Australian teenager dies in prison for ISIS in NE Syria

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – An Australian teenager, who was detained in northeast Syria for contacts with Islamic State Organization (ISIS), died on Monday.

The 17-year-old Yusuf Zahab had caught tuberculosis in the prison, where Syrian and foreign ISIS suspects were held in. 

“The previous Australian government knew about Yusuf’s predicament for more than three years … we are unaware of any efforts to support, care or inquire about him,” Zahab’s family said.

Zahab, who was born in southwest Sydney, Australia, was 11 when he travelled to Syria to live in the newly declared so-called ISIS caliphate in northeast Syria with his parents and siblings.

In 2019, Zahab was arrested by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and he was detained in al-Sina’a prison in Guweiran neighborhood in the city of Hasakah alongside suspected members of the ISIS for three years.  

In January 2022, during fighting between the SDF, supported by the US-led Global Coalition, and ISIS, Zahab was wounded in the head and arm.

He sent audio recording, begging for help during an ISIS siege of al-Sina’a prison to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Clashes started on January 20 after militants of ISIS assaulted a prison that holds thousands of ISIS inmates.

The assault coincided with three explosions in an attempt to break out the ISIS detainees out of the prison.

“His death should prompt these countries to urgently bring their detained citizens home,” Letta Tayler, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW said.

“How many more detainees will die before countries bring home their nationals?” Tayler concluded.

Between 69 and 80 Australian nationals, including 19 women and 39 children, are held in northeast Syria as ISIS suspects and their family members, according to Kamalle Dabboussy, the representative for the Zahab’s and other detainees’ families.

“The big obstacle that hinders the advance of the SDF is that ISIS used terrorist children who are ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’ and amounts 700 minors in the prison, as human shields,” the SDF said in a statement.

The SDF appealed to the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to intervene to spare the children and prevent ISIS from using them in military operations and surrender them to the security forces for their own safety.  

The previous Australian government repatriated only eight citizens, all unaccompanied children, Dabboussy stressed.

HRW called on Australia and other countries to take urgent steps to repatriate their nationals.

It also called for improving conditions in camps and prisons, providing aid workers and independent monitors unfettered access to all detainees, and allowing evacuations of detainees needing lifesaving treatment abroad.

Reporting by Saya Muhammad