A mysterious woman who left Toronto last year to join ISIS has been travelling throughout Iraq and Syria, puzzling security analysts who think she may be playing an intelligence-gathering role for the Islamic extremist group.
When the above picture emerged weeks ago, European experts who track foreign fighters at first believed the woman on the right to be Hayat Boumeddiene, the French widow of one of the Paris attackers.
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Jeff Weyers, a senior research analyst with iBRABO, an Ontario-based intelligence research company, had a different assessment.
He didn’t think it was Boumeddiene, but rather, an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recruit he refers to as LA from her Twitter name, Lama Sharif Al-Shammari (not a real name).
Analysts with iBRABO began tracking LA when her pro-ISIS tweets revealed she was in Toronto. That was in late last November.
Shortly thereafter, her tweets showed she was travelling throughout ISIS-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria. That got Weyers’s attention.
Researchers with iBRABO were able to track LA because she inadvertently left the geotagging function active on her cellphone — a common mistake many foreign fighters make, he says.
‘High position’ in ISIS
Assessing her role from her movements, Weyers says “Toronto Jane” appears to be a chilling exception to other Canadian and Western women who have left to join ISIS over the last two years.
“She has to be in a fairly high position with the Islamic State [ISIS] to be able to do this extended travel,” says Weyers.
“The female role in ISIS is one of domestic servitude. Traditionally, they would go to Raqqa and would stay in one place,” he says.
ISIS does not give its male fighters this kind of free range, much less a female fighter, says Weyers. “She’s either fighting with them, which I don’t believe myself, or she’s there for another purpose.”
Her niqab, which gives her anonymity and an ability to travel in and out of areas controlled by Free Syrian Army, Nusrah Front and Turkey, and then back into ISIS territory, means that she has an intelligence gathering mission, according to Weyers.
It is something experts say they have never seen a female ISIS fighter do before LA. Weyers says it is the first documented case of a female with ISIS in this role.
“LA is all over the Islamic State, she’s in Mosul, Kobani on Christmas Day, right in the middle of the war lines between the Kurdish fighters and ISIS,” Weyers says.
Tweets reveal ardent ISIS supporter
According to Weyers, LA’s geolocating recorded her last tweet on Feb. 3 in an area just south of Kobani, Syria.
Shortly after that tweet, ISIS released video of a veiled female standing with a cluster of male fighters. Surprisingly, in the background is an outline of a familiar structure that can also be seen in LA’s last tweet.
The fact that a Canadian female would have a high-ranking role within ISIS is a cause for concern, says Weyers.
All of her tweets are in Arabic and they reveal a woman who is an ardent supporter of ISIS, “talking about things like the burning of the Jordanian soldier and how it’s justified within the Qur'an,” explains Weyers.
“The concern is in terms of the potential of her coming back to Canada, and we saw that in Paris, with Hayat Boumeddiene, we have the same risk in regards to LA,” says Weyers.