The true story of two sisters who joined IS

Ben Hania agrees that Ghofrane and Rahma were also teenagers during a period that was ripe for them to be radicalised. After the instability of the Tunisian Revolution in 2011 and the rise of the Islamic State group, many Tunisians became attracted by the idea of joining the group in Libya, Iraq or Syria. Up to 6,000 Tunisians were estimated to have joined IS by 2015. “I think about that quote from Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that ‘the old world is dying, the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters,'” she says.

“He was talking about Europe between two worlds, but it could be said too about the Arab Spring and the rise of Islamic State. In the twilight, you have monsters. The Revolution, the Arab Spring, shook the dictatorships in the region, but also the new world, the fruit of this revolution, freedom and democracy, they weren’t there yet. So, you have all these monsters playing while the new world is late to arrive. Olfa’s daughters were in this place with monsters.”

Ghofrane and Rahma Chikhaoui’s names made headlines in Tunisia in 2015 when it emerged that they had joined IS; Olfa would also appear on Tunisian television saying that she’d warned the authorities that that her daughters were being radicalised (she had even requested that they’d lock Rahma up, to prevent her from running away.) They would later be captured in Libya, and in 2023 were sentenced to 16 years in prison. Ghofrane’s eight-year-old daughter Fatma is growing up in a Libyan prison with her mother.

Ben Hania reports that her film is still playing in cinemas in Tunisia, nearly six months after its release. However, plans to either allow the sisters to come and stand trial in Tunisia, or to allow Fatma to leave prison, have so far not been successful. Perhaps most moving in Four Daughters, which sums up the history of family trauma revealed by the documentary, is when Eya Chikhaoui is asked what she’d say to her sisters if she could see them again.

“This family that has destroyed you, I won’t let it destroy me,” she says.

Four Daughters is on release now; the Academy Awards take place on 10 March 2024.

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