Exclusive – Civilians ‘Walk over Corpses’ to Flee Last ISIS Pocket in E. Syria
On a hill overlooking the town of Baghouz, members of the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) and an American medical team receive relieved civilians who have escaped the last ISIS pocket in eastern Syria.
They told Asharq Al-Awsat how at the beginning of battles to liberate the town from the terrorist group, ISIS sought to use them as human shields, but as the fighting grew more intense, it began to lose control of the area, allowing the people to break away and flee.
Hundreds, most of them Iraqis, succeeded in escaping overnight Wednesday. Many of those fleeing are relatives of the terrorists themselves.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced Saturday that the SDF had seized control of the enclave with hundreds of ISIS fighters surrendering.
Iraqi civilian Amina, 40, managed to flee the town on Wednesday with some 300 people.
“We had to walk over corpses to escape. Death is everywhere,” she recalled.
She had fled the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces that had assumed control of her hometown of Mosul in the aftermath of its liberation from ISIS a year-and-a-half ago. Along with her husband and children, she sought refuge in Syria.
A Yazidi woman, Susana, 23, was kidnapped by ISIS from his hometown of Sinjar in Iraq in 2014. She managed to flee to Syria and ended up in Baghouz.
“It is unbelievable. I thought I was good for dead. ISIS had sold and held me captive for years. I finally have my freedom,” she said.
With tears in her eyes, she spoke of her longing to return home.
“I feel as if I have aged a hundred years after the suffering I endured by those terrorists,” she added.
Emaciated escapees have to make a treacherous journey in the desert in the biting cold and heavy rain before they can reach a safe point set up by the SDF. There, they are received by the Kurdish forces and American medical team. Their identities are thoroughly inspected and their fingerprints are taken.
Suspected ISIS members are referred to an investigation center, while the women and children are transported to the al-Hol camp further North.
Syrian civilian, Ahmed, 50, spoke of how he had to wait in line with his family for six hours before being able to cross the checkpoint.
“When we first reached the area, the guards told the men to stand on one side and the women and children on the other. The foreigners were singled out from the Arabs and everyone was forced to sit through an investigation,” he explained.
Civilians are granted safe passage to al-Hol, while the ISIS suspects are taken to an armored vehicle, he stated.
With the help of US air strikes, the Kurdish-led SDF has battled to crush ISIS in the shrinking Baghouz enclave east of the Euphrates river near the Iraqi border.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the last few hundred ISIS terrorists, many of them foreigners, had surrendered in the past two days to the SDF. It said some militants may still be hiding in underground tunnels.