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‘Many dead bodies’
Members of a Trinidadian family who recently surrendered to Iraqi authorities along with Islamic State (Isis) fighters have spoken of “intense circumstances “including suffering repeated air strikes, fleeing under fire, and seeing many dead bodies.
The family related the stressful experience last month when they were interviewed by Bill Van Esveld, children’s rights researcher with the international Human Rights Watch group.
“These experiences they had may have had a psychological impact,” Van Esveld told the Guardian.
Van Esveld interviewed the group on September 10 with other foreign women at a detention site in Mosul, Iraq.
HRW report stated Trinidadians were among 12 other nationalities found at the facility where Iraqi authorities were holding more than 1,400 foreign women and their children. This was after they surrendered with Isis fighters in late August.
UNC MP Rodney Charles alluded to HRW’s report during last Tuesday’s Budget debate.
Van Esveld said the Trinidadians comprised a family of two sisters, their children, plus their mother. One sister had one child. The other had three and was pregnant.
They told Van Esveld their 53-year-old father was with them when they all surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces north of Tal Afar in late August. But the father—plus other men and boys who surrendered—were separated from them by Iraqi authorities.
The HRW report was the first public insight concerning T&T families involved in Middle East conflict zones, since Isis’ ranks began disintegrating to military strikes in the last year.
In February, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said 130 T&T nationals—70 fighters plus families—joined terrorist activities overseas. In Parliament on Wednesday, Minister in the Attorney General’s office, Fitzgerald Hinds, said there were 180 recorded. The AG’s office houses the Counter-Terrorism Unit. Guardian has seen information on 105 men, women and children leaving for Syria over 2013-2015.
Van Esveld further said the T&T family in Iraq was reluctant to talk about their homeland.
“They said there were so few people from Trinidad and Tobago who had joined ‘al-Dawla’ (as they referred to Isis) that they would be identifiable.
“They said they lived in Mosul for almost two years before fleeing to Tal Afar on February 28. Their husbands were with them then but the husbands returned to Mosul on March 4. They hadn’t hear anything from them in two months.
“I got a sense from them, their husbands fought with Isis. They didn’t talk about what their husbands did. But the only explanation for the fact that they left Mosul at the end of February—about a month after eastern Mosul was retaken and the battle had moved to western Mosul where the men returned to, in early March—is that the men were Isis fighters.”
He said the women described months of “very intense circumstances,”...including “repeated nearby airstrikes, fleeing under fire from multiple locations, lack of water, and seeing many dead bodies”.
“They were afraid of indefinite detention. But one said ‘I think our country doesn’t want us back.’ My sense is, they were fearful they wouldn’t be allowed to return home but would have been grateful for any route leading out of indefinite detention in Iraq. “
Asked if the women had proof they were from T&T, he said, “They said they had no documentation, which was also the case for almost all the other women and children at the facility.”
There was no confirmation whether Isis had taken their documents or they had destroyed them, which Van Esveld said happened in other cases.
“Physically they and their children had no wounds and didn’t seem malnourished. Their greatest concern in discussions with me was to know what happened to their father, who was separated from them and what would happen to them now.”
Law for returning FTFs after Budget debate—AG
Amendments to anti-terrorism law which will cover returning T&T foreign terrorist fighters and their families will be presented in Parliament almost immediately after 2018 Budget procedures are completed, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said.
“The return of foreign terrorist fighters is evolving as a recent phenomenon. These amendments will cover those families abroad, “ Al-Rawi added. He said T&T and its international partners were tracking families of T&T foreign terrorist fighters.
In April, Government presented amendments to the anti-terrorism law which were discussed with some groups including Muslims, some of whom sought changes. Some of the amendments ahead treat with deficiencies on offences and also deal with operationalisation of the proposals concerning declared zones such as conflict zones. Initial proposals were that T&T nationals going there had to report to the State when and where they were going and report on return.
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