Australia

Australian IS fighter, long presumed dead, speaks from Syrian prison

Hamza Elbaf reportedly joined IS in 2015. Source: NPA

An Australian man who travelled to the Middle East to join IS, and has long been presumed dead, appears to have been located inside a northern Syria prison.

An Australian man who travelled to the middle east to join IS, and has long been presumed dead, appears to have been located inside a northern Syria prison.

In an interview with North Press Agency, a Syrian news outlet, a man identified as 27-year-old Hamza Elbaf - one of four brothers that travelled to Syria from Sydney in 2014 - claimed he was never a fighter but worked as a cook for an IS-owned restaurant

The brothers, aged 17, 23, 25 and 28 at the time they left Australia, told their family they were going on a holiday to Thailand before travelling to Turkey and over the border into Syria. They reportedly joined IS in 2015. 

All of the brothers were believed to have been killed when the IS caliphate was defeated in Syria and Iraq.

Elbaf said he had not seen his brothers since shortly after he arrived in Syria. 

syria
NPA

During the interview, which was conducted in Arabic, Elbaf said he and his three brothers left the country believing they were going on a holiday to celebrate the upcoming wedding of one of the brothers.

It was there, he said, that another brother organised for them to cross into Turkey without his prior knowledge. 

Once in Syria, he said, he was told he was not "fit for military service" and began working as a cook to survive. 

Three months into his stay in Syria, he obtained a phone and made contact with his family in Australia, who urged him to return home. 

"They said to me: why did you do this to us, come back," he said.

"They were sad."

Dr Jamal Rifi, a community leader and friend of the Elbaf family, told SBS News the man in the video was the same man who left Sydney in 2014.

When asked whether he had witnessed executions or the selling of captured Yazidi women as sex slaves, the 27-year-old said he hadn't witnessed this but he had heard about the women being used as slaves by senior IS officials.

According to ABC News, Elbaf surrendered when the village of Baghouz was captured in March and is now a Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

At one point the interviewer suggests that if he returns to Australia he will be jailed for a long time and Elbaf responds that if that is the case, he would "rather stay here".

The government has so far not allowed any Australian IS fighters from returning home, and in July this year Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton made a fresh bid to ban foreign fighters from Australia.

The Home Affairs Department estimates there are 80 Australians who left the country to fight with IS remaining in Syria and Iraq. 

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