HASAKAH, SYRIA (Kurdistan 24) – The teenage son of a French Islamic State fighter spoke with Kurdistan 24 at a prison in northeast Syria recently, describing in some detail his family’s journey to the country, their life in areas held by the terrorist organization, and Turkey’s apparent lax policy towards fighters seeking to use its territory to join the group.
The boy is currently held at the detention facility known as Gweran Prison in Hasakah Province, run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Kurdistan 24’s Islam Youssef visited the facility where dozens of foreign Islamic State fighters and other alleged terrorists are currently detained.
The unnamed prisoner explained that his family of six left France for Syria five to six years ago. “There was me, my dad, my mom, my sisters, and my brother.” He added, “I came here when I was 11-12 years old.”
The boy, who is close to 18 years old now, said his family had gone through all the major Islamic State strongholds in Syria, from al-Bab, to Manbij, to Raqqa, to the last sliver of areas the group would control— Hajin and Baghouz, which the terrorist organization lost in late March of 2019 at the hands of the SDF and the international anti-ISIS coalition.
He explained that going through Turkey to Syria had been an easy task for his family as well as others seeking to join the Islamic State's then-burgeoning “caliphate” in 2014.
“The countries that did… not help us, exactly, but… there’s Turkey,” adding, “the road was very easy—no obstacles; nothing—” to cross. “In Turkey, no one talked to you or paid attention. When we crossed the border, no one said anything. There were just specific hours when we could not cross.”
The family was in al-Bab at first but then left for Manbij, from where they would eventually flee when the city came under siege by the SDF in mid-2016. Then, he explained, “my dad made us leave with my mom, my sisters, [and] my little brother and go to Raqqa.”
In Raqqa, the teen’s father sent him to the mosques “to learn the Quran, to learn Arabic, and, how do you say, sessions.” Eventually, Raqqa—which was the Islamic State's capital in Syria—would be the target of a series of campaigns by various entities in the country, with the SDF finally delivering a victory in October 2017 in a five-month-long operation.
The prisoner’s family then moved to Jazira where he was “lightly injured,” the circumstances of which he did not explain. His father, however, had sustained severe wounds. They then traveled to Baghouz, where “my dad was killed, my two little sisters were killed. My mom and my little brother were injured.”
During the interview, the prisoner’s leg was visibly deformed, apparently from the wounds he mentioned.
At this point, he continued, the SDF and the international coalition created a safe corridor for “caliphate” deserters to turn themselves in. “At that moment, I decided that’s it, I don’t have anything to do here anymore… so we took it and it led us to this prison.”
“Many people [in the detention center] have changed their way of thinking,” without “the same thoughts we had when we were in the Caliphate,” the prisoner claimed, adding that most of them “would not go back” to it.
He noted how some people, like wives of men who joined the Islamic State or their children, “were forced to come here.” “Some regret it. I regret what happened and we’ll see what they do with us.”
According to various media reports on the situation and to Kurdistan 24 interviews with a number of women who previously joined their spouses in their journey to join the Islamic State, many seem to have been complicit in crimes committed by the group, partaking in the crackdown on dissent within the terrorist organization's territories and enforcing its brutal religious law.
In terms of fighting, the prisoner said had not encountered much. “I did not see anything. I only saw the airstrikes. What I heard from the Kurds and the SDF was just gunfire and mortars—those things.”
“But most of what happened to us inside the Caliphate was the airstrikes,” he said. “That’s what terrorized us the most.”
Editing by John J. Catherine