Crime & Justice

Families seek repatriation of Moroccan jihadists imprisoned in Syria

By Mohamed Siali

Casablanca, Morocco, Feb 20 (EFE).- Rachida Idrissi waits every day to hear from her brother Mustafa, who fled to Syria to join a jihadist group in 2016. The 25-year-old suspects he is being held in a prison in Iraq after a couple of silent phone calls.

Dozens of Moroccan families have gone through the same experience, losing either a son or a brother to jihad back when the Islamic State terror organization was seizing large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq.

They demand their repatriation to Morocco. Requests have become even more persistent after clashes broke out at a Kurdish-run prison holding thousands of suspected IS extremists from over 50 countries in north-eastern Syria last month.

“We want them in Morocco, even if they have to serve a life sentence. We recognize that they have made a mistake, but we want them to be in a prison where we can see them; that is better than the current uncertainty,” Idrissi tells Efe.

Mustafa used to work in a mechanic shop in Casablanca and, in 2013, at the age of 17, he decided to migrate to Europe. After a short stay in Libya, he was able to arrive in Italy illegally.

The last European country he made it to was Slovenia, says Idrissi.

“We communicated daily until December 31, 2015,” explains Idrissi, saying that they talked until dawn that New Year’s Eve.

But he disappeared the next day and posted one last status a month later on his Facebook account: “Mustafa is dead.”

“Then I got in touch with his friends in Europe, until one of them told me that my brother had traveled to Gaziantep (a Turkish city on the border with Syria) in April 2016. At that moment I started looking at the hotspots of conflict,” she adds.

Idrissi has been obsessed with finding him and suspects he is being imprisoned in the Iraqi prison of Nasiriya after her mother has received two silent phone calls.

Khadija Fawzi, a Berber who barely speaks Arabic, is luckier than Rachida. At least she knows where her 24-year-old son, Jawad Bujafar, is. She even talks to him over the phone from the prison he is being held in Syria.

Fawzi explains that Jawad was studying at the University of Casablanca and left the family home in 2016 with the excuse of spending his summer vacations with friends in the Moroccan cities of Tetouan and Agadir. He asked his parents for money and left.

“He wrote to us all the time as if he were in Morocco,” she explains, but one day some agents showed up at home to inform them that Jawad had traveled to Turkey to access northern Syria from there.

“We ask the authorities to help us. We are sick and lost, we don’t sleep well or eat well,” she says.

Around 1,600 people from Morocco have left their homes to become jihadists. It is estimated that some 724 Moroccans, including 217 men, 120 women and 387 minors, are currently detained in prisons in Syria and Iraq

The family members have taken their petitions to the Moroccan parliament, where a commission was created to look into the matter.

So far, the Moroccan authorities have repatriated jihadists for “humanitarian” reasons in March 2019, when eight Moroccans were transferred from Kurdish prisons in northern Syria to prisons in the North African country.

Moroccan anti-terrorist sources told Efe that these repatriations are met with resistance from several countries due to the risk of the military experience these people acquired and their adoption of extremist ideology. In addition, it is sometimes difficult to identify them because they do not have documents.

For Maha Ghazi, a de-radicalization expert at the Moroccan Observatory on Extremism and Violence, correctional institutions are not going to “suddenly” be able to accommodate hundreds of extremists with military training.

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