In Depth

Tooba Gondal: who is the alleged ‘Isis matchmaker’?

Former Goldsmiths student who allegedly recruited Shamima Begum is being sent to France despite family’s plea

A London woman who allegedly defected to Syria to act as a “matchmaker” for Islamic State is being deported from Turkey to France as part of a bid by Ankara to empty its prisons of terror suspects, according to reports.

French national Tooba Gondal - who lived in Walthamstow until leaving for Syria in 2015 - has asked to be allowed to return to the UK with her two children after insisting that she had permanent British residence.

But France’s Centre for Analysis of Terrorism has told The Times that she will instead be sent to France after the UK Home Office blocked her return.

Gondal, one of around 1,200 foreign Isis members currently being held in Turkey, became notorious for luring young women to join Isis – among them British schoolgirl Shamima Begum. In September, she told The Sunday Times that she had been a “vulnerable target to Isis recruiters” but was now a “changed person”. 

Who is Tooba Gondal?

The 25-year-old was born in France but moved to London as a child and studied English at Goldsmiths, University of London.

In 2015, she travelled to Isis’s de facto capital of Raqqa, where she “became one of its chief recruiters of female Isis members”, according to the Daily Mail.

Gondal is said to have acted as a “matchmaker” for such women, luring them from the West to marry jihadist fighters in Syria.

She allegedly recruited Shamima Begum, the Isis bride from Bethnal Green, who is being held in a camp in Syria and who in early 2019 was controversially stripped of her UK citizenship by the then home secretary Sajid Javid.

Gondal is described by Vice News as a “ghoulish, AK-47-brandishing bawler with a mouth like a Baghouz sewer”, who routinely taunted UK security forces on Twitter and other social media platforms. Following the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were killed, she tweeted: “Wish I could have seen the hostages being slaughtered last night with my own eyes. Would have been just beautiful.”

She has had two children during her time in Syria – Ibrahim, now three, and Asiya, 18 months – and has reportedly had three husbands, all of whom have been killed.

How was she caught?

After Isis lost almost all its territory and appeared to be on the brink of annihilation, Gondal reportedly attempted to escape into Turkey but was detained by Kurdish fighters and sent to a detention centre in Ain Issa along with 600 foreign-born Isis fighters.

During her time in Kurdish custody, The Sunday Times conducted an interview with her in which she claimed to have been “manipulated” by Isis and called for the repatriation of her and her two children.

“I desperately wish for the British government to take us back,” she said. “I want to prove that I am a changed person - a much better individual for society. I offer to help prevent vulnerable Muslims from being targeted and radicalised.”

Ankara’s subsequent incursion into northern Syria in October “caused chaos”, and Gondal was able to escape over the border into Turkey, where she was arrested by Turkish security forces, the Daily Mail reports.

She has now been listed among 11 French nationals being expelled by Turkey, despite her family also pleading for her to be allowed to return to the UK.

Gondal’s older brother Aarib, 28, is believed to have petitioned MPs for help in repatriating the children, the Evening Standard reports. Writing online, he said: “We’ve not made contact with her for the past month and are desperate to bring Ibrahim and Asiya home.”

The Sunday Times says that the father of her son Ibrahim was British. Ibrahim’s nationality is “significant because it means that Gondal – who was served last year with a Home Office exclusion order, barring her from re-entering the country – can stake a legitimate claim for British help because her son is entitled to UK citizenship”, the newspaper adds.

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