RT traces the trail of 2 Russian sisters believed to have joined ISIS in Syria (EXCLUSIVE)
In the girls’ village of Mayskoe many believe Zalina and Khava may be now living in Syria, side-by-side with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) jihadists.
“They left and never came back – that’s it,” the locals said.
Hiding their faces, two young men told RT the girls went to Syria.
When asked if “everybody knows that?” they answered, "yes."
RT tried unsuccessfully to speak to the girls’ family, which now shuns all public attention. Following the sisters' disappearance a year-and-a half ago, their father Amir allegedly disavowed his daughters.
Fellow villagers now recall that both Zalina and Khava “suddenly” started wearing hijabs, a traditional Muslim headscarf, but they never really fully immersed themselves in the core concepts of Islam.
No one in the village imagines that the two typically Ossetian girls, kept in line by their father, could have fallen under outside influence.
“If only we knew, we would have taken measures. They stayed home all the time,” one man said.
Since the sisters disappeared, there has been no word from them, not even a text message. Police efforts to track them down have also proved fruitless.
Mayskoe village has good reason to believe that Zalina and Khava didn't just vanished, but intentionally headed to the Middle East, most likely with help.
Traveling to Syria, for a wide variety of reasons – from joining and fighting alongside IS to marrying a jihadist – has spawned something of a cottage industry in the predominantly Muslim Caucuses republics.
A web blog for locating missing people contains what is claimed to be the most complete list of people from the Republic of Ingushetia, who are believed to be in Syria – dozens of names and profiles.
“Flew to Istanbul in Turkey, then was guided by a mediator working for ISIS towards the Turkish border which he crossed illegally into Syria,” one of the profiles reads.
In most cases, it's young men who fall victim to IS propaganda.
“We wanted to go as volunteers to help people,” a man, who identified himself as Alan – not his real name – told RT.
Alan and Artur, who now also hide their identity, traveled to Syria because they wanted “to help them out with clothes, buy them food, help old people, help the sick, buy them medicine,” they said.
Earlier, a different man, who called himself Zurab for protection, also told RT that “a man from Dagestan” met him in Istanbul and helped him get to Syria.
“We didn’t need Arabic – there was a Dagestan guy. He spoke Arabic, he translated for us. They have a mediator for each group,” one of them told RT.
Just as Zurab, Alan and Artur returned home after spending a few days in Syria and turned themselves in to the authorities.
While they all can share their own Syrian experiences, neither of the men RT spoke to knew anything about the missing sisters. If Zalina and Khava are indeed in Syria now, it its clear that getting there was not a problem.
“We think they will come back,” one local woman told RT.