Monday, January 4, 2016

ISIS Holding Albanian Children ‘Hostage’ in Syria


A number of orphans of Albanians killed in Syria remain in camps in the country - and ISIS militants will not allow them to return home. 
Aleksandra Bogdani, Flamur Vezaj BIRN Tirana
Two tanks in front of a destoyed mosque in Azaz, Syria. Photo: Flickr/Christiaan Tiebert
Searching for a new homeland where Sharia law rules, a number of Albanian would-be jihadists took their wives and children with them to Syria to fight for al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Documents obtained by BIRN reveal that 13 women and 31 children, including 23 minors, moved to Syria, some of whom are now orphaned or widowed because their menfolk have perished.
The families left for Syria in 2012 and 2014 according to the investigative file from Albania’s Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes, which BIRN has seen.
The file explains that the jihadists’ wives and children live in camps while the men fight on the frontline.
In one case, a jihadist wiretapped by the Albanian secret service, SHISH, and the prosecution office took his children to Syria without their mother’s approval, while two policemen helped them move illegally abroad.
The investigation has also revealed that some of the children are now orphans, and that the Islamist groups for whom their fathers fought have stopped them from going home.
Police helped jihadist get away:
Eva and Endri Dumani, aged nine and seven, are two of the 31 Albanian children left fatherless by the war in Syria.
Shkelzen Dumani was killed while fighting for ISIS on November 5, 2014, nine months after he took his children to Syria without informing his wife.
In Syria, Dumani changed his children’s names to Sara and Talha. Since his death, despite the efforts of the family and the Albanian authorities, his children have not been allowed to return home.
In an open letter published by the Albanian daily newspaper Tema on November 13, 2014, their mother, Mide Dumani, appealed to the Albanian authorities to help her get her children back.
“I was able to talk to them on Skype only a few times when Shkelzen returned from the front, always in the presence of armed men,” she wrote.
“Eva and Endri are now orphans and their life is in danger.  They are hostages of a nonsensical war,” she wrote.
The investigation by the Prosecution Office for Serious Crimes says the Albanian authorities knew of Dumani’s plan to leave for Syria with his children but failed to intervene.
It also says that two police officers in Rinas, one of them working in counter-terrorism, helped the would-be jihadist leave Albania with his two underage children.
According to the same file, Dumani, from Peshkopia searched for a long time for ways to get his children abroad without the permission of his wife from whom he had separated.
He finally left with Eva and Endri on February 1, 2014, despite being under prosecution office and secret service surveillance.
Days before he left, Dumani was wiretapped talking to his imam, the radical cleric Bujar Hysa, about the risk of his children being held at Rinas airport.
Hysa, who was arrested early in 2014 for organizing the recruitment of fighters in Syria, calmed him down and gave instructions.
“Say you are going for a medical visit in Turkey,” he suggested.
Before heading to Rinas airport, Dumani took extra measures just in case. A notary helped him deceive his wife into signing a document allowing him to take the children abroad.
“I thought that I was signing a contract to sell the house, but without my knowledge I gave him approval to take the children abroad,” Mide Dumani recalled in her open letter.
As well as buying plane tickets for himself and the children, Dumani covered the travel expenses from Tirana to Istanbul and then to Gynej- a district of Turkey  for two other Muslims.
At Rinas airport, a police officer helped him to cross the border without problems.
The prosecution found out that Dumani exploited a personal link with an explosives expert in Rinas to get his children abroad.
The officer was not on duty on the day that Dumani was leaving but mediated with a colleague to let him and the children proceed.
At the airport, Dumani met the colleague who took him to an isolated room for baggage checks. With his help, Dumani passed the checkpoint together with the children.
Unlike Dumani, one of his co-travelers, Ilir Shala, was detained at Rinas, minutes after Dumani boarded the plane with his children, having assured the police that he was going to find work in Turkey.
Shala had told his family that was heading to France. However, the authorities claim he was traveling to Syria and that Dumani paid for his ticket.
Mide Dumani has not seen her children since then. She has talked to them on a few occasions on Skype, but the death of her husband in Syria has left her desperately worried about their fate.
She reported their disappearance in February 2014, but even after Interpol issued an international “red flag”, Eva and Endri have not come home.
Nor has anyone been held responsible for helping Dumani send his children to Syria.
Interior Ministry officials declined to tell BIRN whether the two police officers in Rinas would face prosecution.
Case in Kosovo offers hope:
Erion Zena, aged eight, was returned in his mother in Kosovo, after being held for more than five months in camps in Syria.
Erion shared the same fate as Eva and Endri Dumani – his father took him to Syria without his mother’s permission.
Pranvera Abazi’s prayers for her boy’s return were heard, however, after the Kosovo secret service negotiated with Kosovo jihadists in Syria over several months.
Erion’s father, Arben Zena, like Dumani, went to fight in Syria for ISIS.
While Pranvera Abazi now counts her blessings, Mide Dumani remains alone and anxious about her children.
Sources in SHISH told BIRN that a second round of negotiations, including the intelligence services from Turkey, Albania and Kosovo, was underway with a view to bringing Eva and Endri Dumani home.
But after a year-and-a half after they vanished, the project remains unfulfilled.
Before his death, it is believed that Shkelzen Dumani’s last wish was for his children to stay in Syria.
His brother has also declared that Shkelzen had told his friends that if he died, his children must be kept away from their mother.
“I have no people left in Albania,” he is believed to have told ISIS comrades in his last days.
Dumani’s mother traveled to Syria some weeks after her son’s death to bring her grandchildren home but is still there.
She and the two children remain in an ISIS camp in Syria, waiting for permission to leave.
Hostages of the jihadists:
Orphans of Albanian jihadists in Syria
Halit Myslija, killed on October 10 in Syria.
His widow, Vehbije Myslija, their three sons and a daughter still remain in camps.
Bledar Hamza, killed in Syria.
Left behind a widow, Resmije Lecini, and a daughter aged two.
Diamant Rasha, killed January 2014 in Syria.
His widow, Floresha Rasha, remains in Syria with her daughter, aged 11, and her son, aged seven.
Hasan Korvafaj, killed in Syria in 2013.
His widow, Jusra, and their three adult children are still in Syria.
Sherif Taushani, killed in Syria.
His parents, his widow and their three underage children are still in camps in Syria.
Eva and Endri Dumani are not the only Albanian children orphaned in the middle of the Syrian war.
Ten Albanian jihadists have died in the fighting since 2012 and several of them took of them took underage children and wives with them.
The investigation by the Prosecution office for Serious Crime found that five dead fighters had left behind wives and children in Syria.
Hamit Myslija left behind four children, Bledar Hamza, a two-year-old daughter, Diamant Rasha, a wife and two children, while Hasan Korvafaj and Sherif Taushani left behind three children.
The parents of the other Albanian children in Syria remain alive.
The investigation found out that they live together with the children and wives of other jihadists in camps. They cannot return home until the jihadists allow them to go.
Diamant Rasha’s wife, Floresha, has been trapped in Syria since early 2014 when her husband was killed.
In Albania, Diamant, later known as Ebu Amar worked as pizza deliverer. In Syria, he was a fighter for ISIS and died from a sniper’s bullet in January 2014.
Floresha Rasha reportedly wanted to return to Albania but the militants say the relatives of a killed fighter cannot return home until four months and 10 days since his death have passed.
However, around two years has passed since then and Floresha and her children have not gone home. Phone wiretappings have revealed that imam Hysa put pressure on Floresha not to come back.
In a phone call, Hysa asked a jihadist with whom he had close ties in Syria to convince the widow not to return. “I told her that if she returns, she will go to jail,” the jihadist responded.
Meanwhile, sources close to the Prosecution Office told BIRN that Floresha’s in-laws in Tirana received a letter from her, seeking their approval for her to remarry in Syria.
Mide Dumani clings to the hope that one day she will hug her children again.
“Eva and Endri are my children, Albanian children. They have their friends, toys and a school to attend,” she wrote in her open letter.
“Now my children wake up and go to sleep in a place where death is closer to human beings than God is. I beg you to give me the opportunity to be reunited with them,” she concluded.

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