A Belgian woman who converted to Islam and moved to Syria to join ISIS, only to escape back to Belgium in 2015, has spoken out about life under the terrorist group's control.
Laura Passoni, 30, says she met and fell in love with her future husband, Osama Rayan, when both were working in a supermarket in Belgium. Rayan is Tunisian, and reportedly persuaded Passoni to move with him back to Tunisia, and then to Syria, according to Yahoo! News.
"I was not forced to become a Muslim," the mother-of-two said. "I was persuaded. You just get washed away, like trying to stand against a waterfall."
She lived with Rayan and her two children in al-Bab, outside the city of Aleppo, from 2014 until 2015.
"I went there willingly and voluntarily," she said. "I converted to become a Muslim and then I was radicalized, and I became convinced that the caliphate was the only place for me and my family to live."
Upon arrival in Syria, however, she found that she had made a big mistake. She said that she was misled about what life would be like under ISIS, and that the terrorist group promised her things that were never delivered.
She was forced to spend her days inside doing housework. She said she felt like a prisoner.
"I was forbidden to do anything," she said, according to the Daily Mail. "I just had to take care of the home and children. I could not leave the house or use the Internet without the presence of a man," adding that "it was just the opposite of what they promised in the propaganda of the caliphate."
She said that while she did not have to pay taxes and healthcare was free, the price of living was still high and money was scarce.
"I decided I wanted to escape when I realized there was a very real risk my son might end up a terrorist," she recalled.
After acquiring a cellphone, Passoni secretly exchanged text messages with her parents, who helped her escape through Turkey. Exactly how she managed to escape has not been revealed, but some Belgian media outlets reported that Belgian authorities negotiated with jihadists in Turkey to secure Passoni's return.
Upon returning to Belgium, she was arrested and interrogated by police. She was fined $22,300 and given five years' probation, and is now forbidden from using social media. Her children were taken away from her for several months, but have recently been returned.
"I accepted the punishment," Passoni said. "To be honest, it was a relief compared to the hell that I went through in Syria."
She hopes to use her experience to dissuade other young women from making the same mistake.
"My advice to young women is, if you are considering [joining ISIS], don't do it," she said.