Outside Tikrit, Iraq, families who fled the horrors of the Islamic State admit fear and anger at being housed next to heavily guarded families of ISIS fighters, whose children weep at the stigma of being the offspring of terrorists.
A report by Kurdish news organization Rudaw goes inside the al-Shahama camp, where 97 ISIS families live in rows of tent homes surrounded by barbed-wire fencing and guarded by Iraqi security forces. Next door is another camp housing 530 families who were victimized by the terror group, with relatives killed and other chilling tales of survival.
A 14-year-old boy named Muhammed — when asked for his surname, he replies of his ISIS father, “I don’t want to say his name” — says he escaped from the terror group with his mother, two sisters and brother in mid-July. His father was killed in an airstrike in Shargat, north of Baghdad.
“He was very cruel, by God. He’d come to the TV, grab the satellite and throw it on the ground. Even the cartoons that children watch and talk about, he’d come and remove the set. You’d wear pajamas that would reach under the ankle and he’d say remove it or I’ll beat you up,” the boy says. “We saw nothing other than oppression. Nothing good at all. If we had seen anything good from them we would have stayed but, no, nothing good at all.”
Muhammed cries that “three years have been wasted” as he’s still learning at a fourth-grade level. “They destroyed us. They destroyed us… everything is gone. What can we do?”
Of ISIS, the boy says, “Someone who goes to supposedly educate himself and returns a savage, he is an animal not a human.”
“My sisters are now suffering. My mom cannot go for a few meters and do our shopping. Instead of him working and earning us a living, he has put us here, hunger killing us.”
The boy cried at being branded an ISIS son. The mother explains that “we suffered a lot.”
“I took my children with me and left Shargat. I wanted to be rid of ISIS. Since we left, everyone is talking about us. I did not want my children to be with [ISIS],” she said.
Muhammed’s sister, Ariham, 16, was given by her father to an ISIS fighter and now has a baby. She say her husband was killed when she was seven months pregnant, and she fled with her mom and siblings. “I was forced to that marriage. He said you must marry an ISIS man. I said I didn’t want that, but he said you have no choice.”
An Iraqi security officials explains that fleeing families “are scrutinized, and when we find out some of them were ISIS we bring them here.”
“You know, these people were ISIS families… some of them could be collaborators, or sleeper cells. The state takes these things into account,” the official said. “These people were under ISIS for three years. Their ideas could be within the group. Others condemn it.”
Officials also consider the risk that ISIS could attack to seize the women and children who fled from their onetime strongholds in Mosul and surrounding areas.
One woman in the ISIS camp says she’s forbidden from leaving because her brother-in-law was ISIS. She says two of her sons were arrested by ISIS, accused of spying for Iraqi security forces. Two other sons were arrested by Iraqi security forces, accused of ISIS links.
“I am not allowed to move, not allowed to leave. We do not have ID papers. ISIS took it all,” including dinars and driver’s licenses, she says. “They took my car and my brother’s car. They deprived us of everything… we are still afraid of ISIS.”
In the larger camp next door full of families victimized by the terror group, Muhammed Uwed, whose son was beheaded by ISIS, thinks the camp with ISIS families next door poses a threat. “If they live next to our camp we’ll have no safety. I won’t sit safe here. The way they beheaded my son, I must do the same to them. I must take revenge,” he says. “But I know I must take revenge on the person who did that to my son, not just anyone.”