‘I’m the victim’: London postmaster’s ex-jihadist daughter who married an ISIS terrorist and then had an affair with a married Republican congressman says the politician was a ‘hypocrite’ who promised he’d look after her
Long before her affair with a married U.S. congressman hit the news this week, there was enough drama in Tania Joya’s life to fill a Hollywood movie script.
The 38-year-old daughter of a postmaster from Harrow, North-West London, was once the wife of one of ISIS’s most senior commanders, an American-born Muslim convert she met online.
Tania was a passionate espouser of the jihadi cause until nine years ago, when she fled war-torn Syria with her three children, while pregnant, and settled in America.
There, in 2018, Tania married for a second time and, having ditched her jilbab, transformed herself into an elegant, Unitarian church-going Texan wife.
She says she would tell her ‘crazy whirlwind story’ to anyone who would listen, in the hope of educating others about the dangers of Islamic extremism.
But fast-forward nearly four years and her tireless campaign work has been somewhat overshadowed by the latest twist in the story of the woman once dubbed the ‘First Lady of Isis’ — an affair with a married Republican congressman who also happens to be an Iraq war veteran.
The eight-month affair with 49-year-old Van Taylor — not to mention the eye-wateringly intimate texts he sent Tania — made headlines this week when the father-of-three admitted to cheating on his wife and announced he was dropping his bid for re-election.
Long before her affair with a married U.S. congressman hit the news this week, there was enough drama in Tania Joya’s (pictured in 2018) life to fill a Hollywood movie script
Her tireless campaign work has been somewhat overshadowed by the latest twist in the story of the woman once dubbed the ‘First Lady of Isis’ — an affair with married Republican congressman Van Taylor (pictured) who also happens to be an Iraq war veteran
The repentant politician, who describes himself as a ‘family man, businessman and U.S. Marine’, referred to the affair as a ‘horrible mistake’, adding: ‘I want to apologise for the pain I have caused with my indiscretion’.
He and his wife Anne, and their three daughters, are now attempting to ‘repair the scars left by [his] actions’.
So what does Tania have to say for herself? Speaking exclusively to the Mail this week, she portrayed herself very much as the broken-hearted victim. ‘I was in love with Van but he used me,’ she says. ‘He broke me first.’
She believes the politician took advantage of her at a time when her second marriage was failing and she was suffering from depression and low self-esteem.
‘I did what I did because I was scared. I needed someone who could save me and my home, and afford to adopt my kids. Van told me that he wished Anne, his wife, would leave him.
‘I feel so foolish now, but at the time I wanted someone to rescue me. I needed to feel loved and I believed him when he said he’d look after me. I was dreaming.’
And then there’s Tania’s ex-husband, IT consultant Craig Burma, 52, from Plano in Texas, who has also spoken exclusively to the Mail. He says he only found out about the affair a week ago, when a U.S. newspaper reporter called him.
‘The person I am mad at is him,’ he says. ‘I think he was terribly inappropriate with her. He didn’t just make one mistake, he made a mistake every time he touched her, every time he slept with her or texted her the horrific things he either did or wanted to do with her. He made thousands of mistakes.’
While Craig’s divorce from Tania was finalised eight weeks ago, he says he still ‘admires and loves’ his ex-wife.
Tania’s ex-husband, IT consultant Craig Burma, 52, from Plano in Texas, (pictured together on their wedding day) who has also spoken exclusively to the Mail. He says he only found out about the affair a week ago, when a U.S. newspaper reporter called him
What on earth is it, then, about this British woman who enjoyed an utterly normal childhood in the suburbs of London that makes her cause ructions wherever she goes?
And how, having apparently set herself on the straight and narrow after her disastrous ISIS marriage, has she found herself back in the news once again?
‘She’s very, very smart, but she’s also gullible. It’s easy for people to take advantage of her,’ says Craig.
To many, that judgment will sound generous indeed. After all, Tania admits she initiated the affair after meeting Taylor in September 2019 through her work with the Washington-based Preventing Violent Extremism programme. At the end of the meeting, he gave her his card. Their affair started in October 2020 and ended in June 2021.
‘I thought he was charming and really hot,’ she tells me. The pair messaged occasionally for a year about work matters. Then, in September 2020, she told him that she found him attractive, in response to a self-deprecating remark he had made. ‘After that he started messaging me all the time.’
Later on, they shared explicit text messages and met for sex at Taylor’s residence in Plano. ‘We were obsessed with each other,’ she says. ‘We had different political views but he enjoyed being challenged. It was a fiery relationship.’
It was Tania who, having already told Taylor’s wife of the affair by text last November, decided to go public this week. She claimed that she was provoked by the sight of Taylor’s campaign posters in her town.
She says that she initially decided to just tell one of his main rivals, hoping that the woman would quietly persuade Taylor to stand down.
‘I was so angry,’ she tells me. ‘He had called out a rival politician who’d had an affair. I thought he was a hypocrite.’ Playing at politics, of course, is a dangerous thing. Trump-backed Republican Suzanne Harp promptly sent someone round to interview Tania in full.
‘It was deeper than just sex for me,’ says Tania in the recorded interview. ‘He enjoyed my company as I was happy and always complimenting him and praising him. We knew we had an unhealthy obsession with each other. He’d say: “You’re my heroin. You’re my cocaine. You’re my weakness.” I’d say: “I’m in love with you.”
Following reports that Taylor had been cheating on his wife Anne with the ‘ISIS bride’, the North Texas congressman admitted having an affair and dramatically announced that he was ending his re-election campaign
‘From the very beginning of our relationship, he was always telling me: “I’ll look after you. I’ll do anything to make your life better. I want to help you.” But it wasn’t true. I needed a hero to save me and I thought Van was a hero because that’s how he plays off in every interview. He’s the American war hero.
‘I thought that we could be together, me with my four sons, him with his daughters.’ She jokes that they could have been ‘like The Brady Bunch’, referring to the U.S. sitcom about a large blended family.
And, naive as it may seem, she appears to have believed at times that the pair had a future together. Taylor used to pick her up from her pole-dancing and Pilates classes, and they’d cook for each other.
She hoped this powerful, influential man would look after her and her children. Her sons live with their U.S. grandparents, with whom she has shared custody.
‘At one point I said to Van: “My in-laws are old. You can afford to adopt them. You don’t have a son, you have three daughters.’
She also describes how she tried to persuade Taylor to buy her house, which is going up for sale this weekend. The proceeds are due to be split with her ex-husband, Craig.
Towards the end of their relationship, Taylor did give her $5,000 (£3,780) to help her pay off her credit card bill, on the condition that she told no one. But it is clear she wished for more.
Tania readily admits being ‘pathetic and lovesick’. Such desperation is vastly at odds with the idealistic, if horribly misguided, woman she was when she set off for Syria with her ISIS commander husband in 2013, ‘thirsty for an Islamic state’, as she once put it.
In her interview with the Mail, she blames her poor choices on her upbringing within a conservative Bangladeshi-British family.
‘The women were oppressed by male members of the family,’ she says. ‘I was never allowed to date. I didn’t learn how to form healthy relationships with men.’
She met John Georgelas on a Muslim matrimonial site in February 2003. They were married under Islamic law a month after meeting, and a year later they wed at Rochdale Registry Office.
Tania Joya pictured with John Georgelas. The pair fled to Syria from the US. Pictured in June 2009
Georgelas, the youngest son of U.S. Army Colonel Timothy Georgelas and his wife Martha, was from Plano, but spent part of his childhood in Cambridgeshire, where his father was stationed in the 1980s. He rebelled against his family and their politically conservative, Christian values, dropped out of school, became a prolific drug-user and converted to Islam shortly after 9/11.
During her teenage years in London, Tania had also rebelled against her hard-working, moderate Muslim parents, Nural and Jahanara Choudhury, who encouraged their five children to embrace university education and embark on professional careers. Nevertheless, Tania said she felt like ‘the fourth unwanted daughter’, and wanted to run away.
The family moved to East London and, while at a sixth-form college in Barking, she fell under the spell of a group of ultra-conservative students. She began reading the Koran and wearing a jilbab and a niqab, even though her family ‘hated it’.
According to Tania, Georgelas, who is believed to have been killed in Syria in 2017, promised ‘travel, a big family and a stable life’.
‘It was the first time someone was really nice to me,’ she said in a 2017 interview about her former life. Indeed, a desperate desire to be loved appears to be a common theme for this troubled woman.
She says her first husband tricked her into going to Syria after getting her onto a bus with their children.
When they arrived, they were put up in a villa belonging to a Syrian general. But within three days, she says, she had managed to phone Georgelas’s mother in Texas and told her to report her son to the FBI. With her husband’s permission, Tania left the country three weeks later.
‘He was afraid I’d be killed because I refused to cover up properly and kept mouthing off. I was a liability,’ she says. ‘It’s the one thing I’m grateful to him for — he let me leave.’
According to Tania, (pictured in Egypt in 2011) Georgelas, who is believed to have been killed in Syria in 2017, promised ‘travel, a big family and a stable life’. She says her first husband tricked her into going to Syria after getting her onto a bus with their children
Once she had fled Syria, she and her children turned up on the doorstep of her former in-laws, Timothy and Martha, in Plano. It wasn’t long before she was hanging out in the Dallas shopping malls, having her hair done at the salon and learning to shoot at the local gun range.
She soon turned to internet dating sites to find a new man. She met her second husband, Craig, via match.com. He paints a picture of a lonely woman, isolated from her family in London, with whom she has almost no contact. Indeed, her mother has spoken of ‘disowning her’.
‘It’s very lonely when you don’t have a family network,’ he says. ‘You can get everything you need but still feel the emptiness and not know how to cope with that. She doesn’t have a support system.’
Their marriage was in trouble within a year of their June 2018 wedding, with Tania leaving Craig and moving to California for three months. He filed for divorce before they reconciled in August 2019.
He moved out of their home in October last year and their divorce was finalised in January this year.
He says: ‘Our marriage was going through a rough patch when the affair was going on, but things got catastrophically worse, which led to me filing for divorce. From my point of view, the marriage was unsupportable. I didn’t understand why at the time, I just knew we couldn’t live together any more.’
He and Tania are still on amicable terms while they wait to sell the home they once shared and where, for now, she is still living. He describes the way Taylor moved in on his ex-wife as ‘disgusting’.
‘He had every advantage in life, he’s from family money, he’s had a Harvard education, he’s in a position of power. And he decides to pick out someone like Tania who doesn’t have those things and take advantage of her. That’s the part that makes it tough for me.
‘I know people are human. It infuriates me that he did not understand that he was taking advantage of a person.’
Several days before Tuesday’s primary election, Ms Joya (pictured) told The Dallas Morning News that she had an affair with Taylor that lasted from October 2020 to June 2021
So what next, then, for the so-called Isis bride now being described as a home-wrecker in the U.S media? Tania says she wishes she could ‘start over again’.
While she is training to be a hypnotherapist and has discussed the possibility of writing a book about her extraordinary life, she has already found herself a new man.
He is 44-year-old Chad Greenslade, another IT consultant, who already appears smitten. He has posted several photographs of Tania on his Facebook page, including one at the end of January with the words: ‘She’s so beautiful’.
Whether or not she has found the elusive happy-ever-after she is constantly seeking is another matter entirely.
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