The Children of ISIS
On the day he planned to make his sacred journey, or hijra, to the Islamic State, 19-year-old Mohammed Hamzah Khan woke up before dawn at his house in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois, and walked to the nearby mosque to pray. It was Saturday, October 4th, 2014, an unusually cold morning, though Hamzah, a slender young man with a trimmed black beard, was dressed for warmer weather in jeans, boots and a gray sweatshirt. By sunset, he’d be gone for good: leaving his parents, his friends, his country and all he knew for an unknown future in the “blessed land of Shaam,” as he called Syria. He would be taking his teenage brother and sister with him. Allahu Akbar, he prayed with the men in his family, and tried to banish his doubts: “God is great.”
Upstairs in her bedroom in the Khans’ small two-story house, Hamzah’s 17–year-old sister, Mariyam*, finished her own prayers. Ameen. Then, dressed in a long tunic and flowing pants, she wrapped a dark head scarf around her wavy black hair and waited for her brothers to come home. A delicate girl, Mariyam has flashing dark eyes, perfect skin and a radiant smile that, as a niqabi, a woman who veils her face, almost no one other than her family ever sees. Soon, if all went according to plan, Mariyam would likely be married to a jihadi. She inspected her skin for any sign of a stray pimple. What would her husband be like? She hoped he was handsome and bearded, like Hamzah.
When the men returned from the mosque just before 6 a.m., Mariyam waited until she heard her father go back to bed. Then, with just a small window of time before her parents woke up, she stuffed some pillows under the covers to make it look like she was still asleep and reviewed her mental checklist: clothes (five days’ worth), boots, warm socks, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, her niqab, hijab, Quran and two wands of Maybelline Great Lash mascara (just in case she ran out). She put on a black abaya, topped with her favorite leopard-print hoodie, and took a last look at her room. Then, grabbing her suitcase, she walked downstairs, slipped out the door with her brothers, and sped off toward the airport in a taxi.
The three Khan siblings (*Rolling Stone has agreed to change the names of the younger two, since they are minors) had been plotting their journey since the spring, communicating online with people they believed to be ISIS sympathizers in Syria. During that time, they’d secretly acquired passports, visas and, in just the past week, three airplane tickets to Istanbul, totaling more than $2,600, purchased with money Hamzah had saved from his job at a home-supply store. Once in Turkey, the plan was to make their way, by bus, from Istanbul to the city of Adana, a trip of some 12 hours. There, they’d call a number they had been given by an ISIS supporter they’d met online. “And then, uh, I don’t know,” Hamzah later admitted to the FBI.
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