Friends of American ISIS Widow Say She Grew Up In Northwest Arkansas

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FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) — Two friends of an American woman who has been detained in Syria are pleading for their childhood friend to be released back home to the United States.

Samantha Sally had spent the last four years’ in ISIS’s so-called Caliphate, after claiming her husband duped her and her children into joining the Islamic State.

Krysti Hankins and Alix Winne both say they grew up with Sally around the Springdale and Lowell area.

As kids, the trio attended the same church — Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witness on Emma Avenue in Springdale.

“We all grew up and she was really fun,” said Winne. “She was super outgoing. She always had her head on her shoulders right. I mean, she’s a really, really nice person.” Hankins added.

The two said Sally moved from the area “about five or six years ago” and both said they last spoke to her over Facebook a few years later.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Friday (April 20), Sally detailed the nearly four-year-long journey from a quiet life in Indiana to ritual beatings, serial rape, torture and propaganda videos.

During the interview, Sally said she thought they were on a family vacation to Turkey in 2014, but she later found herself on the Syrian-Turkey border.

Her husband, Moussa Elhassani,  told her she could leave and take her son, or join he and her daughter in ISIS-held territory.

“The position I was in was to stay there with my son, or watch my daughter leave with my husband,” Sally recalled. “I had to make a decision. I thought, like he said, we could just walk across the border and we could come back.”

Sally chose to keep her family together.

“People can think whatever they want but they have not been put in a place to make a decision like that,” she said during her CNN interview.

Sally said she wanted many times to escape, but worried for her fate, as well as the fate of her children without her. Over the next few years, Sally said she experienced both sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Elhassani, when he would periodically return from the frontline.

“All I saw was a bunch of drug-using thugs who came from their countries who had no place,” Sally said of ISIS.

Her son Matthew, a US citizen was later used in ISIS propaganda videos. The video is one of ISIS’s more notorious, in which Matthew is made to walk through a damaged mosque and streets, vow revenge on US President Donald Trump and pledge attacks on the West.

“I ended up with two broken ribs on that video,” Sally said. “I fought. I fought.”

In 2017, Elhassani was killed by a drone strike. Last October, during the liberation of Raqqa, Sally was able to leave with her now four children, before later being detained.

They’re currently in Syrian-Kurdish custody awaiting their fate from US authorities.

“I really don’t care what people think and what people say,” Sally said to CNN. “Once I left, I was extremely relieved and I was not able to breathe in three years until now.”

Back here at home, Hankins and Winne say there’s no way their friend would purposely get mixed up in this mess.

“Anyone who knew Sam would never think of anything like this,” said Hankins.

The two friends are now trying to spread the message of the ‘real’ Sam, who loved horses and motorcycles, and grew up on a rural country road in Lowell.

“It’s not her,” said Winne. “You grow up with somebody and you know them to be a completely different way, and then, when you lose touch and you see this happens — you’re just shocked for one… but you also know she’s not that person. There’s no way.”

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