Sky News understands that Ishak Mostefaoui, 27, has been killed in a disturbance at al-Sina’a prison in northeast Syria’s Hasakah city in the past two weeks .
Mostefaoui, from Leyton, in east London, was interviewed by Sky News in November of last year, detained in prison since March 2019.
He had been detained with 5,000 other men, most of them foreign nationals, after the fall of the last IS stronghold in the city of Bagouz in March 2019.
In the interview, he told Sky News that he had been in Syria since “2013 or 2014”.
He was one of a number of students from the University of Westminster who had gone to the self-proclaimed caliphate of ISIS.
It is understood that the British government deprived him of his British nationality because he is also an Algerian national.
His family, who lives in Leyton, left Algeria for the United Kingdom at the age of five.
In line with many other Western countries, the British government has refused to repatriate adult ISIS detainees, arguing that they should be tried in Syria.
However, the Kurdish authorities who control northeastern Syria have always said that they lack the capacity to secure the prison.
In the past few months, there have been at least three riots and attempted prison breakouts.
Although the specific circumstances surrounding Mostefaoui’s death are unclear, it is understood that he died either during a riot or as part of an escape attempt.
Officers of the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command had a file on Mostefaoui and had requested access to the Sky News interview with him.
In November, the top Kurdish commander in Syria told Sky News that another ISIS terrorist attack in a western city was “expected” because of the inaction and indifference of Westerners in the region and their refusal to take responsibility for their nationals.
General Mazloum Kobani, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said: “The danger of the resurgence of IS is very great. And it’s a serious danger. I think a lot of people don’t know it, but it’s true.
“We have said repeatedly [Western governments] we have two choices for them: take back their prisoners and bring them to justice if they can. They must honor their commitments.
“Or they created an international court here [in Syria] because we can’t keep them forever here. ”
The British government did not comment officially, but said, “Since 2011, the Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has advised against travel to Syria.
“Those who have chosen to leave the UK and fight for, or support, ISIS [the Islamic State] potentially a very serious risk to national security. ”
He approached the bars and introduced himself: “Ishak from Leyton to London”
Sky News Middle East correspondent Mark Stone met the Londoner at al-Sina’a prison.
He was the first detainee I met, coming out of a sea of orange men dressed in a boiler.
Ishak Mostefaoui had been called by one of the prison guards. I was told that he spoke English and would be happy to speak to me. It was in November 2019.
He approached the bars and introduced himself: “Ishak from Leyton to London”.
I did not expect him to be truly British. We talked for about five minutes.
His opening remark, in an East London accent, was a request: “Can I make a point on my face shown? Can you just scramble it if you can? ”
His death re-emphasized an untenable situation that western governments have tried to ignore.
” I came here [to Syria] end of 2013-2014 “, he said to me through the steel bars.
“Do you admit that you joined ISIS?” ” I asked.
“I was in the Islamic State; under Islamic State. Yeah, “he replied.
” Your selection? ”
“Yeah,” he said puzzled.
Mostefaoui was one of some 5,000 prisoners detained in a dilapidated and precarious prison in the town of Hasakah in northeastern Syria.
The prison has been established by the Kurdish authorities who control this part of Syria.
After the final battle with IS in the city of Bagouz in March 2019, surviving male fighters from 28 different countries were put in prison.
They were nationals of countries which, on the whole, chose to forget them.
Rather than trying prisoners with due process, western governments have instead found it politically impossible, legally impractical and risky to bring known IS fighters back to the countries they were seeking to destroy.
“Those who have chosen to leave the UK and fight for, or support, ISIS [IS] potentially a very serious risk to national security, “a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office told us.
The British government claims that those detained in the region are ultimately detained by the competent local authorities which are responsible for places of detention.
And so, since spring 2019, the prison has been the problem of the Kurdish guards who have neither the number nor the capacity to adequately secure the place.
More than that however, countries like the UK have chosen to deny prisoners. Mostefaoui has had his British nationality withdrawn.
It is illegal to be stateless, but Mostefaoui was born in Algeria. His family moved to the United Kingdom when he was five years old.
And so, legally, the United Kingdom was able to withdraw his British nationality because, you could say, he was still technically an Algerian national.
At first glance, there is a logic to this. The argument is that he chose to join an organization – IS – that sought to destroy a western, democratic and secular way of life.
Bringing men like Mostefaoui back to the UK for trial would be fraught with legal complications. Successful prosecutions would be difficult due to the lack of authorized evidence.
The chances of the cases collapsing and the suspects walking free would be high. The subsequent costs and risks associated with monitoring them would be enormous.
So leave them in Syria to be someone else’s problem? Well, as time has shown, this also carries enormous risks. Some prisoners have escaped. Mostefaoui is said to have died during an escape attempt.
It is also perfectly likely that not all of them are authors. Some may well be victims, duped by worship. None of them spent their day in court.
There are no easy answers to all of this. Each option is wrong.
The same is true for the foreign women and children of these combatants. They number 10 000 and languish in precarious camps not far from the prison.
A report released this month by the Center for Global Policy warned: “Left indifferent, the challenge posed by these children is seriously at risk of moving from an easily solved well-being problem to a potential security and fighting problem. terrorism.
“It is in the short and long term interest of European countries to take action against children left in an area formerly owned by the vanquished” caliphate “.
“In addition, it is both ethically and legally a certain and necessary course of action. Under international law, children are the responsibility of their country of origin, which must take into account their future prospects for well-being and rehabilitation. ”
Mostefaoui told me that he had a wife and two children who he said were killed in a bomb attack. He said he had a second wife who survived, but he did not know where she ended up.
He admitted that he was “involved in the fighting” but insisted, “We had nothing to do with [Western] coalition [fighting the Islamic State]; we have no problem with the coalition. We had no problem with this.
“In fact, we went to help civilians in Hama, Homs, these regions and the Syrians there trying to repel the regime which was also under pressure. ”
The prisoner told me that he thought that the Islamic State was now “over” and that he did not believe in what it represented because “they had made many mistakes”.
He also insisted that he was “not involved in this” when questioned that ISIS was cutting people off in Raqqa – its self-proclaimed capital.
When I spoke to Mostefaoui about recent attacks in the UK such as the Manchester Arena bombing and the London Bridge attack, he said that he did not know them, but condemned them.
Was he telling the truth? It is important to look l’interview, and hear its tone, for a more complete judgment.
He is dead now. But several hundred others from countries around the world are still there in an unsustainable situation.
The Kurdish authorities’ attempts to set up their own trials have been fraught with difficulties and complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Others will probably die and others will escape.
Last week’s attempt to escape, when we believe Mostefaoui was killed, was the latest.
Local security forces managed to contain it, but just.