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A family torn apart by radicalization in 'Two Sisters'

Friday June 1, 2018

When Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad began reporting on the Juma family she was told that their daughters had left for Syria to join ISIS, but were "desperate to come home." That's what their father, Sadiq, told her as he attempted to bring them back home.

But that wasn't true.

Ayan and Leila headed for Syria with no intention of turning back. And, Seierstad set out to retrace the steps of the girls' radicalization in her new book, "Two Sisters."

Ayan and Leila were assimilating to Norwegian culture, when their mother Sara grew concerned they were moving too far from their Somali roots. She turned to her Somali-Norwegian friends who told her about a young, handsome Quran teacher who could set the girls on the right path. However, he was the source of their radicalization and slowly the girls grew more and more militant.

Their path toward radicalization was slow and steady; it went largely unnoticed by their parents, until they asked for niqabs, covering everything but their eyes. Their parents refused, but they wore them in defiance of Sara and Sadiq and their teachers. They were isolated at school and combative. After years of this tension, they left for Syria.

Seierstad was unable to communicate with the girls directly. Instead, she used online communications with their brother as the "spine" of the book. Seierstad said did her reporting as if they had died, finding out what happened to them through other radicalized friends, their family and others.

It wasn't Seierstad's first time covering radicalization. She wrote about Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered more than 70 people in Norway after reading online about right wing politics and becoming infatuated with the "threat of Islam."

She joined MPR News Reporter Euan Kerr and by former MPR reporter Mukhtar Ibrahim for a discussion about her reporting how Norway and United States respond to citizens who leave to join ISIS.


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