An Australian member of the Islamic State terrorist group who was presumed dead for almost two years has spoken from a prison in northern Syria.
Sydney man Hamza Elbaf was one of four brothers who went to Syria in late 2014 to join the group after telling their parents they had won a trip to Thailand.
Despite pleas from the parents to Australian authorities, and even to Prime Minister Scott Morrison — then immigration minister — to prevent Hamza and his brothers Omar, Bilal and Taha from reaching Syria, the Elbafs were able to cross the border and join the Islamic State group.
All four were thought to have been killed as Western-backed forces conquered the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.
But Hamza Elbaf in fact surrendered in the group’s last hold-out, the village of Baghouz, in March and is now a prisoner of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
The 27-year-old told a Kurdish media agency his family were devastated by he and his brothers’ decision to leave Australia.
“After three months I got hold of a mobile phone and I talked to my parents,” he said.
They asked me ‘why did you do this?’ They were very upset. They told me to come home.
But Mr Elbaf said he could not go back.
“At this time the new immigrants were being watched, so to leave after a short time, we would have been suspected of being spies.”
Like the majority of foreign Islamic State members who have been interviewed, Mr Elbaf denied fighting for the group, claiming he “wasn’t qualified” and was sent to work as a cook instead.
He also denied witnessing any atrocities carried out by the group.
[I didn’t see any] mass killings,” he said.
“I only saw caning for things like adultery and drinking alcohol.
“Everything that is prohibited by the Koran, people were punished for doing it.
“If you read the Koran you will see some laws were correctly implemented by the Islamic State.”
Mr Elbaf said he had heard that Islamic State members were buying and selling women, particularly from the Yazidi minority, as sex slaves and servants, but was not involved.
“[It was] impossible,” he said.
“They wouldn’t let you. It was done secretly.
“Only high-ranking people and princes in the Islamic State had access.”
Government urged to consider bringing all Australians back
Sydney doctor and community leader Jamal Rifi is a family friend who tried to help the Elbaf parents when their sons left Australia.
“Both the Mum and the Dad — they were heartbroken, and unfortunately the Dad died a time later and their mother was very disheartened,” he said.
“It’s good news to know that one of them has survived so that he can shed some light on what took place in Sydney and then what happened to the rest of his brothers in Syria, because it was a mystery,” he said.
“So at least we know … who was behind the boys going to join such a barbaric organisation.
Hamza Elbaf told the Kurdish media agency he wanted to return to Australia, but not if he would be given a lengthy prison sentence.
To date, the Australian Government has not repatriated any male adult Islamic State members being held in Syria and is introducing laws aimed at preventing them from returning to Australia.
Dr Rifi said the Government should consider bringing all Australian citizens back, because they could learn about the radicalisation process from them.
“Our security agencies should meet them, see what happened, go and discuss it and we’ll learn from that process so we can prevent any future people to be able to be misled in such a way,” he said.