Steven Sahiounie, Middle East observer
The backbone of a Muslim family is the mother. She is the soul of the family, teaching right from wrong, and the one to teach her children how to pray. Inside the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria are thousands of mothers and their children. These are the wives and mothers of ISIS terrorists, and while most are Syrian or Iraqi, there are 10,500 who are foreigners originally from Finland to Spain, and everywhere in between. Al-Hol houses about 70,000 persons, of which 50,000 are children, and 20,000 are women. The fathers, husbands, and brothers of the al-Hol group are housed separately in a prison, and the women are not given information on the males.
According to interviews in the camp, the most vicious women are the French. They are poorly educated, enjoy watching torture and abuse and work in teams to exert pressure on the other women to maintain the ISIS ideology. One French woman claimed she joined ISIS in 2012 because then-President Nicolas Sarkozy was preventing her from practicing Islam. She said she did not want her children to learn Darwin’s theory in French schools, but rather to learn Islam in Syria. However, her children never attended school while under the ISIS regime. Now that the fight is over, she just wants to go home to France and pretend it was all a bad dream; but, France has not agreed.
Al-Hol camp is under the administration of the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) which is a mercenary militia on the US Pentagon payroll. The SDF has 400 guards at the camp, and their priority is security, under the command of Mahmoud Karo. He noticed that the ISIS women and their children were fanatical in their adherence to ISIS ideology. His guards had found that the women were burning the tents of others who they perceived as ‘infidels’, and had physically attacked others who were not dressed in the full head to toe black ISIS garb, which includes covering the face. These women were the ISIS enforcers and took their duties seriously. They had no regrets and remained allegiant to the ISIS ideology, and would not let their neighbors deviate. At night, while the guards were sleeping, these enforcers would go to work abusing others. Hidden military training using wooden guns was taught to children, including basic bomb-making skills. Nisrin Abdullah, with the YPJ, voiced concerns about the failure to de-radicalize ISIS children, because without that the mothers will reinforce the ideology with a future goal of revenge against those who crushed the ISIS dream.
Thousands of children above the age of 12 are being held in prison by the SDF under suspicion of having fought with ISIS. They are held with adult men who were with ISIS and originally from nearly 50 countries. These children are not allowed to communicate with their mothers. The women in al-Hol have been heard to call the US and the SDF, “pig enemies of Islam”. The situation is creating a ticking time-bomb that may explode sooner or later.
The United States defense secretary, Mark Esper, warned that refusal by Britain and other European countries to repatriate around 2,000 former fighters was creating a threat to the region’s security. A Pentagon report by the inspector general warned that the US and the SDF are not able to closely monitor movements inside al-Hol. Some European countries have repatriated orphaned children of ISIS, but they stop short of bringing home a mother and children as a family unit. The real fear is of welcoming home to a terrorist cell. Without a program to change the minds of the women and children the issue is put on the back-burner of European governments, while these women and children suffer awful conditions in what can only be classified as a ‘concentration camp’. UN official Paulo Pinheiro said, “Member state policies aimed at repatriating children without their mothers are also something which runs counter to the principle of “best interests of the child”.”
The al-Hol camp is blazing hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. It lacks clean water, the food is scarce, it is dangerous because of the enforcers, and there is almost no access to medical care. The UN is working there, and there are other international aid agencies, but donors are often wary of a camp full of ISIS families.
“The children are sick, injured, hungry, cold, malnourished and traumatized by what they have seen. These children have never lived a normal childhood, so we are still figuring out what kind of psycho-social support to provide them,” said Ghassan Mediah, of the UNICEF field office near al-Hol. The children often are very quiet and even though they are suffering in the camp they do not cry.