MOSCOW: Kheda Saratova attends an AFP interview in Moscow. Repentant and repatriated to Russia's Chechnya, Saratova goes into schools to teach others of the dangers of extremism. _ AFP

GROZNY: Mother of
five Zalina Gabibulayeva says she was "tricked" into joining the
jihadists in Syria five years ago. Now, repentant and repatriated to Russia's
Chechnya, she goes into schools to teach others of the dangers of extremism.
Countries around the world are grappling with the question of how to treat
citizens who travelled to the Islamic State "caliphate" and have
since decided to return.

That problem is
felt particularly keenly in Russia, which has seen thousands of people leave to
fight alongside jihadists in Syria, according to President Vladimir Putin.
While some Western nations have stripped IS recruits of citizenship or banned
them from coming back, Russia has actively repatriated women and
children-though the return of women was suspended more than a year ago over
security concerns.

Most of Russia's
IS recruits came from Muslim-majority Caucasus republics such as Chechnya, the
site of two bloody separatist conflicts with Moscow in the 1990s and now
notorious for human rights abuses. The republic however has welcomed in women
like Gabibulayeva-with the expectation some go to work to prevent young Muslims
from becoming radicalized.

useful. We can tell the new generation about what happened to us, so they don't
make the same mistakes we did," the 38-year-old says as her two youngest
children play on the floor of her flat in regional capital Grozny. Wearing a
leopard-print khimar veil covering her head and body, she describes visiting
schools or colleges a couple of times a week across Chechnya and neighboring
republic Ingushetia. There she tells young people how she fell for propaganda
from the Islamic State group before her family moved to the
"caliphate" and found "cruelty, had nothing to do
with Islam".

'To show they

Gabibulayeva was
already widowed when she went to Syria with her children, but married a
Macedonian there after discovering discrimination against women without a
husband. Later the pair tried to escape via Iraq, where he was arrested and she
was sent to a refugee camp, from which she was eventually brought back to
Russia. Gabibulayeva moved to Chechnya after receiving a suspended sentence in
her native republic of Dagestan.

While using
former members of extremist groups in education is not unusual, analysts said
this was the first such schools program they were aware of using returnees from
the Islamic State. "It's very difficult for (the women) to talk about
their experience but we get them to understand it's a way to show they
repent," says Kheda Saratova, who sits on the rights council of Chechnya's
authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

manages repatriation efforts with Kadyrov and Moscow's backing-said young
people were turned off by traditional lecturing about the dangers of extremism.
"But when someone appears before them to say in detail how they were
radicalized, what they did there, how they managed to escape...they see the
real picture, the real face of this terrorist organization."


In a video from
one of the classes, another returnee's voice cracks as she describes the pain
she caused her family by going to IS. "There were special groups who
taught children how to fight, they treated it as a game, they taught them how
to shoot," the woman tells the class of Grozny teenagers. Saratova hopes
Russian federal authorities will remove their ban on repatriating women from
Syria and Iraq.

The activist says
around 200 women and children have already been brought back, and she is
planning a trip to collect more children of Russian families. "Eventually
they will come back to their countries-especially the children. But in what
capacity?" she said. Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, director of the independent
Conflict Analysis and Prevention Centre, said in some ways the initiative was a
"showcase" to balance out reports of rights abuses from Chechnya.

At the same time
she believes the use of such personal experience "is considered to be one
of the most effective ways of trying to ideologically counter terrorism."
"It's not easy to do because usually in democratic states you can't push
people to speak-you have to ask for their consent and most are reluctant to do
it" because of psychological difficulties, stigma or personal risk.

Fenna Keijzer of
the European Union's Radicalisation Awareness Network said similar education
projects in other countries tended to use the experience of people who had been
longer out of extremist environments. Saratova insisted that the five women
involved in the program, which has reached around 600 young people over the
last year and is seeking support to continue, took part voluntarily. But she
suggested there was an element of quid pro quo in the arrangement. "You
have to pay for everything in this life," she said.- AFP