An Australian teen was taken to Syria as a child and is feared dead after spending three years in an adult prison. Yusuf Zahab was 11 years old when he was taken to Syria in 2015 by his relatives, who had been radicalized. He was jailed without any charges in 2019.
His Sydney-based family say they are “heartbroken and angry” as the 17-year-old begged for help for years.
Australia has previously said it is too dangerous to bring back its citizens.
It is not clear when and how Joseph died. Rights groups say he was wounded in January when the Islamic State group attacked a prison in Syria’s northeast to free its fighters.
With US support, the Kurdish-led forces fought the militants for a week, killing more than 180 people. At the time, Yusuf told the family in voice recordings he was scared he “might die at any time” as the fighting intensified.
My friends got killed in front of me, a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old,” he said in a video obtained by Human Rights Watch.
“I lost a lot of blood… There are no doctors here; no one can help me.”
Yusuf was among around 850 children detained at the prison after the fall of IS in 2019 in case they posed a risk, the UN children’s charity Unicef said.
His family described him as a happy and compassionate child who loved sport, school and playing with his cousins.
“Even in the final messages we received from Yusuf, he asked us to tell his mum that he loved and missed her,” they said in a statement.
“Yusuf didn’t need to die.”
He said Australia’s previous government had “knew about Joseph’s plight for more than three years” before he stepped down in May, adding: “We are unaware of any attempts to support, care or question him.”
Human Rights Watch and Save the Children family, and advocacy groups have urged Australia to repatriate women and children living in Syria.
Australia evacuated eight orphans in 2019, but at least 63 Australians remain stuck in Syria. Of them, up to 40 are children, the groups say.