“They want us to surrender,” says a boyish voice. “This will probably be the last time I call you.”
And it’s been proven. The audio note, sent on the afternoon of January 26, was the last thing his family heard from his teenage Yusuf Zahab in Australia, who was caught in the middle of a fatal accident. Islamic State In January, the prison where he was being held along with 750 other boys was attacked, but no one has been charged with the crime.
Yusuf, who was 17 at the time, was bleeding from his injuries and survived fighting under Kurdish control for six days as a human shield between IS militants and Kurds and US forces. Syria Killed an estimated 500 people. He believed there was a window through which he could finally escape. Then he disappeared.
The mystery surrounding what Yusuf was doing in a Western-funded prison and his fate raises uncomfortable questions about the group of children wanted by the British and Australian governments: the caliphate of IS Boys left behind after the defeat of the regime. .
In Sydney, Yusuf’s family has speculated that he is dead and has spent days and nights on the phone with Syrian repairmen and the Australian government, seeking answers to simple questions – what happened to Yusuf? mosquito?
“Honestly, it was just disbelief.”
He comes from a world outside of Sydney, away from the Syrian battlefields that engulf him before he reaches adulthood.
“Yousuf’s smile was captivating and he was the most beautiful boy,” says Hara Zahab, Yusuf’s cousin. Because of her age gap, she felt like another mother to him: “He was like my child,” she says.
Camping, trampolines and games – the usual Australian upbringing – were interrupted in 2015 when Yusuf was taken abroad by his parents, ostensibly to visit his grandmother in Lebanon. “It wasn’t what we were worried about, to be honest,” says Halla.
But as the months wore on, the family stayed abroad, and in November of that year, Halla received a visit from Australian security forces. Yusuf, who was 11 at the time, had crashed into her IS territory with her parents, her two older brothers and her older sister, her investigators told her.
“I honestly couldn’t believe it,” Halla says. “My aunt and uncle…because they had a future here. They had a great life.”
Yusuf’s family has told contrasting stories about why they joined IS more than a year after it began promoting atrocities in sophisticated propaganda videos. Muhammad, the eldest son, has already crossed over many years and is one of the oldest Australian members of the group, says Yusuf’s father Haikem. he reluctantly took his family to Syria, to persuade his “brainwashed” son to leave.others claim family cheated I was forced to go to the border and was forcibly driven away at gunpoint.
Whatever the truth of the matter, what could Halla blame for Yusuf? “He was a boy,” she says. “He couldn’t make the decisions himself.” Still he would pay the price.
In 2019, Zahab was among thousands of IS members fleeing the group’s last bastion in Baguz, northeastern Syria. The surviving members of the family – Yusuf, his sister and their parents – surrendered at checkpoints manned by Western allies, the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). His mother and sister were put in one line and his father in another line. Yusuf, who was 14 at the time, was separated from another group.
“He was too old to go camping with his mother,” says Halla. “So he broke up. And we haven’t heard anything…for two years we haven’t heard anything.”
The silence was finally broken last November when Halla was doing laundry at her Sydney home. Then her phone rang with a message from an unknown number. It was a short, scattered voice note recorded in haste.
“salaam alaykum, How are you, Yusuf. “I’m fine, I love you. Sorry I don’t have time. I just wanted to send you a message to let you know I’m fine. hamdulillahHow are you, how are you?
Hara shuddered when she heard that. “I was so excited,” she says. “Oh my god, I remember trying to text back. I was trying to get my cell phone to work…so I can reply to him in time because I was aware of the fact that I didn’t have time.”
A fleeting touch confirmed her second worst fear. Yusuf was alive but spent two years in detention in the youth section of Kurdish-controlled Syria’s Gweilan Prison.
“He told me he had body aches and joint pains,” she says. “He said it was very difficult… [Asking] when can i go home And I told him, we are working on it. We’re pushing…we’re trying to get you home. ”
Yusuf, now 17 years old, suffers from nightmares, and though they are not frightening dreams, he is able to see his mother, touch her, and hug her, tormenting him.
“I’m bleeding heavily. Please, what should I do?”
For more than three years, the government has been grappling with the dilemma of children brought by their parents to join IS, or children born to fighters, their wives, or enslaved women.
Over time, the threat of allowing young Britons, Australians, Canadians and others to grow up in violent prisons and camps, including many security officials in the West, forced them to reintegrate into their home countries. A consensus was formed that it was more important than the task of
Nevertheless, Australia and the UK are hesitant, repatriating eight and nine children respectively. part of what was returned Russia (228), Germany (69) and France (70).
Hara, who has networked with others in Australia whose former IS family members are being held in Syria, says her efforts to persuade the Australian government to help Yusuf were met with indifference. She said, “You won’t get anything. Autoresponder or sorry, we don’t have consular assistance in this area.”
In January of this year, she began to see news reports of IS attacks on the prison where Yusuf was being held. “I was terrified,” she says. “I’m begging you, we got to him. Please don’t let anything happen to him.
“And…I got a voice clip from him. ‘I’m injured. Helicopters are firing in the prison…he said: ‘I’m bleeding, I’ve lost a lot of blood.’ What should I do?”
The IS attacks led to days of bloody fighting inside and outside the prison, with corpses, including children, littering the surrounding streets.
Desperate for help and working with Human Rights Watch, Hala and her family authorized the release of two voice memos of Yusuf from within the siege.
“I just got shot by an Apache, my head is bleeding,” Yusuf said in a recording that was broadcast around the world. “I have injured my head and hands. There is no doctor here to help me. I need help, please.”
In his final message, he said he was about to surrender and made two demands to his family: where would he go next, and they would greet his mother from him. We were separated recently.
As the smoke cleared from the prison carnage, Halla braced herself for news about her cousin. “Nothing, no news. And your heart starts to sink.”
In July, Yusuf’s mother, who was detained in a guarded camp for women and young children, received an ominous message from Kurdish authorities. They couldn’t explain when or where he died or slipped their hand.
Three weeks later, an Australian newspaper, citing unnamed sources, reported that the government believed Yusuf may be dead. I was convinced to give up hope of being there. “We were devastated. Absolutely devastated,” Halla says.
The funeral was held at a mosque in Sydney in July, but it is difficult to close. They have no idea what happened to Yusuf. Did he die trying to surrender? Or is it because of his injuries and illnesses in the prison hospital?
Most haunting is the chance that, in the absence of a corpse, he managed to survive, lost in a system that has become a black hole for hundreds of children.
The Guardian understands that the Australian government has established that Yusuf surrendered and survived at least a few weeks after the siege. We are seeking an explanation from the Self-Defense Forces.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is “seeking further information on:” [Yusuf’s] welfare”.
Yousuf is among at least 100 children still missing after the siege by IS, according to an investigation by UN Special Rapporteur Fionuara Ni Aorain investigating Kurdish prisons.
His withdrawal from Syria over the past three years would have been “infinitely feasible”, says Ní Aoláin. , simply refused to bring this child back.”
It is this belief that tempers Hara back to Sydney. that it was so unnecessary. calculation problem. “They had ample opportunity to get [Yusuf] out,” she says. “And unfortunately the only conclusion we can come to is that it wasn’t a popular cause. It wasn’t popular politically.”
What happened to Yusuf and all the children left behind after IS’s siege?
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