The Weekend Australian - Review
I’m Not A Monster, a BBC Panorama and PBS Frontline collaboration, tells the story of ISIS bride Sam Elhassani. Formerly known as Samantha Sally, of Indiana, the American married a Moroccan man, Moussa Elhassani, travelled to Raqqa, Syria in 2015 with her children and joined the Islamic State.
Written and hosted by Joshua Baker,
I’m Not A Monster charts the story: how Elhassani’s sister became involved; navigating people smugglers; an FBI operation; and how the runaway eventually was tracked down to a refugee camp.
Elhassani pleads ignorance, claiming manipulation and abuse by her husband. Particularly distressing is her son Matthew’s descent from the happy subject of home videos in Indiana, to terrifying figure in Daesh propaganda videos assembling suicide vests. Was Elhassani simply naive or is she manipulating Baker, and the listener? It’s that question that gives this production its tension.
Whether or not Elhassani’s contrition is genuine creates the “driveway effect”, wherein one continues listening to the podcast, despite having arrived at your destination. After you’ve made up your mind, then changed it, you may be left wondering what will become of Elhassani’s son Matthew. At the time of writing, a final episode interviewing him is yet to air.
Baker spent four years investigating and recording, travelling twice to Syria to scrutinise Elhassani’s claims. Baker interviewed her family, friends and neighbours to test the assertions. Terrorism is a fraught round to cover. The New York Times had to retract its Caliphate podcast over inaccuracies; reporter Rukmini Callimachi was deceived by Abu Huzaifa, a returnee to Canada who claimed to have been an ISIS executioner. He was ultimately charged with perjury and NYT returned its Peabody award for reporting the fabricated story. Listen to the mea culpa by executive editor Dean Baquet to Michael Barbaro, host of The Daily, in the Caliphate podcast feed.
Listen to I’m Not A Monster on your favourite podcast app.