US to repatriate woman, 9 children of ISIS families from NE Syria

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – The US intends to repatriate an American family from Hawl Camp in Hasakah Governorate, northeastern Syria. The family was brought to Syria by the father to join the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2016, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The family consists of the mother, Brandy Salman, 49, and nine children aged between six and 25, all born in the US. They were taken into custody in the town of Baghuz, Syria’s eastern governorate of Deir ez-Zor.  

ISIS lost its final stronghold in Syria in March 2019. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with the support of the US-led Global Coalition, defeated ISIS after fierce battles in the town of Baghuz in the eastern countryside of Deir ez-Zor, bringing an end to the so-called caliphate declared by the terrorist ISIS.

After Baghuz, thousands of ISIS fighters were transferred to prisons, while their families were transferred to Hawl and Roj camps in areas held by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).

Issue of ISIS family members held in camps in Northeast Syria constitutes an ongoing challenge for the non-internationally recognized AANES, which repeatedly demands that the concerned countries repatriate their nationals.

Also, the AANES continues to call on the international powers to provide support for establishing rehabilitation centers and help in tackling the security situation in the facilities were ISIS foreign nationals are held.

Despite many calls, the majority of countries, including those participating in the Global coalition, refuse to repatriate their nationals.

Hawl Camp, 45 km east of the city of Hasakah, is a house for 55,829 individuals, including 28,725 Iraqis, 18,850 Syrians and 8,254 of foreign nationalities, according to the latest statistics obtained by North Press. The camp also witnesses murders with different methods, most notably firearms.

One of the children, who is now about 17, was taken to Houri center several years ago for rehabilitation and de-radicalization.

In an exclusive statement to North Press in August, Khaled Ibrahim, an official at the Foreign Relations Department of the AANES, explained the reason for separating children from their mothers in Hawl Camp, saying “Children of the age of 12 and above are sexually exploited to increase ISIS offspring based upon fatwas issued by their emirs, they claim.”

He added that ISIS is reorganizing and forming new groups using women and underage children living in Hawl and Roj camps. They undergo ideology training and are taught to carry out assassinations and recruit other children.

Therefore, the AANES, according to international laws and the 2020 Children’s Protection Law No.7 issued by its General Council, is taking the best interest of the children in mind, “transfers them after obtaining approval from their mothers to Orkesh and Houri centers for rehabilitation.”

Houri center, established four years ago in the town of Tel Ma’rouf, southeast of the city Qamishli, is the first center designated for the rehabilitation of ISIS children from extremist ideologies and reintegrate them into civil societies. The center accommodates children aged 12-18.

Similarly, Halat center, situated in the city of Hasakah, cares for and rehabilitates ISIS children whose mothers are held in the two camps. The center houses 55 children from different western and Arab countries [except for Syrians and Iraqis] aged 2-12. During the day, the children are brought to Halat center but in the evening they are taken back to their mothers, according to previous reports.

Orkesh center, some 5 km to the southwest of Qamishli, opened its doors late last year. It is home to upwards of 50 children, particularly those of foreign women.

If the repatriation is carried out, it would be the largest group of people the US has repatriated from Northeast Syria. So far, the US has returned 40 US citizens, including 25 children and 15 adults, since 2016.

By Stella Youssef