Camp of doom: Bleak home of IS brides

 

In a camp filled with around 72,000 cold, sick and hungry people in northeast Syria, the brides of the Islamic State are gathering in their droves.

As the so-called caliphate steadily collapsed in recent months, IS fighters in eastern Syria surrendered, along with their families. The men were taken to prisons, the women and children travelled the bleak camps in the north.

One worker reported seeing mothers spilling out of trucks clutching lifeless babies, not realising their children had died on the journey. Others walked for days through the desert without food after IS was defeated near the village of Baghouz, near the Iraq border.

Al-Hawl, also known as al-Hol, is the largest camp, and a dire lack of food, clean water and medical supplies is fast making it unsustainable.

The dangerously unhygienic camp stinks of human waste and children suffering from severe malnutrition walk barefoot on ground littered with rubbish.

Sixty children have died at the camp, with 138 people dying on the way to or soon after arriving at al-Hawl since December, the International Rescue Committee reported.

Most dangerously of all, the tensions are building between those loyal to the caliphate, and civilians desperately seeking safety.

Security is tight at al-Hawl, which is struggling to contain outbreaks of violence, sexual harassment and jihadist activity.

A massive brawl between IS fighters and Syrian forces left more than 10 needing medical treatment in late March, and police had to intervene when Syrians and Iraqis began throwing stones in the main area just days ago.

Around 9000 foreigners from Australia, Europe, Russia, North Africa and Central Asia are held in a fenced-off section of the encampment, guarded by Kurdish forces. It is unclear what their fate will be.

A Belgian woman who moved to Syria in 2013 said some of the former IS members had "very extreme beliefs". She said that simply talking to guards or asking to go to the market could see camp residents labelled "infidels" and stripped of their belongings.

"These people scare me," she said. "They can burn our tents and do whatever they want to us."

The atmosphere at the camp is often toxic. Women and girls told the UN they feel unsafe and unable to move safely within the camp.

Women are thoroughly searched after visiting the market by guards on the lookout for goods stolen from other residents or signs of contact with the outside world, which can see them placed in cells.

Children were seen by reporters pointing at the sky in a gesture of loyalty to IS. One woman threatened to hit a cameraman.

Many women at the camp are pregnant, some under 18. One mother who had just given birth could not breastfeed due to malnutrition and a fractured arm, but there was no formula available.

Severely ill patients, who cannot be treated at al-Hawl, are sent to hospitals in the city of Hasakeh, an hour away.

Official Abdel-Karm Omar said the women and children needed to be "re-educated and reintegrated by their home countries" or they would become "the terrorists of the future"

'I WANT TO GO BACK TO MY COUNTRY'

Some foreign nations have been repatriating children from the Middle East, and others are considering allowing all citizens to return.

But countries including Australia and Britain have refused to allow suspected IS members to return, sparking fierce debate.

One of the most famous cases is that of 19-year-old jihadi bride Shamima Begum, a Londoner living at Roj camp, whose newborn baby died last month.

The three remaining children of Australian IS couple Khaled Sharrouf and Tara Nettleton are living in limbo at al-Hawl after Scott Morrison refused to allow them to return.

Zaynab, 17, Hoda, 16, and Humzeh, 8, are stranded at the camp along with Zaynab's children Ayesha, 3, and Fatima, 2, after their notorious parents died in the war zone.

Their grandmother Karen Nettleton told the ABC they "shouldn't be in amongst" the extremists at the camp, but the Prime Minister told reporters in Canberra: "I'm not going to put one Australian life at risk to try and extract people from these dangerous situations."

 

Britain has refused to allow UK IS bride Shamima Begum, 19, to return to her home country. Picture: Supplied
Britain has refused to allow UK IS bride Shamima Begum, 19, to return to her home country. Picture: Supplied

 

A 24-year-old Melbourne woman thought to be Zehra Duman (centre) has begged to return to Australia.
A 24-year-old Melbourne woman thought to be Zehra Duman (centre) has begged to return to Australia.

A 24-year-old Australian IS bride living at al-Hawl begged to come home in February. The woman, who refused to identify herself but is believed to be Zehra Duman from Melbourne, said in a video interview with the ABC that her children urgently needed food and medical attention.

"I want to go back to my country," she said. "I think everybody's asking for that because I'm an Australian citizen.

"Both of my kids are sick. (My daughter is) very malnourished, she's … very skinny.

"I understand the anger that they have towards a lot of us here, but the kids don't need to suffer. You know my kids have a right at least to be treated like normal kids."

Ms Duman was prolific on social media, spouting IS propaganda and inciting acts of violence during her time with the terrorist group, including calling for mass poisonings of restaurants.

She acted as a recruiter for IS and taunted Australian authorities to "catch me if you can" in posts on social media where she posed with automatic weapons.

 

The three remaining children of notorious Australian IS couple Khaled Sharrouf and Tara Nettleton are stranded at the camp.
The three remaining children of notorious Australian IS couple Khaled Sharrouf and Tara Nettleton are stranded at the camp.

'SHE DOESN'T WANT TO SHOW SHE'S FALLEN'

A Sydney tradie who joined IS in Syria more than three years ago and surrendered to Kurdish forces at the IS stronghold of Baghouz a month ago has begged Australia to bring him and his family home.

Mohammed Noor Masri, 26, told the Sydney Morning Herald he was prepared to face a lengthy jail sentence in Australia for his "mistake" but wants to get his pregnant wife and their three young children out of Syria. Masri is in detention in northern Syria and his Australian wife Shayma Assaad is believed to be at one of the camps.

Not everyone is eager to leave, with some former militants already working on the next generation of extremism in the Middle East.

But Janai Safar, a 24-year-old IS bride from Sydney living at Roj camp, told The Australian last month she had no desire to return home. "It was my decision to come here to go away from where women are naked on the street," she said. "I don't want my son to be raised around that."

The former nursing student said she and cousin left to join IS in 2015 without telling their families after researching it online. She said she had married a Lebanese Australian in Raqqa, but he had died in a car crash a year ago. "I don't regret coming to Syria," she said. "I don't regret living under ­Islamic State."

Her father, Samer, said IS members were "crazy", calling his daughter "stubborn" but "kind-hearted". He said he had asked her to come home and she had refused.

"She doesn't want to show she's fallen. But at the end of the day, Australia is her country," he told The Australian.

 

 

 

Samer Safar, father of Janai, wants her home — but his daughter says she will not return. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian
Samer Safar, father of Janai, wants her home — but his daughter says she will not return. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian


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