Kurdish military sources in Kobani are telling Israeli media this evening that it’s “impossible” that Canadian-Israeli Gillian Rosenberg was captured by ISIS last week, as was reported on pro-ISIS social media today. They say she was in a different sector of the city from the Kurdish unit that suffered the ISIS attack where she and 10 others were supposedly captured.
The doubts about her capture were first reported late this afternoon by Walla! News (here, in Hebrew), which has been doing the most complete coverage of the alleged kidnapping. Then Mabat, the evening news broadcast of Israel Broadcasting’s Channel One, reported the doubts and broadcast audio of Kurdish sources expressing their doubts. Mabat is in Hebrew, but the Kurdish interviewees speak in English, starting at 1:36:
It should be simple enough to contact her unit and inquire about her whereabouts, but under the brutal, chaotic combat conditions in Syria, reaching a particular rebel unit could take a day or more.
Rosenberg, 31, flew to Amman November 2 and from there to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, where she joined the Kurdish militia YPG. From there she was moved to Kobani, the Kurdish Syrian city on the Turkish border that’s been the scene of fierce fighting for months. She’s been identified as the first Western woman to volunteer to fight with the rebels in the Syrian civil war.
She told Kol Israel Radio in a November 11 interview from Syrian territory that she contacted YPG on Facebook because she supported their cause and wanted to help. “They are our brothers,” she told Kol Israel’s Eran Cicurel. The full interview can be heard here. A fragment of it with English subtitles is included in this video of a November 13 i24 English-language Israeli news feature about her:
She was born in White Rock, British Columbia, a southern suburb of Vancouver near the U.S. border. The Canadian Jewish News reported that she graduated in 2001 from Maimonides Jewish High School, where she was class valedictorian. She studied aviation in Vancouver, then moved to Israel in 2006 and joined an IDF search-and-rescue unit.
In 2009 she turned herself in to the FBI for extradition and trial on charges that she’d participated in a Nigerian-based scam to bilk elderly Americans out of their savings. Victims were told they’d won a lottery, then instructed to send in an advance to cover the operating costs of the payout. She served about four years under a plea bargain and then was deported to Israel.
She’s said to be estranged from her parents, but her father discussed her warmly in an interview in early November on Israel Broadcasting’s English news show, after it was first reported that she’d joined the Kurdish YPG militia to fight ISIS:
Meanwhile, jihadist websites are carrying wilder and wilder rumors about her fate today. Walla reports claims that she has converted to Islam and taken the name Aisha Umm-Yahud, and that she is giving medical care to wounded fighters of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated militia that is allied with ISIS after they reportedly reached a reconciliation agreement recently to end their year-long feud.
Walla also quotes a website that claims ISIS spokesman Abu-Muhammad al-Adnani has let it be known that he intends to marry Rosenberg, allegedly in order to boost his prestige in advance of a leadership challenge he intends to mount against the self-proclaimed ISIS “caliph” Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).