Inside The Online World Of Three American Teens Who Allegedly Wanted To Join ISIS
BuzzFeed News examines the social media accounts of three Colorado girls who officials say tried to join a terrorist group.
The three Colorado teenagers who were detained earlier this month as they were reportedly headed to Syria interacted with ISIS members online, a BuzzFeed News investigation shows.
BuzzFeed News identified the three teens by using the information provided in the redacted offense report from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, tweets from their friends and classmates, and the girls' personal Facebook accounts.
No charges have been filed against the girls, and because of their ages, BuzzFeed News is not using their full names. Like many would-be militant supporters, the three girls adopted a second name to use while online, known as a kunya, which will be used to identify them here.
Officials believe that the teenage girls were recruited online to join ISIS. An examination of the three girls' (now-deleted) social media accounts point to this possibility.
On Oct. 17, the teens did not go to school.
The girls — two sisters of Somali descent ages 15 and 17 and their 16-year-old friend whose family is Sudanese — had skipped school on Oct. 17 and fled with their passports and $2,000, officials said.
Umm Sufyan, 17, and her sister, Umm Suleiman, 15, told their father that they were not feeling well and planned to stay home from school. At around 10:30 a.m., they left their family home in Aurora, Colorado, telling their father that they were going to a nearby library to study.
Meanwhile, Umm Yassir, 16, got onto the bus at 6:30 a.m., but at approximately 10 a.m., her father received a call informing him that his daughter was not in school. He called his daughter's cell phone, and she told him that she was just running late for class.
Later that morning, two of the girls were tweeting their nearly 2,000 combined followers to "make dua," or pray for them.
According to the police report, the father of 16-year-old Umm Yassir accessed his daughter's Twitter account to ask her friends and followers if they knew where she was.
He also used his own Twitter account (now deleted) to tweet this message at his missing child.
As word of their disappearance spread, the three girls' worried friends also took to Twitter to ask for information.
Umm Yassir, Umm Sufyan, and Umm Suleiman were detained by German police and returned to Denver on Sunday. They were questioned by the FBI and released to their families following interrogation. No charges have been filed against the girls.
"The FBI Denver Division ... assisted with bringing the individuals back to Denver," spokesperson Sue Payne told BuzzFeed News via email. "They are safe and reunited with their parents."
The FBI declined to comment on whether the bureau had initiated an official investigation into the girls' activities, but officials are reviewing evidence, including the girls' computers, according to reports. The Colorado U.S. attorney's office told the Denver Post, "it's a matter under review that cannot be commented on."
If the teens were trying to join ISIS, they would be the latest in a series of young women who officials say have fled their home countries with the intention of joining the extremist group.
According to their posts on social media, the girls were in communication with men and women claiming to be members of ISIS living in Syria. The girls' most recent tweets suggest that they were planning to leave their homes to join the militant group.
Instead of using only her personal account, 17-year-old Umm Sufyan created a second Twitter account under the handle @CarrierOfSins, which she used for much of her communication online.
Umm Sufyan's sister, 15-year-old Umm Suleiman, also created a second account for herself, using the handle "@_SlaveOfAllah__."
Their 16-year-old friend used her own name, and although her account has been deleted, cached versions of conversations reveal that she was in communication with at least one (now suspended) account that purportedly belonged to a member of ISIS.
Umm Sufyan also created a Tumblr page that features hundreds of pro-ISIS posts. It also includes many posts reblogged from two women who claim to have run away from home to join ISIS, including the blog of the woman profiled in this story.
One of the many posts on the account.
Some of the tweets posted by the girls' accounts reveal an extreme interpretation of Islam.
And yet, in some of the tweets, the three girls appear indistinguishable from any other American teen with a Twitter account.
Starting in July, some of the tweets from the three girls begin to indicate a growing frustration with their parents and life in America. Umm Yassir apparently felt her parents were restricting her practice of Islam.
A month before the girls left Colorado, Umm Sufyan appears to be planning for her own death in this indexed tweet.
"My whole life has been a lie," her 15-year-old sister commented on a friend's post.
The day before the girls went missing, Umm Suleiman posted a series of messages about her friends.
She implied that her "true friends" were the more religious ones.
When so-called "Muslim Twitter" learned that the three girls were missing, many tweets from purported ISIS members praised their decision.
Other non-ISIS-affiliated accounts criticized Umm Suleiman's father's decision to involve the authorities.
When the girls returned home and the news broke about their alleged plan, a number of ISIS-sympathizing accounts lauded the teens.
And at least two of the accounts recently followed by @CarrierOfSins appear to belong to those sympathetic to ISIS's cause.
The girls have not spoken publicly about their trip overseas or their motivation for leaving, but a friend of Umm Suleiman posted — and then deleted — a message that she claims is from the 15 year-old girl.
"To everyone who backbited about me I thank you because you guys took my sins. And all the reasons you guys think we left couldn't be further from the truth! But that's on you guys to believe what you want I know the truth so does ALLAH."