ISIS members: We came from Turkey, we want to return to Turkey

ISIS members who surrendered to the SDF yesterday in Baghouz, most of them from Turkic republics, said, “We came from Turkey, we want to return to Turkey.”

The Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) operation against the Baghouz subdistrict of Deir ez-Zor’s Hajin town continues. SDF fighters had started an operation to evacuate the civilians, families of ISIS members and surrendering ISIS members on February 9, and over 10.000 people were taken to safe areas from then to March 1.

Following 20 days of evacuation efforts, close to 2.000 ISIS members (most of them foreign born) and their families refused to surrender, and SDF forces relaunched the operation against Baghouz on March 1 at 18:00. The operation has continued for 5 days in 3 fronts, and hundreds of ISIS members surrendered to the SDF with their families.

The ANF documented over 600 ISIS members and their families who reached the Baghouz Hill through the safe corridor opened by the fighters, and the gang members -most of them from Turkic republics- spoke to the ANF about how they joined ISIS. The gang members, who are mostly from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, all said they arrived in Syria over Turkey and they want to return to Turkey now.

An ISIS member named Mustafa who came from Turkmenistan and stayed in Turkey for a while, to later cross into Syria convinced by the propaganda that he would have money, property and all he would want in Syria said he regrets coming. The ISIS member claimed he never took up arms in ISIS and only dealt with trade, and that he had left Turkmenistan because of oppression. When ANF reporters asked him what he wants to do now, Mustafa the ISIS member said he wants to return to Turkey.

Another ISIS member named Miradil said he went to Turkey in 2016 and later crossed into Iraq. He also claimed that he dealt with trade and never picked up arms: “We went to Turkey because we were oppressed in Turkmenistan. Life is too expensive there. An acquaintance from Turkmenistan said we would have a house, money and property in Syria so we came here with all our families. But I regret coming. My parents left with one of the previous convoys and they are in the camp now. We want to return to Turkey.”

An ISIS member named Abu Mohammad said he, like the others, came to the region in 2016 and dealt with trade. He also wants to return to Turkey, and when asked why, he said, “Because there is democracy there.”

Another ISIS member from Turkmenistan who is wounded said he arrived in the region “to live an Islamic life and raise (his) children with Islamic culture”. When asked if he couldn’t live according to Islam in his own country, the ISIS member said there was no opportunity to do so there.

Almost all ISIS members who surrendered to the SDF said they crossed into Syria through Turkey and that they want to return to Turkey.

The evacuated ISIS members and their families are first removed from the conflict zone through the corridor and then recorded after a search.

Their basic needs are met by the fighters and the ISIS members and their families are moved to SDF determined camps until they can be put on trial or repatriated.

Evacuations continue in the region, as do the clashes between gang members who refuse to surrender and SDF fighters.