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ISIS fighter wants to return to Italy, warns of 'sleeper cells'

2019/03/10 | 01:35

(Hatha al-Youm | Iraq News)- An ISIS fighter detained in Syria urged Italy on Saturday to

let him come home to start a new life, saying said he had abandoned the

self-styled jihadist “caliphate” after growing disillusioned with its rulers, Reuters reported.Mounsef al-Mkhayar, a 22-year-old of Moroccan descent who

grew up in Italy, spoke to Reuters in his first interview since surrendering to

the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) two months ago.He has been in prison since emerging from Baghouz, a tiny

village in eastern Syria where the SDF is poised to wipe out the last vestige

of ISIS rule - which once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria.Mkhayar gave an account of growing chaos among jihadists on

the brink of defeat, and of disputes in the ranks as top commanders fled Syria.But he said ISIS was also planning for the next phase,

smuggling out hundreds of men to set up sleeper cells across Iraq and eastern

Syria: “They said ‘We must get revenge’.”Mkhayar is one of thousands from all over the world who were

drawn to the promise of an ultra-radical Sunni Islamist utopia overriding

national borders. Kurdish security officials identified him as Italian and he

said he holds Italian citizenship.“I wish to return to Italy to my family and friends... for

them to accept and help me to live a new life,” said Mkhayar, who walks on

crutches after shelling injured his leg. “I just want to get out of this movie,

I’m tired.”FROM MILAN TO MAYADINHowever, Mkhayar was sentenced to eight years in jail by a

Milan court in 2017 for spreading ISIS propaganda and trying to recruit

Italians to its cause, Italian media say. As a result, he is likely to have to

serve this sentence if he does return to Italy.Reuters interviewed him at a security office in northern

Syria in the presence of an SDF official.As it nears victory, the SDF has struggled with the dilemma

of holding fighters who traveled from abroad to join ISIS along with women and

children.Before the final assault on Baghouz, the Kurdish-led SDF

said it had around 800 foreign militants in jails and 2,000 of their wives and

children in camps. Since then, the numbers have ballooned.The SDF wants them sent back to where they came from. But

foreign governments generally do not want to receive citizens who may be hard

to legally prosecute, and who pledged allegiance to a caliphate that left

behind of a trail of butchery.Once an atheist with an affinity for rap music and a dream

of moving to America, Mkhayar joined ISIS at 18.He said he had spent most of his life in Milan with an aunt

he calls his mother, before being placed in a home for troubled youths overseen

by an Italian priest. He spent a month in prison on drugs charges.Then he began immersing himself in ISIS videos on YouTube

and speaking to recruiters on Facebook. It took him only a month to decide to

move to Syria with a friend four years ago.His friend was later killed on the battlefield. After

military and religious training, Mkhayar fought on various fronts. As ISIS lost

its Syrian headquarters at Raqqa, he left for Mayadin on the Euphrates river in

Iraq, then moved further east across the desert, towards the Iraqi border.“WE’RE GETTING OUT”Amid a string of military defeats in eastern Syria, ISIS

leaders were in disarray, killing off rival clerics and commanders known as

emirs, Mkhayar said.He said he had tried to quit the fighting but had been

imprisoned, and then dispatched back to the frontlines as attacks intensified.He wound up in Baghouz, where he said the jihadists were

split between wanting to give up or fight to the death.Mkhayar said his wife, a Syrian Kurdish woman from Kobani

whom he had married three years ago, helped convince him to leave.“‘That’s it,’ we said, ‘we’re getting out’. I saw my little

daughter turning weak. I was scared my children would die.”Mkhayar said he could not sleep thinking about his wife and

two daughters in a camp for displaced people in another part of northeast

Syria. His wife is due to give birth in a month.He said he still believed in the idea of a caliphate for

Muslims, but accused ISIS rulers of governing their land like “a mafia”,

seeking only to make money and violating their own rules with impunity.Commanders had stolen money and fled to Turkey, Iraq or

Western Europe while ordering people to stay and defend Islam, he said.“This is my belief and I won’t change it, but here in

Islamic State, in reality this doesn’t exist... There is no justice,” he said.“Honestly, I came here too fast... When I arrived, I found

another story.”











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