In March 2019, the Islamic State was officially defeated with the fall of Baghouz, formally ending the caliphate’s claim to any territory. 27,000 men, women and children were taken prisoner. But the fall of Baghouz did not mean the end of ISIS. Its members have never accepted defeat, and the group has reformed to try and organise its return.
The UN estimates that there are 10,000 ISIS fighters in the desert between Iraq and Syria. It was only a few months ago when jihadists attacked a security post in the Kirkuk region of Iraq and killed 9 police officers. Another 10,000 jihadists are still behind bars today – whom the Kurds would like to try for their many crimes. For now however, this has proven impossible. In January 2022, ISIS fighters attacked the al-Hasakah prison in Syria, where many former fighters were locked up, in an attempt to reassemble their army. It took ten days for Kurdish forces to reconquer the prison – which resulted in multiple fatalities during the chaos. Since then, the trials have stopped. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Southeast Asia , Egypt, the Sahel region, Somalia and Mozambique, organisations that have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State are only increasing their attacks and summary executions.
Then there’s the question of what to do with the women and children. The Roj and Al Hol camps, where women and children are imprisoned, have become powder kegs. In August, Syrian forces discovered machine guns, rocket launchers and explosives in these very camps. We met some of the foreign women imprisoned there, desperate to return home. For the children, unfortunately these camps are not the worst case scenario for them. In Syrian Kurdistan, some live in prison with their mothers, who have been sentenced for terrorism – one four year old boy recounted how his mother told him he would grow up to be a jihadist and kill everyone.
It's estimated that half of the foreign fighters who left Europe to join ISIS have already returned to their countries of origin. Posing as refugees or travelling on fake passports, others were able to flee the caliphate for the West and rebuild new lives. But a handful of men are on a mission to find them.More info
Many European ISIS fighters any are currently in the process of returning home. Who are they? How can we track them? Do they pose a new threat?More info