brothers flew in from Kuwait and Washington, D.C., but they apparently could not stop his abuse, as the complaint documented their visits only made Youssuf more abusive and that he sexually abused Rasmia again after her brother from Washington, D.C. visited.

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, twenty-four-years old at the time of the attack would have been eighteen in 2009 when his mother’s request for divorce was withdrawn. So he was a minor during the times written about in the complaint and clearly grew up witnessing what appears to be horrific scenes of family violence. Psychologists know that as young sons grow up powerlessly witnessing the abuse of their mother at the hands of their father an inner rage boils and often it boils over in late adolescence—often when the son stands up to his father and threatens violence if he doesn’t stop. Likely, Abdulazeez was wrestling with shame, humiliation and anger over seeing his mother beaten and humiliated by his father and the children also being included in the abuse—according to the complaint.

Perhaps he turned to alcohol or drugs to numb out that pain. Clearly he was showing troubles with mind-altering substances as Abdulazeez was arrested April 21, 2015 in Hamilton, Tennessee for driving under the influence. He was scheduled to appear in court later this month on that charge. That would lead to more shame as Muslims are not supposed to drink, and during Ramadan he would likely be atoning for that and trying to clean up his act. Abdulazeez admitted to the police officer of having being around friends who were drinking and smoking weed and he accounted for crushed white powder under his nose as crushed caffeine pills that he claimed having snorted. He refused blood testing. Abdulazeez was interestingly living back at home at the time of his attacks.

On July 18, the Abdualzeez family released a statement saying that Muhammad struggled for years with depression. As with all active shooter attacks, he likely also expected to be killed—and was thus aiming for suicide (by cop) if not “martyrdom” in his action.

Abdulazeez was, according to the divorce filing document, of Palestinian origins and it appears his family had gone through what many Palestinians have—moving from place to place and living without a homeland. Nidal Hassan the military psychiatrist who became an active shooter attacking his base in Texas in protest of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was also of Palestinian origin. Palestinians often feel affinity with the collective struggle to establish a Palestinian state and we still don’t know if Abdulazeez was exposed to relatives, friends and rhetoric supportive of terrorism—but it would be more likely given his heritage.

Abdulazeez would have been in his teens during the Second Intifada and may have, like many of Palestinian origins, believed that suicide terrorism was the only choice for standing up to the might of the Israeli Defense Forces. That would have made him vulnerable to at a later date buying into the al Qaeda and ISIS narrative that Muslims, their land and even Islam itself is under attack. And those feelings might have intensified when the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and now when ISIS declared their caliphate while receiving military air strikes from the U.S. and other Western powers. He certainly would have been aware of the recent Israeli poundings in Gaza. His father was also briefly on terrorist watch list for giving charity to a terrorist related organization affiliated with Palestinians in Nablus and the West Bank. His case was subsequently closed.  Palestinian groups have for the most part resisted infiltration from al Qaeda and ISIS, but these groups constantly try to gain a foothold among Palestinians and often use their case as an example to further their violent narrative and call for all Muslims to join jihad.

Abdulazeez appears sensitive about his Muslim identity and unsure about belonging to his new country. In high school he put the following quote next to his photo in the yearbook: “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?” Abdulazeez’s sister, Yasmeen recalls being harassed for taking Muslim holidays off and wearing a headscarf, once being refused the right to take part in a volleyball match by a referee who objected to her headscarf.

According to the SITE Intelligence Group, Abdulazeez kept a blog where he posted on July 13th that “life is short and bitter” and that Muslims should not let “the opportunity to submit to Allah … pass you by.” The New York Times notes that Abdualzeez also only recently grew his beard and that he started regular Friday worship at the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga only in the last two to three months.

Abdulazeez visited Jordan in 2014 and Kuwait and Jordan in 2010, both times when he may have crossed paths with violent extremists and have had the plight of Palestinians, Iraqis, and others brought more into focus and in a way sympathetic to groups like ISIS.

Abdulazeez had guns according to a friend and would shoot as a hobby, although friends and neighbors remember him as a “good kid” and not as an angry or threatening persona. One friend claims Abdulazeez changed dramatically after his travels to the Middle East.

It is still uncertain how and when Abdulazeez began radicalizing and decided to carry out an attack and if he was inspired by ISIS, but it is looking that way. Chillingly, Abdulazeez is reported to have worked at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio for ten days in 2013, as an electrical engineer right outside the reactor. FirstPower said he left because he did not have the minimum requirements to remain employed. With that in mind we may have to be thankful that Abdulazeez didn’t do far more damage than kill four innocent Marines, which in itself is a horrible tragedy.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and  Bride of ISIS and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi and Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender.  She had interviewed in the field and in prisons over four hundred terrorists, their close associates, family members and hostages. Website:

Lifting the U.S. Military Transgender Service Ban: Lessons from the IDF


In September 2011, U.S. military policy finally caught up to current scientific views and repealed its military policy of banning LGBT members from service. Despite these forward strides, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) did not end the prohibition on transgender service in the U.S. military. This is because the military medical code still labels “transsexualism” and “transvestism” as disqualifying “psychosexual” conditions for military service, although finally that will be changing with the Pentagon’s announcement that it will be lifting its ban on transgender military service. For those with any doubts that this was a good decision they have only to look to Israel.

Chris in Afghanistan in gear

(Kristin Beck serving in Afghanistan as Chris Beck in the U.S. Navy SEALs)

Israel is one of the United States’ closest allies and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is considered by many as one of the fiercest and best-prepared militaries in the world. The IDF has faced decades of serious threat from neighboring countries, fought in numerous wars and border skirmishes, and routinely runs security operations in the Palestinian occupied territories. Because of the constant threat to Israeli security, the IDF is required to be in a constant state of readiness.

Yet, the IDF has for more than a decade allowed transgender service with no apparent loss of military readiness. In 2014, my Israeli colleague, Reuven Paz and I, with funding from the Palm Center, conducted interviews to examine the practice of allowing transgender individuals to serve in the Israeli military and compare how the IDF’s stance toward transgender service is nearly the polar opposite of the U.S. military’s stance.

Our report, based on six in-depth interviews of experts on the subject both inside and outside the IDF: two in the IDF leadership—including the spokesman’s office; two transgender individuals who served in the IDF, and two professionals who serve transgender clientele—before, during and after their IDF service gave insights into how the IDF deals successfully with transgender individuals. In our interviews we found that the effects of allowing transgender service in the IDF had no negative effects upon military unit cohesion, morale and military readiness and we made recommendations for how the U.S. military may be able to benefit, as Israel has, from accepting transgender service.

We found that the IDF’s policy reflects a much more accepting cultural norm toward gender identity differences, demonstrating both the willingness and successful accommodation of transgender individuals. Since 1998 transgender individuals have been successfully serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Up until recently transgender persons could opt out of enlisting or be discharged simply on the basis of being transgender, with the excuse of psychological distress. Now however, being transgender has become such a non-issue in the Israel Defense Forces that everyone who is drafted—no matter what their gender identity issues are—is expected to serve.

Transgender issues and the need to transition are accommodated inside the IDF sensitively and without compromise to military readiness, morale or unit cohesiveness. Clearly the IDF, one of the fiercest and most capable militaries in the world, has found solutions to the transgender service issue that the U.S. military might also want to consider. Therefore we were pleased to learn this week that the U.S. military will soon also lift its ban on transgender service. It’s about time.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and Bride of ISIS and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi and Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender. Website:

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ISIS, Mental Illness and Stopping “Stay and Act in Place” Lone Wolf Attacks

pressure cooker

A mentally ill person has once again been recruited into plotting for an ISIS “stay and act in place” attack in the West. This time it’s the mentally ill son of a Boston policeman, Alexander Ciccolo who was allegedly plotting to execute college students.

Mental illness, one should be clear, is not the same as impaired intellectual capacity. Ciccolo, it appears, was smart enough to study online how to collect and possibly prepare to make a bomb out of a pressure cooker (bought at Walmart). He had the pressure cooker, a variety of chemicals, two partially constructed Molotov cocktails, and an alarm clock alongside “attack planning papers” and his “jihad” paperwork”—all items found in his apartment when police searched it—according to an FBI affidavit released on July 13, 2015

Ciccolo had taken the name Abu Ali al-Amriki and was according to his neighbors a recent convert to Islam. According to the FBI, Ciccolo was first planning to make a pressure cooker bomb to conduct a terrorist attack on civilians, members of the U.S. military and law enforcement personnel. Later he changed his terrorist target to a university town and planned to attack, according to the FBI affidavit “college dorms and cafeteria, to include executions of students, which would be broadcast live via the Internet”.

Ciccolo was caught in an FBI undercover sting operation. The son of a Boston police captain who had responded to the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, Alexander Ciccolo told the FBI undercover operative that he was inspired by those attacks and like the Tsarnaev brothers also planned to use a pressure cooker bomb. Ciccolo’s father was aware that his son was not well and alerted counter-terrorism authorities a year ago that his son “was going off the deep end” and “spouting extremist jihadist sympathies.”

Indeed, according to the FBI, Ciccolo praised the recently ISIS inspired Tunisian terrorist attack on Westerners at a beach resort calling it “awesome” and “impressive”. He also posted on his social media, according to the FBI affidavit, a picture of a dead American solider with the caption “Thank you Islamic State. Now we won’t have to deal with these kafir back in America,” (kafir referring to unbelievers).

Alexander Ciccolo told the FBI undercover operative that he was “not afraid to died for the cause”. He referred to America as “Satan” and “disgusting. As he planned for his attack he bragged to the undercover agent saying, “Allahu Akbar!!! I got the pressure cooker today.”

FBI director, James Comey announced last week that agents had arrested more than ten people with suspected ties to ISIS, foiling planned Fourth of July attacks. Officials now admit that Ciccolo’s arrest was one of these. Twenty-three-year old Ciccolo of Adams, Massachusetts was arrested on July 4th after buying two pistols and two rifles from an undercover FBI informant.

We see from this attack and others a pattern in ISIS “stay and act in place” plots that ISIS is more than happy to recruit the mentally ill into action. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau a gunman who shot a guard at a national memorial and went into the Ottawa Parliament attempting to shoot Parliamentarians was a habitual criminal offender, drug addict and mentally unstable.In June, the New York Times exposed the case of a mentally impaired girl that ISIS recruiters targeted.  Ciccolo, also was mentally ill.  After his arrest he was taken to hospital for treatment where he stabbed a nurse in the head with a pen.

Likewise, this case again highlights that relatives of violent extremists are often aware that their loved ones are radicalizing and becoming dangerous. In this case it was Ciccolo’s father who alerted the FBI that his son might be dangerous and planning a jihadi attack. I recently wrote Bride of ISISinspired by the real case of Shannon Conley—a Denver girl who also attempted to join ISIS and who contemplated carrying out a VIP attack inside the United States. Her father called the FBI to stop her from leaving the country to become a jihadi bride resulting in her arrest.

As the FBI works to shift through hundreds of online braggarts, we need to remember that parents, friends and relatives often know, well before authorities, who might be readying to launch an attack. And this highlights the need for hotlines as well as imams and psychologists to be on call to offer help in disengaging a potential terrorist before he carries out an attack. This makes it far easier for relatives to make an intervention than phoning authorities.  And it might also make way for interventions other than undercover sting operations that sadly may move a sick person further into committing to terrorism only to be imprisoned for long periods afterward.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She also has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe. Her newly released book is Bride of ISIS. Website:

Why I wrote Bride of ISIS

Bride of ISIS Cover Small - June 1 2015 Final Version

I was completely fascinated when I first heard about Shannon Conley, a Colorado, white, Christian teen–the quintessential “girl next door” who decided to become an ISIS bride. Converting at age 17 she fell under the influence of Internet jihadi ideologues–Anwar al Awlaki among them. We droned him in 2011, but he lives on via the Internet, inspiring countless acts of terrorism from beyond the grave, including hers. I was intrigued with how Shannon Conley apparently fell in love with her ISIS boyfriend and what compelled her to consider becoming his bride and joining ISIS. I could imagine that a young nurse’s aid who was praised by her ISIS boyfriend could have visions of glory as a medic to the cadres–moving from bedpans to the battlefield. And love makes us all do crazy things and take risks… I was also horrified that she openly admitted to FBI agents that she had studied how to and seriously considered launching a VIP attack right inside the United States–a “stay and act in place” attack that ISIS is now getting well known for.

Unable to forget Shannon Conley I first searched for all the material I could find on her case and I attempted to interview Shannon, her family and her lawyer. Unable to gather enough information to write a nonfiction book I couldn’t let it rest so I decided to take what I know about terrorism from the more than four hundred cases of terrorists, their family members and close associates I’ve interviewed around the world and put together a composite story matching and inspired by hers. The result is Bride of ISIS.

Bride of ISIS reads like a thriller but is painstakingly end-noted and includes an author’s note that explains to the reader where every detail in the book matches the crazy reality we all live in today. I hope you like it, please remember to give it loads of stars on Amazon!

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She is author of Talking to TerroristsBride of ISIS and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 detainees and 800 juveniles.  She also has interviewed over 400 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe. Website: