An Australian teenager has died in a severely overcrowded, makeshift prison run by a Kurdish-led armed group holding Syrian and foreign ISIL (ISIS) suspects, his family and a leading rights group said.
Yusuf Zahab, who was born in southwest Sydney and brought to Syria by older family members when he was 11 years old, died from unknown causes after being “wrongfully detained” for years in al-Sina’a prison run by the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which holds Syrian and foreign ISIL suspects and their family members in the al-Hassakeh city, Human Rights Watch said.
After the fall of ISIL in 2019, thousands of women and children whose husbands and fathers had supported the group were imprisoned by SDF in makeshift camps.
Zahab was only 14 when he was separated from his mother and put in a men’s prison along with hundreds of other Syrian and foreign boys. Following a battle in January by the SDF to retake the prison from ISIL, Zahab had sent Human Rights Watch a series of audio recordings begging for help and describing the lack of medical treatment, food and water.
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“I got injured in my head and my hand,” Zahab said at the time. “I lost a lot of blood … There are no doctors here, there’s no one who can help me. I’m very scared. I need help. Please … [M]y friends got killed in front of me, a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old … There’s a lot of bodies, dead bodies, and a lot of injured people screaming from pain.
It is unclear when Zahab, who would have turned 18 in April, died.
Authorities in northeast Syria said 500 people died in the January prison battle but did not disclose how many were detainees.
Letta Tayler, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch, called Zahab’s death “a preventable, shocking tragedy.”
“Yusuf Zahab survived being forced to live under ISIS, the battle to rout ISIS, and an ISIS prison attack, only to die while in the custody of the internationally backed forces who rescued him,” she said.
“How many more detainees will die before countries bring home their nationals?”
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