Lebanese long for Daesh-linked relatives stuck in Syria camps

Khaled Androun, a Lebanese national whose daughter Alaa is a widow of a Daesh fighter and is currently held at a high-security annex the northeast Syrian camp of Al-Hol, shows a photo of his granddaughters on a phone during an interview with AFP in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli on February 10, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
TRIPOLI, Lebanon  — For three years, Umm Mohammed Iali has been longing to embrace her granddaughters stuck in Syria since her two sons died fighting for Daesh there.اضافة اعلان

Like thousands of other relatives of Daesh fighters, the three Lebanese girls and their mother are being indefinitely held in the northeast Syrian camp of Al-Hol.

Sitting in her grandchildren’s bedroom in her home in the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, tears stream down Umm Mohammed’s face.

“I have been telling myself they will come back today, they will come back tomorrow — every day for the past three years,” the 50-year-old said.

“I even prepared the bedrooms for their return,” she said, surrounded by heart-shaped pillows and star-speckled walls.

Her oldest granddaughter is 10 and the youngest, born in Syria, is only four.

The Ialis are among dozens of Lebanese families demanding Beirut repatriates their relatives stuck in overcrowded camps like Al-Hol.

Al-Hol shelters around 56,000 displaced people, including refugees from multiple nations, according to the UN. Most fled or surrendered during the dying days of Daesh’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” in March 2019, and around half the camp residents are Iraqis.

Daesh in 2014 seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria, ruling its territory brutally until its defeat by local forces backed by a US-led coalition.

The Daesh extremists continue to perpetrate violence in Al-Hol, and the UN has repeatedly warned of deteriorating security conditions there.

Living in ‘misery’

Since the fall of Daesh, Syria’s Kurds — who run a semi-autonomous administration in northeast Syria — and the UN have urged foreign countries to repatriate their Islamist extremist-linked nationals.

But this has only been done in dribs and drabs, as countries fear a backlash domestically, both in terms of the reaction of their citizens and the risk of future attacks on their soil.

Umm Mohammed’s Sunni majority hometown, Tripoli, has long been a hotbed for extremists fighting against regime forces in Syria’s civil war. Hundreds of young Tripoli men have joined extremists and opposition groups there since the war began in 2011. 

Their wives and children often followed them.

Mohammed Iali’s widow Alaa, 30, is one of those women. Her husband was killed in 2019 during the battle to take Daesh’s last bastion in Baghouz, Syria.

Despite the defeat of the “caliphate” that year, the extremists are believed to have recruited dozens of Lebanese men to join their ranks since last summer.

A security official has told AFP that “financial motives” are the main attraction for the youth of Tripoli, one of the poorest places in a country suffering a financial crisis that has left more than 80 percent of the population living in poverty.

At least eight Tripoli men have been reported killed in Iraq since December.

After fleeing Baghouz, Alaa was moved to a high-security annex at Al-Hol.

“All I want is for this woman and her girls to come back,” said Umm Mohammed, whose dream is to hold her granddaughters tightly.

“I live only for them.”

She told AFP that their tents in the camps fill with muddy rainwater every winter.

“They live in misery, deprived of everything.”

Since Alaa arrived in Al-Hol her father, Khaled Androun, managed to meet with her and his granddaughters twice but could not secure their release.

His daughter later tried to flee with smugglers but a landmine exploded during her escape, leaving her wounded, he said.

Androun said the girls need access to education, medical attention, and psychological help.

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