The British wife of a top American Islamic State fighter has said she was radicalized by the racism she experienced living in England.
Tania Georgelas, 33, said her upbringing led her to marry a Christian convert from Texas and leave for Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Mrs. Georgelas, who is of Bangladeshi descent, said growing up as a second-generation immigrant in Harrow, north-west London, she experienced “a lot of racism” which pushed her towards more radical Islam.
“We had bad neighbors, they used to smash our windows,” she told The Atlantic. “But generally I just felt like an outsider.
“I was looking for a way to retaliate and I wanted honor again.”
Mrs. Georgelas said the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 were a turning point.
“I was 17, I saw the towers being crashed into and I went to school the next day,” she recalled. “I said to my friend: ‘Oh isn’t it dreadful what happened?’ and she looked at me and said: ‘Is it really?’”
“At that point, I became really jihadi hardcore,” she said.
A few years later, she was at a protest against the Iraq war when she says Muslim men were handing out slips of paper, with the address of a Muslim matchmaking website written on them.
Through the website, she met John Georgelas, a Christian convert from Texas. Georgelas, the son of US military doctor Colonel Timothy Georgelas and his wife Martha, spent part of his youth in Cambridgeshire where his father was stationed in the Eighties.
Mrs. Georgelas married in a civil ceremony in October 2004 in Rochdale, England before moving to the US some years later.
With the rise of Isil in 2013, Georgelas told his wife he wanted the family to move to Syria and live under the caliphate. Mrs. Georgelas, who had two more children and a third on the way, protested but eventually agreed.
“John wanted to go to Syria, and I said I wasn’t ready, not while the kids are small,” she said. “I wanted the rebels to win, but I didn’t need to be inside Syria.”
Mrs. Georgelas said she wanted her children to become soldiers of the caliphate. “We trained them as assassins and dressed them up as jihadis,” she said.
However, after a month in Syria, she and the children became sick and Georgelas agreed to let the family return to the US without him.
Georgelas rose up the ranks of the terror group to become the most senior American jihadist. He became the head producer of Isil propaganda and magazines, aiming to recruit more foreigners to join the group.
It is reported he took over the job of spokesman from Abu Mohammed al-Adnani after he was killed in an air strike.
It is not clear if Georgelas is still alive or killed in the fighting.
Back in Texas, Mrs. Georgelas was questioned by security services but later released.
“I’ve had these children for one reason only, and that was so they could serve God as Muslims, as mujahideen (fighter),” she said. “Now I didn’t know what to do with them.”
Her four sons are now being raised by their grandparents but still have contact with their mother.
The former jihadist bride has since returned to the world of online dating.
“I went to the dating website Match, I wrote an essay: ‘I have four kids, my husband abandoned me to go become the next Osama Bin Laden. I got 1,300 replies.”
She met her new boyfriend Craig, an IT worker, within 24 hours on the site.
They now attend a Unitarian church together, and Mrs. Georgelas says she would like to work for a de-radicalization program that could help former terrorists.
“A lot of people see me as someone very unlucky, but I see the glass half full,” she said. “I’m alive, I got out of Syria and my children are happy, healthy and smart. I’m content.”