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Boy Was Forced to Threaten Trump. Now, 'It's All Behind Me'

Matthew, now 13, was just 10 when stepfather made him appear in ISIS propaganda video
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2020 10:40 AM CST

(Newser) – In April 2015, an 8-year-old American boy named Matthew was dragged into Syria by his mother, Samantha Sally, and stepfather, Moussa Elhassani, with Elhassani determined to become a sniper for the Islamic State. Five years later, Matthew is 13 and back in the US, and he's now telling the story of his ordeal to the BBC's Panorama program and PBS' Frontline. Two years after arriving in Syria, Matthew, by then 10, popped up in an ISIS propaganda video in which he issued a threat to President Trump. "My message to Trump, the puppet of the Jews: Allah has promised us victory and he's promised you defeat," said Matthew in the August 2017 footage. "Get ready, for the fighting has just begun." Sally also emailed videos to her sister back in the US showing Matthew being forced by his stepfather to disassemble an AK-47 and put together a suicide belt.

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Elhassani was killed by a drone strike later in 2017, Sally paid smugglers to get herself and her four children out of Syria, and the family returned to the US in 2018, where she was promptly indicted on terrorism-related charges. Matthew was sent to live with his biological father. "It's happened and it's done," Matthew now tells the BBC. "It's all behind me now." He adds that, at the time the video threatening Trump was made, "I was so young I did not really understand any of it." He says he felt he had to do what Elhassani told him to because "he was mentally unstable." As for how Matthew describes his return to the US, he likens it to taking off "tight clothes" and relaxing in a hot bath after a long day. "Like sweet relief," he says. Sally, meanwhile, was convicted earlier this month for funding terrorism and sentenced to six-plus years in prison. More here and here. (Read more Islamic State stories.)

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