An Iraqi court has sentenced German teenager Linda Wenzel, dubbed a “jihadi bride”, to six years in prison for her affiliation with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), German media has reported.
Linda Wenzel

Wenzel was given a five-year sentence for being a member of IS and another year for crossing into Iraq illegally, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported on Sunday, citing judicial sources. Her hearing at the Palace of Justice in Baghdad was closed off to the public due to her age, but representatives from the German embassy were present at the trial.

Originally from Pulsnitz, a town near Dresden in eastern Germany, Wenzel converted to Islam in 2016. After meeting extremists online at the age of 15, Wenzel ran away from home and made her way into Iraq through Turkey and Syria. There, she reportedly married a Chechen fighter, who was later killed.

After being captured in Mosul last year, Wenzel made headlines across the world when footage emerged that showed her terrified and in tears as she was dragged along by Iraqi troops. But the teenager was just one of many women from Europe and elsewhere who traveled to the Middle East to become jihadi brides.

Since her capture, Wenzel has expressed regret for her actions.

More than 100 foreign fighters have returned to Belgium, with more to follow. Some want to leave their past behind, others want to "disappear" and pose a headache for the authorities.

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Teri Schultz reports.

European governments have been warned for years to be prepared for some dreaded homecomings —  radicalized citizens returning  from "Islamic State" (IS) war zones.  As the global coalition retakes territory that IS once claimed as its "caliphate," some fighters who hold European passports are expected to make full use of them.

Belgium is the European country with the highest per capita number of so-called foreign terrorist fighters and the prospect of weapons-trained, ideologically hostile individuals showing up back in their old neighborhoods makes everyone nervous. Earlier returnees trying to start anew refuse to discuss their reintegration.

Antwerp City Councillor Hicham El Mzairh has tried to get returnees to speak out publicly, including to DW, in part to convince other Belgians not to follow in their footsteps. But none have been willing to come forward.

He says it's disappointing, but understandable. "Many of them came back with a huge feeling of shame," El Mzairh told DW. "And they don't want to show that or to show their name or to be on TV to say 'OK, I went there and I was a fool and I came back.' They are trying to build a new life and a new beginning."

But there's pressure from a more sinister place too. After the brother of a Belgian-born fighter gave a television interview, even with his identity disguised, he was quickly identified by IS supporters and badly beaten, as a warning to others to keep quiet.   

Returnees and their jihad journeys

Just a couple of years ago, the environment was significantly different. A Belgian woman named Laura Passoni, for example, wrote a book about her experiences as a militant's bride in Syria. For months Passoni was ubiquitous in the media, posing with her book and talking about her nine months in the caliphate. She said she'd finally realized what a mistake that was when her 4-year-old son came home and showed her how he'd been taught to behead a teddy bear. The family escaped back to Belgium.

Now, however, Passoni has largely dropped from public sight. She occasionally visits schools or appears at official events, but only in tandem with the co-author, an expert on Islamic studies, of a new book discussing how to react to radicalized individuals. Interviews must be arranged by her book publisher, who responded to DW's requests by saying Passoni doesn't want to talk.