‘Islamophobia expert,’ flight attendant on PM’s jet chose ISIS: How do Westerners get radicalized?
US-backed Kurdish and SDF troops launched an all-out assault on the Syrian hamlet of Baghouz on Sunday evening, pummeling the village with airstrikes and killing "dozens" of militants overnight.
Nestled on the banks of the Euphrates near the Iraqi border, Baghouz is the last redoubt of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), whose 'caliphate' once spanned much of Iraq and Syria.Also on rt.com Kurdish forces pound last remaining ISIS stronghold in Syria (VIDEOS)
SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told Reuters that 4,000 IS militants in Baghouz have surrendered in the last month, and tens of thousands of their wives, children, and family members have evacuated the village. Only a dedicated few fighters remain inside, ready to defend the caliphate to the death.
Among the dregs emerging from Baghouz are a curious mix of Westerners who had become radicalized and made the journey to Syria to fight for IS.
The 'Islamophobia expert'
Swedish-Norwegian national Michael Skramos was captured in Baghouz by Kurdish forces last week, according to the Swedish newspaper Expressen. The 33-year-old's route to radicalization began when he converted to Islam in 2005, becoming a preacher and self-described "Islamophobia expert" at a Gothenburg mosque shortly afterwards.
Skramos packed up his wife and two children, changed his name to Abo Ibrahim Al Swedi, and headed to Syria in 2014 to join IS. There he filmed a propaganda video encouraging his fellow Swedes to follow his lead.
"The door to jihad is standing there waiting for you," he said in the 2015 video. "It's the fastest way to Jannah (paradise)."
As things turned out, there was a Swede among Skramos' captors too. Swedish soldier Jesper Soder, fighting with the Kurdish YPG, told Expressen that Skramos was arrested along with around 50 other militants, including "many Europeans."
The Irish soldier
Irishwoman Lisa Smith, 38, was found by a British TV crew in a refugee camp in northern Syria two weeks ago, after she had fled Baghouz. Although Smith was wearing a burka, the crew noticed her Irish accent and investigated further.
It turned out that she had moved to Syria in 2015 after converting to Islam in 2011. Prior to her conversion, Smith had a long career with the Irish Defense Force, serving with the army in an infantry battalion, before joining the country's Air Corps. At one point, Smith worked as a flight attendant on former Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern's government jet.
"She was a lovely lady, always very engaged and very interested," Ahern told reporters on Sunday. "A very fine person."
Former friends told the Sun that Smith became radicalized through Facebook after a painful breakup. "She is no longer the Lisa people grew up with," one said. "She hates the West."
Crowds of Westerners
Dozens of countries are represented in the human tide leaving Baghouz. British-born Shamima Begum, who left for Syria aged 15 and was promptly married off to an IS fighter, emerged from the village last month and was found in a nearby refugee camp. Her Dutch husband was captured by SDF forces around the same time.
Among the captured or surrendered IS members are Americans, British, French, Australians, Italians, and countless more. Many are now in Kurdish, SDF, or US custody, and President Donald Trump last month urged EU leaders to take back over 800 fighters held by US forces in Syria, ahead of the US pullout.
The British Home Office revoked Shamima Begum's citizenship last weekend, and Germany announced that it would strip some returning German jihadists of their citizenship. Denmark has vowed not to take back any of its IS members, while France remains undecided.
As for 'Islamophobia expert' Skramos, the Norwegian Police Security Service has said that it will likely prosecute him. Swedish terrorist researcher Magnus Ranstorp also claimed that Skramos may be handed over to US authorities, where he could face up to 30 years imprisonment.Also on rt.com But they are dangerous! Europe reluctant to ‘take back’ ISIS fighters as Trump demands
The Irish government, meanwhile, has extended every possible assistance to Smith. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that "every effort will be made by Irish authorities to ensure she gets home." Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Smith may be prosecuted, but that protecting her citizenship is "the compassionate thing to do."
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