Northern Syria has become a geopolitical cauldron — Syrians, Russians, Kurds, Iranians, Turks and now the U.S. back in to compete for influence.
Amid this, the cease-fire is hanging by a thread, with violations taking place up and down the border, and all sides trying to cement their gains or contain their losses.
Stuck in the middle are the Islamic State (ISIS) prisons and camps – holding 14,000 ISIS fighters and more than 70,000 ISIS family members – women and children who can be equally dangerous. Fox News was granted exclusive access to a prison holding foreign fighters.
What we found was a facility desperately understaffed – with its 5,000 fighters but hardly any guards. The camp authorities told us half of them had been sent to try and hold back the Turkish invasion.
They’ve asked for Western help, but many European countries, won’t take their prisoners back – instead they’ve stripped them of citizenship and left the Kurds to deal with them. It’s a dire situation and one which could easily allow ISIS to re-form.
Already there are sleeper cells in the region, which keep trying to break them out using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices to blow holes in the prison walls. 100 are thought to still be at large, after a series of jailbreaks.
Among the prisoners – sleeping about 25 to a room, in triple bunk beds – was 27-year-old Zakkariyah Elogbani from London. He lost his legs in an explosion while with ISIS and is now hoping to be allowed home. He says he would take 20 years in a British prison rather than rotting here. Elogbani is softly spoken but his old social media posts are anything but. The man who was once a fervent believer in jihad freely admits he joined ISIS to kill.
However, speaking inside the prison, he opened up about his five years with the terror group and how he now regrets that time. The sentiment is common among inmates, with not a single soul failing to express regret, while all amazingly claim to have been just cooks or cleaners — not murderous fighters. Their guards disagree — I don't doubt them.
“The whole experience was a mistake,” Zakkariyah told me” a big mistake – I had more zeal than sense.”
Zakkariyah was one of the original British jihadis. He attended the same university in London as the now-infamous "Beatles" – the British group of terrorists who beheaded Western journalists. He traveled to Syria around the same time as them, but claims he didn’t know them. "I might have met them, but I don't remember," he claims.
The allegedly reformed fighter offered up what he would say to the families of those who have been killed at ISIS' bloody hands.
“It’s hard, it’s hard,” he says. “Whatever I say it's not going to be enough.
"I’m sorry for the ones that were oppressed – I’m not expecting mercy from the people, we did things but it’s better for us to be sent back to our countries.
Other fighters told the same story, often complete with a litany of excuses. Some were too young, some were tricked, some were forced, while others attest they were always trying to escape.
Dozens of fighters have said the same thing — essentially, they did nothing wrong, they claim. It’s as if the whole episode was a sorry chapter, they’d like us to forget.
But doing so is impossible. The scars ISIS caused run deep through the region — and there isn't a family that has been spared the group's brutality.
Many fighters claim to want forgiveness. But very few people here will give it to them.