Gillian Rosenberg

Woman slays her own demons, then fights ISIL

Canadian-Israeli female fighter slays her own demons, then joins anti-ISIL war

  • Dec. 3, 2014 5:00 p.m.

By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – The Facebook face of Canadian-Israeli Gill Rosenberg is that of a happy and determined modern-day mercenary ready to do her part in the war against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.

Another face of Rosenberg emerged in a New York City courtroom earlier this summer — a more three-dimensional portrait of a convicted fraudster who appeared to have beaten down the demons of alcohol and drugs, while trying to leave behind the darkness of a troubled past.

“I’m terrified at the prospect of going back to jail, and equally terrified of taking ownership of my life and being responsible and accountable for the decisions I make,” Rosenberg told a judge on July 15 as she was about to be sentenced. She had pleaded guilty for her role in an elaborate Israeli-based boiler room telephone fraud that fleeced unwitting elderly Americans out of millions.

“But I do know that I can do better than I have done, and I only hope I get a chance to prove it.”

Rosenberg did indeed turn a page on her troubled past. She was spared jail and sentenced to time served after she had spent nearly four and a half years in custody.

A disturbing new chapter in Rosenberg’s life opened this past weekend with reports — now largely discredited — that she’d been kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant while fighting alongside Kurdish forces.

A Canadian government source, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter, said the government believes Rosenberg’s abduction likely never happened, but are still trying to confirm that.

The 31-year-old woman appears to be the first foreign female fighter to join the ranks of the Kurdish fighters.

Facebook messages in recent days purportedly from Rosenberg, as well as other social media commentary, suggest she is now safe, and that stories of her abduction were little more than ISIL propaganda.

Rosenberg’s largely self-constructed social media profile depicts a smiling and self-assured young woman, touring the sights of Israel and New York City, as well as mugging in various photos with automatic weapons, including while wearing an Israeli Defence Forces uniform.

That upbeat self-portrait contrasts with the narrative of her troubled life and serious brush with American law enforcement, outlined in documents from the U.S. District Court in New York City.

On July 15, David Wikstrom, Rosenberg’s lawyer, filled in some of the gaps in the life of a woman “who had no family, no friends, really no ties that would support a release on bail, no sort of plan to exist.”

After having been “deprived of a normal childhood,” Rosenberg went into the army and then “went right to work in the scheme,” said Wikstrom.

Wikstrom didn’t elaborate in court, but his statements add detail to the boilerplate bio that’s been circulating the web on Rosenberg — that she is from White Rock, B.C., went to high school in Vancouver and later got her pilot’s licence.

Wikstrom declined further comment when contacted in New York, as did the prosecutor in the case.

When Rosenberg took the stand on her own behalf, she offered a harrowing confession of what she said was a successful road to sobriety after 1,607 days in jail. She took full responsibility for those that she hurt.

“Being locked up forced me to face myself, and I didn’t like what I saw,” she said.

Being incarcerated introduced her to Alcoholics Anonymous “and different treatment programs” that helped her gain insight into her “propensity for self destruction.” In the months before her arrest, Rosenberg said she had graduated from abusing alcohol to using drugs.

“I was in a very dark place, in fear of everything and everyone, and consumed by anger and self-hatred,” she said. “Just 10 days ago I was able to say that I’m clean and sober for five years, something I never would have believed possible.”

Judge Loretta Preska said Rosenberg had made a lot of progress in five years, including becoming “clean and sober.”

Preska noted that after her arrest in Israel in 2009, Rosenberg voluntarily agreed to be extradited to the U.S. to face trial. She co-operated with U.S. authorities and gave reliable evidence against her co-conspirators about the boiler room operations in Tel Aviv and Eilat.

This included “one individual who is believed to have used violence in the past and is believed to have connections to Israeli organized crime figures,” said Preska.

Preska imposed a series of conditions on Rosenberg, including that she not possess a firearm, or “other destructive device.” It appears that only applies to her conduct within U.S. borders.

“It probably hasn’t been a very pleasant way, but you should be very proud of the place you are at now,” Preska told Rosenberg. “You have made yourself into a good person and a good member of society.”

Before adjourning the proceedings, the judge said: “I only hope that you will continue in your good works and as a good person and a member of society.”

Within a month, Rosenberg was back in Israel.

By early November, she was in northern Iraq, and was well on her way to becoming a comrade in arms with one of the world’s most legendary fighting forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga.

In a Facebook post purportedly from Rosenberg almost one month ago, she declares her love of “Kurdistan” and declares Canada “officially no longer relevant in my life.”

Two weeks ago, another note warned she wouldn’t have Internet access any time soon.

“Remember,” she wrote. “Life is good.”

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