Date TimeApril 18, 2018
VoiceFor Samantha Sally, a vacation was all it took to flip her quiet middle-American world of muscle cars, cotton candy and an Indiana packing company, into the horror of the ritual beatings, serial rape, torture and propaganda videos of ISIS's so-called Caliphate.

A holiday is what her husband, Moussa Elhassani, promised her when she went to Hong Kong in 2014, she says. The couple was planning to move to Morocco to start a new, cheaper life, she says, and needed to go through Hong Kong to transfer money.
Days later, Sally says, she stood on the Turkish border with Syria, on the edge of ISIS territory, her husband holding her daughter, Sarah, while she held her son, Matthew, 7, confronted with an impossible choice: Abandon her daughter to ISIS and save her son, or follow her husband into ISIS's so-called Caliphate. Following him was the only way to protect her daughter, she says.
"To stay there with my son or watch my daughter leave with my husband -- I had to make a decision," Sally, 32, tells CNN in northern Syria.
"Maybe I would never have seen my daughter again ever, and how can I live the rest of my life like that."
Beaten, tortured, sexually abused: An American ISIS widow looks for a way home
Sally spoke to CNN in Syrian-Kurdish custody, in limbo, arrested after ISIS's collapse in Raqqa and unsure if she will ever see the United States again.
The story of how Sally got there is a remarkable web of mystery, compassion, and animal savagery befitting ISIS's legacy of almost surreal terror. And in it, Sally flits between the role of naive, manipulated housewife, and the savvy pragmatist able to survive the savage, male-dominated world of ISIS.
As she sits in a Syrian-Kurdish jail, waiting the US government to determine -- or not determine -- what to do with her, it is navigating that delicate balance between unknowing victim and deft manipulator that will decide her fate.
'I was like a prisoner'
Sally's journey to the former Caliphate begins in Elkhart, Indiana, where she and Elhassani worked at a delivery company. They lived with Matthew, her son from her first marriage to a US soldier, and their daughter Sarah.
Elhassani took delight in souped-up cars, family videos show, and, according to Sally, used drugs and cheated on her -- showing few signs of devout faith. Their marriage was rocky at times, but Elhassani came up with a plan to move to his native Morocco for a year, where she could get cheap surgery on her knee and they might find a new start.
She says she went ahead to look, and was impressed enough to later fly to Hong Kong and help transfer some of their money. From Hong Kong, the couple together went to Turkey, on what Sally says was a romantic holiday, during which Elhassani lavished her with gifts.
Beaten, tortured, sexually abused: An American ISIS widow looks for a way home
At the time, the indirect trip to Asia before diverting to the Syrian border in Turkey, and the proxy transfer of funds to Hong Kong, were textbook methods of evading law enforcement for those seeking to join ISIS. But Sally insists she thought nothing was amiss before she reached the Turkish border town of Sanilurfa.
It was there that Elhassani refused to let her leave the hotel room, saying the city was "too dangerous."
"Once we got to Sanilurfa everything changed," she says. "I was like a prisoner in the room."
Pushed as to how a woman adequately assertive to divorce her first husband in her 20s was now so submissive in a bustling Turkish city, she said: "This was years in the making. He separated me from my family. I could not see that he was the one that was wrong. It was always 'no, my husband is right.'"
Days later, they found themselves on the border, Sally faced with the agonizing choice. She insists the crossing was forced and then felt she could have come back again to Turkey later.
"People can think whatever they want but they have not been put in a place to make a decision like that," she says.
Buying slaves at a market
Inside the so-called Caliphate, her relationship with Elhassani changed. "Before he would spoil me. 'I love you.' We were very much in love. The romance never left. As soon as we came here it changed. I was a dog. I didn't have any choice. He was extremely violent. And there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing."
Sally says she feared divorcing him as that would leave her and her children yet more vulnerable in ISIS's society. She said at one point she was jailed by ISIS for three months while pregnant for trying to escape and for alleged espionage for the US.
She says she was held in solitary confinement and tortured, even sexually abused, in that jail. Sally says she was later released and went back to the small home she had made for her family on the outskirts of Raqqa, where Elhassani would periodically return from the frontline and -- in between fits of violence -- fathered two children by her.
The loneliness of her domestic existence made Elhassani propose an addition to their home, which was, by the warped standards of the Caliphate, commonplace. In 2014, the terror group had captured hundreds of Yazidis when it took Mount Sinjar in Iraq, and many of the younger women were being sold as slaves, some purely for the purposes of sexual abuse.
Elhassani suggested some Yazidi slaves would help keep Sally company while he was away, and he took her to the slave market. There she saw Soad.
"When I met Soad, I couldn't think about money, I needed to help her," she said. The 17-year-old girl cost her $10,000 -- half the money she says she smuggled with her from their United States savings. She brought Soad home, and soon, her husband Elhassani began raping her.
Beaten, tortured, sexually abused: An American ISIS widow looks for a way home
But that was not enough. Elhassani soon decided to "buy" his own slave, using another $7,500 from their savings to purchase Bedrine, who was younger still. She was also raped by Elhassani. The family also bought a young boy, Aham, for $1,500 later still.
Sally is defensive about the decision to buy the girls, saying she offered them a protection and care that other homes could not have.
"I was trying to hold on to that money as at some point I knew that he (Elhassani) was going to die and I was going to need that money. That wasn't the plan."
Asked if she feels she enabled the girls' serial rape, she said: "In every house that she was in before that was the same situation, but she did not have the support of someone like me. We constantly talked about going to see her mother. I was going to get her out and she was going to go back home."
Sally continued: "And no, no one will ever know what it is like to watch their husband rape a 14-year-old girl. Ever. And then she comes to you -- me -- after crying and I hold her and tell her it's going to be OK. Everything is going to be fine, just be patient."
"I would never apologize for bringing those girls to my house. They had me and I had them. And we knew that if we were just patient we would stick together. You understand? In any other situation they would be locked in a bedroom and fed tea every day. And the situation I was in with them, we cooked together, we cleaned together. Drank coffee together. Slept in the same room together. I was like their mother."
Two broken ribs
Sally does not outwardly appear a devout ISIS wife. She has a large blue tattoo of pursed lips on the right side of her neck and a nose ring. She smokes, and appears defiantly dismissive of the suggestion she must have known more about her husband's plans to join the Caliphate than she admits. Indeed, she has been interviewed by the FBI, and admitting to voluntarily joining ISIS would legally complicate her situation, if not result in charges.
CNN has spoken to several friends from her hometown, who say there were no open signs of her radicalization, and depict a loyal, single divorcee who found in Elhassani a generous provider-turned-controlling abuser.
"She was an amazing, wonderful, generous person, a really good friend and an excellent mom to Matt and Sarah," says friend Andria Lightner.
"I believe with all my heart she would never be willing to take her kids" to join ISIS.
A close friend in Indiana, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sally became less available before she left and curiously did not confide in her friends that she intended to move to Morocco.
She quit her job, and declared she was going on vacation to Hong Kong, but the friend describes what would be their final farewell as ordinary: "It was 'I can't wait for you to be home and see you soon,'" the friend says. "She was being everyday normal Sam."
Beaten, tortured, sexually abused: An American ISIS widow looks for a way home
CNN also tracked down Soad, the older of the three Yazidi children Sally and Elhassani bought. Now 17, she is in a refugee camp in Iraq, reunited with her family, and has nothing but gratitude for the American housewife who purchased her into a life of repeated rape. She sent a video message to Sally in which she said: "I really want to see you, even if it is one last time. I miss you so much and I miss your children. Anything I can do to help you get out, I will do. I love you so much."
In other ways too, Sally's own children became victims. Her son Matthew, a US citizen through and through, was a prized cast member for ISIS as they increasingly sought to involve children in their macabre and sickening propaganda videos. Matthew was eventually visited by another ISIS fighter, who knew the ISIS propaganda wing, and approached Sally and Matthew with a script, part Arabic, part English, for Matthew's appearance.
"After I saw the script was when the beating happened," Sally said, referring to her husband. "I was like, 'This is absolutely not acceptable'. All I could do was talk. He became very violent and scared my son into becoming complicit. I ended up with two broken ribs on that video. I fought. I fought. It was three days after my operation with her," she says, indicating to her youngest daughter. "I did not give birth naturally, it was Cesarean. I couldn't even fight back. There was nothing I could do."
Matthew, sitting next to his mother throughout her interview, chimes in: "It was a very bad beating."
Sally added: "They learned the script but it was grueling. His days were long and he came home crying every day about how tired he was."
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.
His mouth intermittently full of candy given to him by his Syrian-Kurdish captors, Matthew says: "It was extremely stressful and it was hard. I would have to say one word and then they would make me say another in Arabic. I never even knew Arabic before. I did not want to do it. He would hit me, he would stress me. About all those things."
Asked where he wants to go now, he said: "Back to my state. Back to America."
ISIS a bunch of 'drug-using thugs'
The family's escape from Raqqa came tantalizingly closer when a drone strike killed Elhassani in the middle of last year. "I was able to breathe," recalled Sally. "I was like -- OK -- we can start phase two. At least now we can all breathe."
The US coalition in Syria slowly tightened its noose around Raqqa, but Sally said she saw no avenue to escape with the thousands of civilians who had been fleeing the city during the assault.
"All that I knew was that if somebody tried to leave, the snipers -- which was my husband's job -- had permission to kill. So I am thinking if I try to walk out, I take the risk of IEDS (mines) if I go off road, and I run the risk that I will be sniped."
They remained in Raqqa until the very final days, released, Sally says, as part of the final hundreds of ISIS fighters -- many foreign hardliners -- whose departure from the city was negotiated with the US-backed Syrian-Kurdish fighters besieging ISIS. She left in that convoy east, and then found her way north, where she was eventually detained.
Beaten, tortured, sexually abused: An American ISIS widow looks for a way home
Sally's time in the Caliphate spanned from its most brutal start in late 2014 until its very final moments, the totality of which, in some way, complicates her defense that she was an innocent bystander.
Sally said: "I really don't care what people think and what people say. Once I left, I was extremely relieved and I was not able to breathe in three years until now. All I saw was a bunch of drug-using thugs who had no place. They created their own state here and called it in the name of God."
Yet it is the believability of her story -- that of the pliable and then abused housewife, turned savior of three child slaves -- upon which her and her children's fate surely hinges, as US authorities decide their next steps.
"I will do anything to get my kids back where they belong," Sally says. "If I have to spend 15 years in prison, it's better than anything here."
They dream of returning home, yet the FBI agents who visit them in custody to talk, have yet to bring charges or plane tickets home.
"Me and my kids we talk about wanting to eat McDonald's," she said. "We want to live a normal life again."

Tesla is being investigated for workplace safety
British girl wins gold medal in international maths competition
Barbara Bush's funeral will be attended by Melania Trump, Clintons, others
Beyoncé reminds us we are all divas, soldiers and survivors
Former British PM David Cameron says he doesn't regret the Brexit referendum
Nikki Haley hits back at White House claims she is 'confused' over Russia sanctions
Turkey to hold snap elections on 24 June, says Erdoğan
UN chemical weapons investigators 'SHOT AT in Syria' – probe delayed AGAIN
COUNTDOWN BEGINS! Meghan and Harry shine at Commonwealth event four weeks ahead of wedding
Musk's Leaked Email Raises More Questions About Tesla Than It Answers
Saudi Arabia ending a 35-year ban on movie theaters with 'Black Panther' screening
Trump calls Stormy Daniels suspect sketch 'a total con job'
Saudi Arabia willing to send ARMY to Iranian-backed Syria as tensions ESCALATE
US and Russian nuclear arsenals set to be unchecked for first time since 1972
Police 'too slow to change' after Stephen Lawrence murder
Taylor Swift stalker suspect wore mask, had knife and rope, police say
Google Launches Chrome 66 For Windows, Mac, Linux, Android And iOS
Stephen Colbert, James Comey Talk About What It's Like 'Working for a Mob Boss'
Hannity's rising role in Trump's world: 'He basically has a desk in the place'
Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Pyongyang 'soon,' official says
CIA Director Mike Pompeo secretly met with North Korea's Kim Jong Un
Barbara Bush, former US first lady, dies at 92
Russia blocks millions of IP addresses in battle against Telegram app
Could North Korea and South Korea finally end their war? Reports say yes
Israeli army reveals images allegedly showing Iran's involvement in Syria
Microsoft, Facebook and 32 other tech firms join CyberSecurity Tech Accord
President Trump meets with Japan's prime minister
Stormy Daniels releases sketch of man who allegedly threatened her over Trump affair
Southwest flight makes emergency landing after losing an engine
Macron: political divisions in Europe are like a civil war
Theresa May apologises for treatment of Windrush citizens
Nerve agent used to attack Sergei Skripal was liquid, says Defra
Canada withdraws diplomats' families from Cuba over mystery illness
Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles
Emmanuel Macron SLAPPED DOWN by Donald Trump over claims he changed US policy in Syria
Syrian state media report new missile attack in Homs region
Facebook is probably tracking you whether you use it or not — and it doesn't really give you a choice
US Cuts Off China's ZTE From American Tech for Seven Years
Late-Night Hosts Slam Sean Hannity for Sharing Trump Lawyer
First US winner of Boston Marathon since '85
United States said Russia may have tampered with evidence at the Douma site
Khloe Kardashian reveals baby name: True Thompson
Amber Rudd pledges action to resolve status of Windrush citizens
Boston Marathon drenched as heavy storm causes flash floods in New York
Michael Cohen's mystery third client is Sean Hannity
Ant McPartlin fined £86,000 for drink-driving
Kellyanne Conway: Comey ‘Loved Being Alone In The Oval Office’
Syria bombing protest erupts into RIOT as activists try to topple US President statue
Syria chemical attack: Russia and Syria BLOCK inspectors from Douma
South Carolina prison fight leaves seven inmates dead, at least 17 injured
Justin Bieber reportedly punched man who assaulted woman at Coachella party
Facebook ad feature claims to predict user's future behaviour
Special BAFTA Craft Award for 'Game of Thrones'
John Cena and Nikki Bella end engagement
Bank of America hauls in biggest profit ever
Catalan protesters call for return of jailed or exiled leaders
Comey says in ABC interview that Trump is ‘morally unfit to be president’
Pakistan watchdog says country failing on human rights
Future of Iran deal may depend on European intervention
In Syria, Trump needs a strategy to keep Russia, Assad and Iran off-balance - and US involvement to a minimum
ACM Awards: Carrie Underwood Returns to Stage in First Performance Since Accident
Xi Jinping sends warning to Taiwan, United States with live fire drills
Phenomenal growth of Netflix
Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health
BREAKING: Two planes COLLIDE in midair in Germany - fatalities confirmed
Man City wins Premier League after United loses to West Brom
Nikki Haley says more sanctions against Russia coming Monday
Zakaria: On Syria, Trump looks a lot like Obama
Syria attack: British submarine 'hunted by Russian subs' in deadly cat and mouse game
Kim Jong Un meets high-ranking Chinese diplomat in Pyongyang
SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket, Humanity's First Spaceship
Golden Arch Awards: Oscar-Nominated 'Loveless' Wins Best Movie
Trump defends 'mission accomplished' tweet
Trump attacks Comey for handling of Clinton email probe
Scandal in Sweden: Nobel prize for literature faces #MeToo moment
UN Security Council rejects Russia’s call to condemn U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria
Starbucks apologizes after two Black men in Philadelphia were arrested after waiting at a table
How Facebook ads target you
Beyoncé makes history with a live performance at Coachella
Satellite images show craters at alleged Syrian chemical weapons facilities
March for Science 2018: Passionate advocates push the cause for research across the globe
‘We are not scared of America’s missiles’ — Syrians gather in defiance after U.S.-led strikes
Cardi B Trolls Trump During 'Tonight Show' Co-Host Stint
Facebook has spent $20 million on Mark Zuckerberg's security since 2015
Haley says US 'locked and loaded,' prepared to maintain pressure on Syria
Russia claims Syria SHOT DOWN more than two thirds of US and British missiles last night
Russia condemns US-led strikes on Syria as 'act of aggression against a sovereign state'
British jets in 'successful' strike on chemical weapons base in Syria as Theresa May denies aim is 'regime change'
Russian officials warn of 'consequences' after US-led airstrikes on Syria
Toy mogul Isaac Larian ditches GoFundMe campaign and bids $890 million for Toys R Us stores
Joshua Jackson Says He Owes His Career to Jon Stewart
Trump Bombs Syria Hours After 88 Lawmakers Urged Him To First Consult Congress
US, UK and France strike Syria
Andrew McCabe lied, was source of WSJ leak, DOJ says
Trump prepares for Syria WAR: US Navy warships head to the Med in HUGE show of force
Google's 'Semantic Experiences' let you play word games with its AI
Telegram hit with block in Russia over encryption
Comey Thought Hiding Clinton Email News Would Make Her Presidency ‘Illegitimate’
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle choose Alexi Lubomirski as wedding photographer
Champions League draw was ‘FIXED’: Two huge clues that have convinced fans of foul play
The Latest: Israeli troops fire at Gaza protests; 9 wounded
Russian Court Bans Telegram App After 18-Minute Hearing
Russia ridicules Trump's Twitter diplomacy in Syria standoff
Syria crisis: US concerned military strike would 'escalate out of control'
James Comey book: 6 new things to know about his highly anticipated memoir
Official: Taliban attack killed 10 police in western Herat
Khloe Kardashian Has Custody Of Baby With Tristan Thompson After Cheating Drama: Lawyer Says
Xi Jinping's China shows off force in South China Sea
Model Janice Dickinson tells jury Bill Cosby raped her in 1982 after giving her a pill
Martin Short Roasts Stephen Colbert: 'Paul Ryan Without the Gym Membership'
UK, France back Trump as May says 'highly likely' Syrian regime used chemical weapons
Mohammad Salah: 'There's something very special about playing for Liverpool'
Trump's Secretary of State pick Mike Pompeo faces hearing amid Syria crisis, other threats
BREAKING: One step closer to war: Macron 'has proof' Assad used chemical weapons
Russia declares secret war phone line between Moscow and USA is ACTIVE
Trump attempts to cloud timing of potential Syria strike
Red Sox-Yankees brawl: Benches clear after Joe Kelly hits Tyler Austin
Theresa May indicates willingness for military action against Syria
BREAKING: Assad takes control of 'rebel stronghold' Douma – site of alleged 'GAS ATTACK'
Exclusive: Tesla targets November 2019 for start of Model Y production - sources
Daughter of poisoned ex-spy in U.K. turns down help from Russian Embassy
More than 80 dead from drinking bootleg alcohol in Indonesia
Zuckerberg admits Facebook collects data from non-users
US-Russia tensions build as Moscow hits back at Trump's Twitter threat
NYT: Records related to 'Access Hollywood' tape a focus of FBI Cohen raid
Real Madrid 1-3 Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon sent off; Cristiano Ronaldo nets winner
Trump Supporters Diamond and Silk: Facebook Censoring Our Content
Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore dead at 87
Greece opens fire on Turkey as military helicopter buzzes island
House Speaker Paul Ryan says he is not running for re-election
This is how Facebook uses your data for ad targeting
Mariah Carey reveals bipolar disorder
Military plane crashes in Algeria killing 257 people
Trump taunts Russia, says US military response coming in Syria
Kardashians 'Rallying Around' Khloe Amid Tristan Thompson Cheating Allegations (Exclusive)
Merkel tells Putin not to exclude Ukraine from gas pipeline route
Syria chemical attack: US and Russia fail to reach UN agreement as tensions rise
'SHOTS fired' inside Los Angeles mall – Police SHOOTOUT with suspect
How Stormy Daniels and her brash lawyer cornered President Trump and Michael Cohen
Cruz challenges Zuckerberg about silencing conservatives
Zuckerberg confirms Facebook is working with US special counsel
Mark Zuckerberg apologises to U.S. Congress over massive Facebook breach
US, France and Britain agree to respond to Syrian gas attack
Man City 1 Liverpool 2: Salah and Firmino fire Reds through to Champions League semi-final
Roma 3 Barcelona 0: Lionel Messi and co. OUT in Champions League quarter-finals
Marie Colvin, reporter killed in Syria, was targeted by army, lawsuit alleges
Russia blocks US Syria resolution at the UN
Bashar al-Assad's British wife Asma is the 'First Lady of HELL'
Magnitude 6.2 quake strikes Chile, no damage reported
6 dead when Arizona plane crashes shortly after takeoff
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov accepts invitation to visit North Korea
Trump cancels South America trip to monitor Syria response
China's Xi promises to cut car import tariffs, buckles in trade war
Tony Blair calls for new leadership from ‘strong progressive centre’
Yulia Skripal discharged from hospital after Salisbury attack
British Gas PRICE INCREASE: Energy bills go up by £60 for FOUR MILLION homes
Don’t let Brexit undermine Ireland’s peace | Hillary Clinton
Mueller Reportedly Investigating Ukraine Payment To Trump Foundation
The Amazing Ways Google Uses Artificial Intelligence And Satellite Data To Prevent Illegal Fishing
Tiffany Haddish Helps Seth Meyers With 'Jokes Seth Can't Tell'
Laura Ingraham Makes No Apologies In First Show Back From Break
Trump floats the possibility of firing Robert Mueller, criticizes Jeff Sessions
Haley says Russia's hands are 'covered in the blood of Syrian children'
Zuckerberg will defend Facebook as 'positive force in the world' in testimony
Trump to decide on US response to Syria gas attack 'within 48 hours'
Malta bus crash: 2 dead and 50 injured as bus hits tree – 2 UK kids in critical condition
Topless woman who charged at Bill Cosby appeared on 'Cosby Show'
Trump Discusses Timing Of Planned Meeting With Kim Jong Un
Harry and Meghan ask for donations instead of wedding gifts and name seven charities to benefit
Syria gas attack: Theresa May condemns 'barbaric' targeting of civilians
Earthquake hits today MAP: Oklahoma, Nebraska and Los Angeles hit by earthquakes
FRANCE RIOTS: Tear gas fired as THOUSANDS of police clash with anti-capitalist protestors
Iran's rial at all-time low against the dollar
NASA has a plan to put robot bees on Mars
Russia claims Israeli jets behind strikes on Syrian airbase
Syria: missiles hit Homs airbase amid outrage over Douma attack
Revolutionary musical Hamilton takes home seven Olivier awards
World War 3: North Korea will DISARM arsenal of NUCLEAR missiles in SHOCK revelations
Facebook users find out if their data was shared with Cambridge Analytica, starting Monday
Musk posts picture of BFR's 'main body tool' to be used for interplanetary missions
Jimmy Kimmel Tries to End Feud With Sean Hannity; Apologizes For Joke
More turmoil at Germany's biggest bank: Deutsche Bank's CEO is out
Gas attack survivor to world: Shame on you
Sebastian Vettel wins in Bahrain after Kimi Raikkonen runs over mechanic
Nas on Netflix docuseries 'Rapture,' Killer Mike and why hip-hop's mainstream appeal won't be enough to kill the genre
Hungarians flock to cast their ballot as Viktor Orban's party faces calls for election enquiry
What is the Donald Trump v Jeff Bezos feud really about?
'Mom' Renewed for Season 6 at CBS
Trump suggests China will ease trade barriers ‘because it’s the right thing to do’
Jimmy Kimmel's jokes about first lady Melania Trump striking a nerve with viewers?
Trump: 'Big price to pay' after suspected chemical attack in Syria
Cardi B Reveals Baby Bump On ‘Saturday Night Live’
Trump Tower fire is second 2018 blaze in sprinkler-free residential tower
'SNL': Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes for Facebook Data Leak on 'Weekend Update'
Dozens dead in possible gas attack in Syria; regime denies allegation
Russia wants meeting with U.K.’s Boris Johnson as public feud over ex-spy poisoning continues
Members of migrant caravan protest in Mexico City
Several dead as vehicle drives into crowd in Germany
Man Utd news: Jose Mourinho speaks out ahead of Man City title decider
Germany praises bail decision for ex-Catalan leader