The Prisoner of Hasaka

Hundreds of captured Islamic State fighters are being held in a former Syrian government prison at Hasaka in northeastern Syria, hoping to be allowed to return “home” to Europe. The following two videos provide a look at two “Dutch” prisoners held in Hasaka.

Hans Jaap Melissen is a Dutch journalist with extensive experience reporting from war zones in the Middle East. In these videos Mr. Melissen first interviews the prisoners, and then analyzes the honesty (or lack thereof) of their responses.

Many thanks to C for the translations, and to Vlad Tepes for the subtitling.

Video #1:

Video #2:

Video transcript #1:

00:00   I absolutely don’t regret anything. I’ve learned from things!
00:03   5,000 IS fighters are being held in this Syrian prison.
00:08   One of them is the Dutch Ibrahim, who traveled to Syria in 2013.
00:12   I’ve been in this prison for four months, if I’m not mistaken.
00:18   Four months. —And how long have you been imprisoned? In general.
00:22   Around eight months and 2 weeks. In between, so to speak.
00:26   Ibrahim says he wanted to help the Syrians in their fight against president Assad.
00:29   Syria is a country that’s unstable and needs help from people. Support, support.
00:36   So I’ve been to Turkey, I went as tourist, as a holidaymaker, and I went across the border.
00:44   The Belgian Abdellah is staying in the sick bay. He agreed to tell his story as well.
00:47   [Flemish accent] I’ve been here for nine months.
00:51   He is seriously hurt, but does not receive proper medical care in prison.
00:55   My belly, um… my intestines are hanging out of my belly.
01:00   and poop is coming out of my belly, not from behind.
01:04   And I have a few wounds and stuff. I came when I was very young, 17, 18 years old,
01:08   and in the end, I admit, I was ISIS, I was brainwashed;
01:11   I came here. But I had the right intentions.
01:14   Being a member of ISIS, and being punished for that. I’d say, yeah,
01:17   if it has to be that way, it has to be that way. But I don’t have blood on my hands,
01:21   for example. I didn’t behead or kill anybody, or burn or whatever, know what I mean?
01:25   Ibrahim denies having blood on his hands as well.
01:29   I only protected myself. When a bomb hits close by, you drop to the floor.
01:33   That’s a form of self-protection. I haven’t been somebody who, for example… a weapon.
01:37   Um, I’m not somebody who lifts [sic] a weapon, and goes for it.
01:43   Still, many of the prisoners must have been involved with ISIS’ reign of terror.
01:48   What do the two prisoners think of the actions of ISIS against the Yezidi?
01:52   I didn’t even know what a Yezidi was. It was explained to me, what is a Yezidi. And um…
01:57   You know that now. And you know they were raped, as slaves, right, by ISIS members.
02:04   How do you feel about that? —The Islamic State follows the rules of sharia,
02:10   in which it is not seen as rape. —Do you condemn it? Do you say it’s bad?
02:15   I can’t approve, I can’t disapprove, I have to look at what Islam says about it.
02:20   What does Abdellah think of beheadings by ISIS?
02:24   I know what you mean with beheadings and all those things.
02:28   That happens once every six months, once every… whatever, and it’s inside a house,
02:32   and the man is covered and they make a video, they behead the person…
02:36   and I’m just like you. I wake up, I open internet and see: Oh, somebody was beheaded, you know?
02:40   What do you think of such practices? —Those practices, in any case, a head cut off, that’s not…
02:44   I always imagine this punishment myself, I’m in this prison now.
02:47   I think about what’s right and wrong. If your head comes off, nobody enjoys that.
02:52   Do the man regret what they’ve done?
02:55   I absolutely don’t regret anything. I’ve learned from things!
02:59   And there are positive and negative aspects.
03:02   Regrets? You’re in front of a person who has absolutely no regrets.
03:06   I’m tired, I’ve had enough. I learned my lesson.
03:09   You were talking about punishment just now, well,
03:12   I’ve been from village to village, under the bombs,
03:15   under the hunger and then nine months here. If I have blood on my hands,
03:19   I [would] tell you I should be punished, you know? But I didn’t do nothing.
03:22   And as you know, not everybody gets to do beheadings or something; you have to be a high-up leader.
03:27   You need to have a position and stuff.
03:30   I just hope I’ll see my wife and kids some day.
03:33   If I’m locked up forever, then it was written, then it was my fate.
03:37   If I get a way out, and get another chance to stand on my own two feet,
03:41   then I’ll try and make the best of it, like I say. And the world, what are they
03:44   saying about us? —Well, unpleasant things, I think,
03:47   international court, something? I don’t want to stay here for all eternity.
03:50   Are you afraid you’ll have to stay here forever?
03:54   The word afraid, afraid. Afraid is a big word, but I just hope that I…
03:59   Who wants to stay here? Nobody wants to stay here.

Video transcript #2:

00:00   Hans Jaap Melissen, those men… first, how they’re sitting there, in a hopeless situation.
00:05   Still, they appear to accept their fate. Was that your impression too, walking around there?
00:10   Well, I found it very quiet, I had expected banging and shouting.
00:13   They may hope to be taken away from there.
00:17   I think, if they’d really known at some point that it wasn’t going to happen, and they had
00:21   to stay there forever, well, then you’d have a lot more problems in that prison.
00:25   Yes. Now they’re all saying they don’t have blood on their hands, we heard them say that.
00:29   Do you believe that? —No. No, you hear it all the time.
00:33   And they were all bakers, or butchers, bicycle repairmen.
00:37   But it’s also very improbable. Especially for the foreigners who came from Europe.
00:41   They were all put in training camps. And the Islamic State needed many fighters, too,
00:46   because when the caliphate was founded, it was attacked immediately by the coalition.
00:51   So they needed fighters. And Ibrahim, whom we saw just now,
00:54   the Dutchman [sic], served in the Dutch army,
00:57   so he knows how to handle a weapon.
01:00   Maybe. He was wounded, you saw him limping a little; maybe he didn’t fight anymore at some point.
01:04   But… No. These men, 99% of them will have been an active part of ISIS.
01:11   Yes. Until the end, right? —Until the end, yes. These all came from Baghouz.
01:14   That was the last remnant of the caliphate; I’ve been there too.
01:17   And that’s where the hardcore ISIS fighters came from. —Yes.
01:22   As noted before, they’re calm, but are these lethal terrorists?
01:27   How do you gauge them, how dangerous they are? Well, look: it was not for nothing
01:30   that I was surrounded by people who were not allowed on camera,
01:33   guards. These people, after they returned, if you hear them talk,
01:37   there’s a lot of radical ideology in them.
01:41   And the Belgian, he’s already been sentenced in Belgium, in absentia, to five years [in prison].
01:46   and that’s because he called for, and planned, terrorist attacks in Belgium.
01:51   So he’s no choir boy, of course. Even though they all pretend — there’s a camera;
01:56   they pretend to be nice. They’ve had all day every day, for months, to talk to each other, to say:
02:01   what are you going to do, what are you going to say to the judge, to the visiting journalist?
02:05   So yes, that’s one big pile of BS, of course.
02:08   [They’re] guarded by Kurds, now. Will they ever get out of there?
02:13   Yes, that’s an interesting point. Here people say, “Let them stay there”, but
02:17   850 ISIS members already escaped from a camp during Turkey’s invasion of Syria.
02:22   So, it’s an unstable region, where the gates of a prison
02:26   may be opened by ISIS itself, which is active there, and maybe
02:31   the Kurds will have had enough one day, and throw them across the border with Turkey, or Iraq.
02:35   So, I think the Kurds now, I’ve talked to their leaders, they’ve said,
02:38   we want a proper [humane] solution for those women and children, for example, but we also want
02:44   a proper tribunal, a court, sponsored by the international community.
02:48   Well, will that happen there? That’s also complicated. This is a problem
02:53   that doesn’t have a quick fix, and for the time being these men will stay in this prison. And
02:58   that’s very safe, in a certain way. —Hans Jaap Melissen. Thank you.

3 thoughts on “The Prisoner of Hasaka

  1. [Redacted] and be done with it.

    Certainly such an end would be more humane and less cruel than what they did to their countless victims. Five years in a Dutch prison does not even come close to being justice for the crimes that were committed, and such terrorists are not likely to ever be able to be allowed back into society with normal people.

  2. They are the Dutch government’s responsibility. Enjoy your diversity and enrichment.

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