An ISIS militant held in the al-Hol Camp in Syria's Hasakah Province discusses how and why he joined the group, an act which he now views as a mistake.
In recent weeks, al-Hol Camp in Hasakah has fallen out of the headlines in favour of other developments in Syria, such as northern Syria and Idlib. The camp, which has made international headlines due to the presence of ISIS families and children, remains at the forefront of the questions on how foreign militants of the group should be dealt with.
Many countries, especially those in Europe, are unwilling to take their citizens who joined the group, fearing that those in al-Hol may still be loyal to ISIS and could commit terrorist acts if they go free. These views are warranted to some extent, given the endemic insecurity in the camp and rumours of the so-called ISIS-wives enforcing the group’s laws within the confines of al-Hol.
Accounts of those in the camp, including former militants, however, are instructive in understanding why thousands of people ended up travelling from the far corners of the world to Syria to fight a war. One such individual is a Belgian citizen who recounts how he ended up with ISIS. He says that he was 17 when he first came to Syria in 2012. Although he was religious, he made the decision to come after seeing the footage of the fighting and the civilian deaths.
His point of entry was the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing with Turkey, and he ended up in Aleppo around the time the group that would become ISIS was defeating or overtaking Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions. Having had friends in ISIS, other Belgians, he joined up with the group and subsequently went to Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria where he was given religious training alongside other foreign militants from France, the United States and Belgium. The former militant does not go into details on how involved he was with the group but acknowledges sending threats to his country, noting that this was something everyone was doing. To him, it felt like he was living a film.
These days, he views his time in the group as a mistake. Although he had the option to fight until the bitter end, something that he and other militants were encouraged to, he surrendered himself to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Baghouz as quickly as he could. To him, there was no other option.
These days, he is unsure of what the future has in store for him, knowing that he will be arrested in Belgium and that most other options for him end with extradition to his home country.