From the ashes of ISIS
The so-called ‘caliphate’ is no more. But the militant group is far from beaten – and the scars left by its reign of terror may never heal
ISIS pivots from proto-state to global insurgency
Since ISIS lost the last of its territory in late March – a sliver of riverbank on the Euphrates shortly before the river flows from Syria into Iraq – the group has made a rapid if predictable pivot towards a global insurgency.
In the past month, ISIS has claimed a role in attacks or plots in Saudi Arabia, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, most notably, Sri Lanka, where a local cell of suicide bombers who pledged allegiance to the group killed 257 people at three churches and three luxury hotels on Easter Sunday.
It was against this backdrop that reclusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi chose to make a theatrical reappearance on the global stage in a video released on April 30. A now grey-bearded Baghdadi exhorted his followers to “steadfastness”, arguing for an inevitable clash of civilisations between ISIS and the West. “The battle of Islam and its people against the Crusaders and their followers is a long battle,” he said.
It was only his second ever video appearance. Nearly five years ago he was first filmed declaring himself the head of a so-called caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul’s Al Nuri Mosque.
It was a grandiose claim for a fugitive leader of an insurgent organisation, even if a few hundred of his fighters had just seized control of Iraq’s second city. But just a few months after Baghdadi’s declaration, ISIS controlled territory larger than Portugal, with the roughly 10 million people living under its austere rule contributing up to $800 million in taxes annually, while the group reaped even greater profits from rackets ranging from oil smuggling to the sale of looted antiquities.
For faithful adherents willing to overlook the violence, extortion, and genocidal attacks on the Yazidis – much of which was documented and published by the group's “Ministry of Media” in slick high definition videos – the restoration of a "caliphate" seemed ordained, and tens of thousands of supporters worldwide made hijra, migrating to live under the self-styled Islamic State.
That state for Muslims was not destined to last, though. Geopolitical overreach, relentless bombing by an international coalition, and the challenge of running a pariah pseudo-state – which by the end even ISIS supporters acknowledged operated more like a mafia than a country – spelled a downfall almost as swift as ISIS’s meteoric rise.
By the time Baghdadi chose to speak last week, it was to declare that ISIS had already pivoted away from this loss. Now without the burden of territory to defend, the group would be planning more attacks worldwide.
But while the world grapples with the implications that the territorial defeat of the world’s most feared terrorist group may result in more – not fewer – attacks worldwide, attention has shifted away from Syria, where the group made its most enduring impact.
The SDF, the militia that declared a territorial victory over ISIS, now faces governing a territory greatly damaged by fighting, and a population subjected to ISIS's extremist ideology for five years.
More worrying is the huge number of ISIS supporters and their families now living in overcrowded internment camps simmering with resentment. Over 70,000 people are now living in these camps, among them Syrians, Iraqis and citizens of nearly 50 other states. Thousands of men who were believed to be ISIS fighters are held separately in makeshift jails.
The self-administration – as the Kurdish-led group in control of north-east Syria calls itself – says it cannot care for these people alone, and urgently requires international assistance. Last month, the SDF announced a deal to return home 31,000 Iraqis, mostly women and children. But most states have been reluctant to repatriate their citizens.
It is a complicated situation for which there can be no one-size-fits-all solution.
“I feel betrayed by the group I joined and the country I left behind”
Mark Taylor, New Zealand ISIS fighter
Mark Taylor, the New Zealander who joined ISIS five years ago, now languishes inside a crowded Kurdish prison in northern Syria.
The middle-aged militant is much thinner than in the gun-toting photos he shared online before fleeing ISIS ranks in December as coalition forces closed in. Now, he says he feels betrayed by not only the group he fought for, but the government that has declined to help him return home.
In an interview with The National in a Kurdish security forces office in March, the man who goes by the name Muhammad Daniel after his conversion to Islam, said he left because there was “no point” in staying and fighting to the death for ISIS.
Taylor then described feeling let down by New Zealand after hearing that the country whose passport he once destroyed would not be assisting his return. “I asked the government to help me. But then eventually, they just stabbed me in the back.”
His softly spoken manner was a far cry from his once bombastic online persona. In June 2014, he posted an image showing the charred remains of his black passport, the silver fern still visible on the cover, with the caption that his trip to Syria was a “one-way trip, no going back”.
But now, the 42-year-old wants a return ticket. “I was hoping at least a government agency would at least pick me up and take me home. I was expecting that,” he said.
Taylor gained notoriety in 2015 when he inadvertently revealed his precise location by geotagging his social media posts, which showed him to be in a house in the Syrian town of Al Taqbah. The blunder earned him the moniker the “bumbling jihadi” by western journalists and, he says, a 50-day stint in an ISIS prison.
He is still aggrieved by the incident – both by the media coverage and the way he was punished by ISIS after breaching the group’s security.
Dressed in a greasy brown jacket, his eyes sunken and his stubble a far cry from the wispy beard he once sported, Taylor recounted the incident that put him afoul of the group.
“I was on holiday. I wanted to voice my freedom of speech,” he said of the incriminating social media posts. “It turns out that freedom of speech was not allowed in the Islamic State.”
In ISIS’s austere interpretation of fundamentalist Islam, Taylor found a rigid prescription for living that he could understand. But beyond self-pity, he seems to have little capacity for compassion. He expressed few regrets about joining the hardline Islamist group, and no remorse for their crimes.
He described the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff – which occurred in the months before Taylor joined ISIS in October 2014 – as “not really my problem”.
Both men were kidnapped while covering the war in Syria and were beheaded by ISIS militants in 2014, as the group was asserting its power through a string of brutal killings.
“I didn’t have concern about these situations,” Taylor said.
After witnessing public executions and crucifixions in Syria, Taylor seemed most concerned that he might have also ended up a victim. “I was kind of devastated, that this could have happened to me too,” he said.
Turning to the group’s murder and enslavement of thousands of Yazidis, Taylor became evasive. “They [ISIS] were kinda harsh,” he reflects. But “I wasn’t involved directly in that”.
Taylor, however, continues to defend the concept of slavery. Thousands of Yazidi girls and women were ripped from their families in August 2014 and sold into slavery. Survivors’ first-hand accounts of rape and forced labour galvanised much of the international response to the group’s brutality.
Many missing Yazidis have never been found. Slavery though, is “not much of a problem really,” according to Taylor. “As long as you treat the slave as equal according to the Shariah law, you don’t treat them as subhuman.”
Despite saying he wanted to leave ISIS for three years, Taylor remained with the group until last December. By then, he said, he was reduced to “scavenging through junk, rubbish tips – basically begging”.
As ISIS slid towards inevitable defeat, Taylor decided to surrender to the SDF.
“I decided just to give up,” he said. “I was forced to get out with no food, no basic facilities, bombs dropping everywhere.”
Taylor’s surrender marked the closure of another chapter in a lifetime spent searching for belonging, but never quite fitting in.
Now, he is more concerned that the New Zealand government will not be expending resources to assist him in his return to the country, leaving him stranded in a Kurdish prison like hundreds of other foreign nationals who joined ISIS. “Gee, that’s pretty hard,” Taylor said after hearing the news.
A relative of Taylor’s said he experienced mental health problems in his youth. After dropping out of school, Taylor eventually joined the New Zealand army. A fellow soldier described him as a “lost lamb”. At the time, he was a born again Christian. But, after leaving the army, he became an atheist and then a Muslim convert. He would later be drawn to Islam’s radical fringes.
In 2009, Taylor was detained in Pakistan while attempting to travel to the Al Qaeda stronghold of Wana, near the Afghan border. Two years later, he was on New Zealand’s terror radar. Despite this, he was issued with a new passport. He travelled to Yemen, he said, before settling for a time in Indonesia where he married a local woman and taught English.
By July 2014, he had left his wife and travelled to Syria, first joining Al Qaeda offshoot Jabhat Al Nusra before defecting to ISIS.
“I’ve abandoned all international laws and only practise Islamic Shariah laws. NZ laws are the worst of time. Sorry Johnny, here to stay in IS,” he wrote that year from a Twitter account that has since been deactivated.
In 2015, he appeared in an ISIS propaganda video urging terrorist attacks in Australia and New Zealand on ANZAC day, the shared remembrance date for military veterans on April 25.
“I called for attacks, but it wasn’t for specifically ANZAC Day,” he said. “But you have to realise that there are even more hardened people and hardened criminals who have been kicked out of Australia due to violent crimes and sent back to New Zealand and they are much more worse than me.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says no agency will be helping Taylor to leave Syria.
"New Zealand has made it very clear that New Zealanders should not travel to Syria,” she said at a press conference. “Further, it is clear that it is unlawful to join and fight with a terrorist organisation as Mark Taylor has done.”
While Taylor would not be stripped of his citizenship, he would be prosecuted should he manage to return home and could face up to life in prison on terrorism charges.
“I asked the government to help me. But then eventually, they just stabbed me in the back”
Mark Taylor, New Zealand ISIS fighter
After being bailed out previously by the New Zealand government in Pakistan, he seemed surprised to hear that help would not be forthcoming.
“The thing is, I thought New Zealand was going to give me a fair go,” he said. “I know New Zealand helped me before in Pakistan, by getting me out of Pakistan, but they had a consulate in Pakistan. They helped me out when I was in Australia when I complained about [the] Australian government cancelling my visa.”
Despite his apparent naivety, and his claims to have only ever served as a teacher and a guard for ISIS, a Kurdish security official said he believed Taylor was a hardened fighter. “When he was first arrested he said he was only newly arrived in Syria,” said the official, who asked to remain nameless in order to discuss Taylor’s case.
“So obviously, he will lie. Most of them will, they will say they were only a driver, a nurse, or a cook. But we had information about him already from our sources, we knew he was in Jabhat Al Nusra before,” the official said.
Images of Taylor posted on social media show him posing with a large black machete and an assault rifle while making ISIS’s notorious one-fingered salute. Whether he ever did more than pose for photographs with weapons is unclear.
With makeshift prisons and detention camps close to overflowing, the US-backed force is anxious to see foreigners like Taylor repatriated.
“We would very much like to hand him over to the New Zealand government,” the official said.
As Taylor was returned to prison in manacles, the enormity of his situation and the fact that he was on his own were now dawning on him. “How can I get out of here when there is... no one to even help me at all. I’m just one person. What can I do? What can I do now in life? I have to stay indefinitely in some prison cell that I don’t know.”
Her mother still calls her baby doll, but Cassandra Bodart is a long way from home. After running away with an Islamic militant to Syria as a teenager six years ago, the 24-year-old Belgian lives in a Kurdish-run camp for ISIS families in north-eastern Syria, unable to return home.
She has cast off her veil and renounced the fundamentalist ideology of ISIS. But now the blonde-haired Belgian says she fears for her life as she remains living among the group’s supporters at Roj Camp.
About 400 foreign ISIS wives and their children have been brought to Roj, where the most hardline are covertly attempting to enforce the extremist group’s rules under the noses of the camp’s administration.
“My family pushed me towards Islam, Islam pushed me towards my husband, and my husband pushed me towards ISIS”
“It’s a radicalisation camp,” Ms Bodart told The National in March during an interview conducted in a portacabin used by camp management. “It’s very dangerous.”
Ms Bodart’s story illustrates the difficult question of what to do with foreign women who supported ISIS, a cohort that includes obvious offenders, some clear victims and others whose culpability is far less obvious. Thousands like Ms Bodart now languish in Kurdish-run camps in north-east Syria, discovering that the fraught journey that led them to ISIS may be nothing compared to the difficulty of finding a path to redemption and a return home.
Ms Bodart was 18 when she travelled to Syria in 2013. She was following her then husband Abdelhamid Derguiani, a Frenchman of Algerian descent 26 years her senior whom she had met on Facebook.
In a 40-minute interview, Ms Bodart spoke of conflict in her home life and a conversion to Islam in her teen years. She had been naive and easily manipulated, she said. “My family pushed me towards Islam, Islam pushed me towards my husband, and my husband pushed me towards ISIS.”
The pair settled in the capital of the Islamic State, Raqqa, the eastern Syrian city where her husband, a committed militant obsessed with martyrdom, was put to work manufacturing suicide car bombs.
For a time, Ms Bodart was happy. She posted a picture on Facebook of her torn-up passport captioned: “Prepare yourself, Belgium, and all other lands of disbelievers. Takbir! Allahu akbar!”
But, according to her account, reality kicked in and she soon wanted to leave. “After one year I wanted to come home,” she said. “When the bombardment became heavier.”
Her husband was domineering, Ms Bodart said, and she could not escape, despite several attempts. “He monitored my telephone,” she said. “He locked me inside for a month at a time.”
In June 2017, SDF forces besieged Raqqa and some time afterwards her husband killed himself in a suicide bombing. At this stage of their relationship, she was unmoved by his death: “I wasn’t thinking about this, I was just thinking of escape.”
Even going outside was dangerous. “The city was destroyed and I thought I was going to die in the Islamic State,” she recalled. Instead she fled, crossing frontlines to surrender to the US-backed force who held her briefly in a prison before moving her to Roj.
One of three camps run by Syrian Kurds to hold foreign women and children affiliated with ISIS, Roj is much smaller than the overflowing Al Hol Camp, which has grown to hold more than 70,000 people since the SDF finally declared victory in Baghouz.
There are now women from 39 countries and more than 1,000 children living at Roj. The SDF hold at least 57 Belgian citizens, including 17 women and 31 children. At least three Belgian children have died in captivity.
Ms Bodart is notable among the camp’s inhabitants for her disavowal of ISIS, according to one camp manager. “She is genuinely remorseful,” said the woman, who declined to be named. “Evidence of this is that she has removed her veil.”
“How can we really know though?” asked another member of the camp’s management.
Distinguishing between the extremists and the extremely sorry is a thorny issue that Belgium, like many western states, is in no hurry to address. Ms Bodart said she has not been contacted by her government since arriving at the camp. But in April 2018 she was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison for membership of a terrorist group.
Her Belgian lawyer is now fighting to bring her home so she can challenge this conviction. At stake are issues that are bigger than Ms Bodart, Nicolas Cohen told The National.
“We have to demand the protection of civil rights: the right to be present at your own trial, the right to defend yourself, the right to have consular assistance, and the right to humanitarian assistance,” Mr Cohen said.
Leaving her in Syria effectively “overturns a very strong body of national and international law”.
Ultimately, he said, “it’s a very simple right: the right of a citizen to be in their own country. Otherwise citizenship doesn’t mean anything.”
So far though, public debate in Belgium has focused on what to do about the women and children of ISIS fighters, rather than those who have faced prosecution. The government maintains that active participants in ISIS ought to remain in Syria. The country has suffered five attacks either directed or inspired by ISIS on its soil since 2014. The deadliest was the March 2016 twin suicide bombings at Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station, which killed 32 people.
“The general view is that it would be preferable to let them be judged in Syria” – provided the death penalty is not imposed, the former head of Belgium’s State Security Service Alain Winants told The National. “It’s a different route for the women and children who simply joined their husbands. How far are these women themselves radicalised, it’s difficult to judge that.”
Belgium has said it will repatriate the children of Belgian ISIS members but not their mothers. In February, the government won an appeal against a judge’s order forcing it to repatriate two women who were convicted in absentia of belonging to ISIS, and their six children. The Brussels Court of Appeal ruled that the state was not required “to undertake any act of repatriation”.
Other European nations have taken similarly hard lines. Britain has moved to strip citizenship from 19-year-old Shamima Begum – another high-profile Roj camp resident. France has repatriated orphans but maintains that French nationals who joined ISIS “must be tried in the territory where they committed their crimes”.
Some countries, including Russia, Malaysia and Indonesia, have repatriated dozens of women and children. The Kurdish-led authorities controlling north-east Syria say more governments must do the same and that it is willing to hand citizens over to their governments.
“ISIS prisoners and their families are a responsibility for the global community,” the head of foreign relations for the self-administration of north-east Syria Abdulkarim Omar told The National.
Researchers meanwhile paint a more nuanced picture of foreign female ISIS supporters.
Narratives of innocent girls lured by recruiters are as incomplete as those that paint foreign ISIS women as strictly motivated by ideology and religion. Criminologist Marion van San at Erasmus University in Rotterdam has interviewed the families of 28 Belgian and Dutch women who joined ISIS and says they identified personal problems as a major motivator, ranging from abuse and neglect at home to perceived and real discrimination in the community.
For impressionable and troubled young women, unrealistic visions of life under ISIS offered a path to redemption. In part, “young women were looking for forgiveness,” Dr van San wrote in an academic paper. “Initially they found that in Islam and later in a departure for Syria.”
The other significant motivator was romantic – following a husband. A study of 78 Belgian women who went to Syria and Iraq found that more than 70 per cent of departures could be linked to the women’s husbands. The data set includes only one woman who travelled ahead of her husband, and four women who left in the company of female friends.
Those who went to Syria under their husband’s influence are not automatically innocent, and while some discourse in the West has focused on women as victims, citizens of Iraq and Syria who were forced to live under ISIS are more likely to consider female supporters as equally culpable as men.
“I hope from the bottom of my heart to see her again… I love her to infinity ”
Suzanne Anciaux, Ms Bodart's mother
But for Ms Bodart’s mother, thoughts of her daughter occupy her every waking moment. “I think about her 24 hours a day,” Suzanne Anciaux told The National, speaking from her home in Sambreville in southern Belgium.
“I hope from the bottom of my heart to see her again… I love her to infinity.
“She’s a good person.”
Awaiting the outcome of her lawyer’s legal challenges, Ms Bodart is as concerned about her immediate surroundings as her future.
Since renouncing Islam, Ms Bodart said she and a French friend who also removed her veil face death threats from committed ideologues in the camp. “They threaten to cut our heads, they’re not afraid. Many don’t want to go home, so they're not afraid of committing acts here. They shouldn’t be mixed in with the others.”
Camp administrators did not allow access to the camp beyond the office, despite The National having been granted permission to visit. But research by an NGO in December found that 22 per cent of households reported personal safety and security issues in the camp in the two weeks before the assessment. Tents have been deliberately set alight.
In this environment, women are pressured to remain outwardly committed to ISIS. “Many were deceived [by ISIS] but other people are becoming more radicalised in the camp,” said Ms Bodart. “They are becoming more dangerous in the camp.”
Spending her days inside her tent, Ms Bodart has time to reflect on the choices she made.
“I am scared all the time,” she said. “I made a huge mistake.”
The boy walked in worn-out men’s trainers many sizes too large and stood apart as the fighters searched the cluster of women and children being evacuated from the last ISIS-held territory in Syria on a frigid March winter day.
The fighters were from the SDF and were at that time still battling the last ISIS fighters holding territory in the Euphrates River valley. The boy was from Aleppo, but like more than 60,000 ISIS supporters and their children, he had ended up in Baghouz. The farming hamlet near the Iraqi border was where the extremist group had chosen to make its last stand.
The boy spotted a pile of meals the SDF fighters had discarded some time in the past month that they had been screening evacuees in this desolate desert area. He picked up an egg, peeled it and ate it, then he picked up two more and ate them too. Then he opened a plastic Styrofoam container and scooped grey mashed potatoes into his mouth. Finally satiated, the boy turned away from the fighters searching the niqab-clad women for weapons, explosives and cellphones, and stared across the windswept plain.
A young SDF fighter saw the boy standing alone and spoke to him in Arabic. The boy told the fighter his name was Mohamed and he was 12 years old, though he looked younger. His parents were dead, he said. He didn’t know if he had any relatives.
“Your jacket is very big,” the fighter said.
“It is a little big,” he agreed, pulling it tighter around his frail frame.
The fighter gave him a bag of bread and told him: “After an hour we will take you away from here.”
The huge number of people who fled from Baghouz are an unpopular cohort. Among them unaccompanied children like Mohamed are the most vulnerable, most in need of support, and entirely innocent of the sins of their parents. The Syrian Kurds say they are unable to take care of them alone and few countries are rushing to their assistance.
As people fled from Baghouz, those identified as civilians – nearly all women and children – were taken in trucks to Al Hol, some 200 km to the north. The women arrived with only what they could carry, the children clothed in castoff garments.
Kurdish authorities denied The National permission to visit the overcrowded camp in March, but aid agencies report that conditions are dire, particularly for children who have been living in deprivation for so long.
Over 200 people, mostly children, have died either en route to Al Hol, or shortly after arriving there, according to the International Rescue Committee. Most of those who died suffered from treatable ailments, including pneumonia and hypothermia. Nearly a third of children screened by Save the Children were suffering from acute malnutrition, the aid organisation said.
The nearest hospital is two hours away by rutted roads and is so crowded that it only accepts the most severe cases. Photos from the facility show grubby infants with bulging eyes lying in rows of cots in crowded wards. Staff say most are infested with lice and scabies and many are wounded from bombings. Others are traumatised and mute.
The nationalities of some are unknown. Others have, or are entitled to, foreign citizenship.
At least 3,704 foreign-born children were taken into ISIS territory, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London. Many more were born under the caliphate and their births were never officially registered. An unknown number were killed in the fighting.
In a chaotic environment where Kurdish forces and international NGOs have found themselves stretched to their limits, even getting an accurate count of the children is difficult. Few children have identification papers, meaning aid agencies are reliant on what people in the camp tell them. “You can never tell if the information given to us is actually factual or not,” said Sara Al Zawqari, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who visited Al Hol recently.
There are at least 6,972 foreign children at Al Hol, according to Save the Children. Of those, 3,397 are under five years old. They represent more than 40 nationalities, not including Iraqis, who the organisation counted separately. Among them are 355 unaccompanied children.
So far, western governments have been slow to repatriate their children or refused their return outright.
Germany has repatriated fewer than 10 children, the country’s foreign ministry said on April 5. In March, France repatriated five orphaned children, and is dealing with other returns on a case-by-case basis.
The British government insists that the camps where children are held are too dangerous to reach. But the ICRC says it is willing to help repatriate children if it receives an official request.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in March that he would not send officials to help repatriate three orphaned Australian children. “I’m not going to put one Australian life at risk to try and extract people from these dangerous situations,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
In March, the Danish government announced that it will not recognise the children of ISIS members as Danish nationals. “They are born to parents who have turned their backs on Denmark, and therefore should not belong in Denmark,” Integration Minister Inger Stojberg told Danish Radio.
It is a situation that has outraged the humanitarian community.
“No child should be left to die slowly from a preventable disease or have their future written off when their life has barely begun,” Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former Danish prime minister and chief executive of Save the Children, said in March.
“Governments around the world must step up and take responsibility for the lives of children of their respective nationalities.”
After visiting Al Hol in March, the ICRC’s Fabrizio Carboni described the overcrowded camp as an apocalyptic scene. “We’re leaving hundreds of obviously innocent children there,” the agency’s regional director for the Middle East said. “Hundreds of kids are alone in this hellish place.”
He had a message for foreign governments whose citizens are languishing in the camp: “What have these kids done? Nothing… For states who have nationals in Al Hol: you have to remember the best interests of these children.”
The repatriation of foreign children needs to be accelerated, Kurdish authorities say. “Huge numbers of kids need rehabilitation,” said Mr Omar, the Kurdish foreign affairs official said, adding that his administration lacked the resources to do so. “If not, they are ticking time bombs.”
Save the Children has been working in the camps for the past year and a half and the group’s Syria director Sonia Khush says she is disappointed by the lack of interest in saving the most innocent of ISIS’ victims.
“We were hoping that governments would be more proactive with taking these children back but that hasn’t really happened,” Ms Khush told The National. “I appeal to foreign governments to enable these children to have a normal life back home, they are victims and they’ve done nothing wrong. They have rights just like other citizens do.”
With appropriate help, these children can be saved, Juliette Touma, Unicef’s head of communications for the Middle East region, says.
“The good thing about this story is that there is hope,” she said. “If they are given the assistance they need, they can recover.”
The idea of ISIS survives
The loss of its ‘caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria has been a damaging though not fatal blow to ISIS.
Huge numbers of its supporters are interned. The group has lost much of its ability to raise funds. It can no longer lay claim to run an Islamic state as a destination to attract foreign recruits.
But, in defeat, its supporters have demonstrated the resilience of its ideology. Attacks elsewhere show the global risk of terrorism has not necessarily diminished.
In his reappearance, Baghdadi has attempted to portray himself as the administrator of a centrally-run insurgency. Like Al Qaeda before it, ISIS derives an impression of power by depicting itself as a monolithic organisation, rather than an idea.
That idea – that oppressed Muslims can only live in dignity under ISIS – relies on the exploitation of local grievances in Muslim communities, whether in the Middle East or beyond.
In Syrian prisons and internment camps, the supporters of ISIS, their relatives and their children, are now contemplating their grievances and formulating new ones. Ignored in this environment, the seeds of future extremism have been planted, likely to flourish for generations to come.
Words: Campbell MacDiarmid
Photographs: Campbell MacDiarmid / The National unless stated
Videography: Willy Lowry
Animation: Anish Grigary
Producer: Stephen Nelmes
Editors: Jack Moore, Sofia Barbarani
Copyright The National, Abu Dhabi, 2019