Hanna Böhman was working in motorcycle sales after a brief stint in modeling when she sought a higher purpose in life: fighting ISIS in Syria as part of an all-female group of Kurdish soldiers.
Böhman, a 48-year-old Canadian, joined the YPJ – the female brigade of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units – after getting smuggled into Syria in 2015, learning how to use an AK-47 in a four-hour training session before being thrust onto the front lines.
“I just felt like I had to do something greater with my life,” Böhman told Fox News. “I spent my life not doing what I wanted to do, but what I was expected to do. I wanted something different.”
“It was inspiring to fight alongside other women,” she said.
Böhman served two tours with the YPJ, the first in a defensive unit — keeping watch over open terrain and looking for suicide bombers. In her second tour, Böhman was her unit’s only sniper on the frontlines of the conflict.
“My first gun — an AK-47 — was 40 years old,” said Böhman, who recounted a near-death gun battle with two ISIS snipers in the northern Syrian border town of Til Abyad.
“I’m so much taller than most of the Kurdish girls and I was always getting shot at by snipers,” said Böhman, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall. “On this one day, the bullet was so close I actually felt it part my hair.”
Böhman is no longer with the YPJ, but remains committed to eradicating ISIS on the ground in Iraq and Syria and is considering joining the Yazidis after the group invited her into their unit, she said.
Böhman described the terrorist network as “on their way out” in Syria but said radicalization through online propaganda is a difficult fight to win.
“Physically we could wipe them out of Iraq and Syria,” she said. “They’re definitely on their way to getting wiped out but ideologically — that’s different.”
“You don’t need to travel here to become ISIS,” said Böhman, noting the terror group’s online recruitment of young jihadis.
“You can’t get rid of that part. All you can do is treat the circumstances that lead people to commit acts of terror and try to prevent them from happening at home,” she said.
For Böhman, a Canadian citizen with no ties to Syria, the opportunity to serve with an all-female brigade “fighting for women’s rights” in the Middle East was liberating and life-changing, she said.
“We’re being the change we want to see in the world,” she said. “It sounds cliché, but it’s true.”