Aktan said his wife became increasingly devout, covering her hair and praying frequently, often needling him to join in. He refused.
"Thank God, I’m a Muslim," he said. "But I’m not the kind of person who can pray five times a day."
Asked why she became engrossed in religion, Aktan acknowledged that his wife was lonely. But in Facebook messages to the AP, many typed out on a smartphone, Ummi Abdullah accused her husband of treating her "like a slave."
She alleged that Aktan pressured her to abort their child and said she felt isolated in Istanbul. "I had no friends," she said. "I was constantly belittled by him and his family. I was nobody in their eyes."
Aktan acknowledged initially asking his wife to terminate her pregnancy, saying she was too young to have children. But when she insisted on carrying the pregnancy to term, Aktan said he accepted her decision and loved the child.
Meanwhile Aktan’s wife was finding the companionship she yearned for online, chatting with jihadists and filling her Facebook page with religious exhortations and attacks on gays. In June, she and Aktan divorced. The next month, a day before her ex-husband was due to pick up their son for vacation, she left with the boy for Gaziantep, a Turkish town near the Syrian border. Aktan, who had been eavesdropping on her social media activity, alerted the authorities, but the pair managed to slip across.
Aktan says he hasn’t seen his son since.
It isn’t clear how many families have followed Umi Abdullah’s path, although anecdotal evidence suggests a powerful flow from Turkey into Syria. In Dilovasi, a heavily industrial town of 42,000 about halfway between Istanbul and the port city of Izmit, at least four people — including a pair of brothers — recently left for Syria, three local officials told AP. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk to the media, said that dozens of people from surrounding towns were believed to have left as well.
Aktan says he is in touch with other families in similar circumstances. He cited one case in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where 15 members of the same extended family had left for Syria "as if they’re going on vacation."
The Islamic State group appears eager to advertise itself as a family-friendly place. One promotional video shows a montage of Muslim fighters from around the world holding their children in Raqqa against the backdrop of an amusement park.
A man, identified in the footage as an American named Abu Abdurahman al-Trinidadi, holds an infant who has a toy machine gun strapped to his back.
"Look at all the little children," al-Trinidadi says. "They’re having fun."