A young Australian jihadi bride who fled ISIS while pregnant was horrified when she realised she’d been handed back to the extremist group in a prisoner swap – just days after giving birth.
Nesrine Zahab was a 21-year-old university student when she left Sydney in 2014 and sneaked away from a family holiday in Lebanon to help refugees on the Turkish side of the Syrian border.
She ended up in Syria, but is adamant she had no intention of entering the war-torn nation and wound up there by mistake.
‘Who walks into a war zone?’ she previously told ABC’s Four Corners, amid claims she knew what she was getting herself into.
‘I had a whole family. I had a whole thing going on. I was doing uni. I had everything.’
Ms Zahab ended up marrying Islamic State fighter Ahmed Merhi, who was also from Sydney, but she was pregnant with her son by 2017 and desperate to escape the war-torn nation.
Nesrine Zahab (pictured) was a 21-year-old university student when she left Sydney in 2014
She was taken to al-Roj (pictured) and eventually gave birth to her son. She is still there today
She wanted to give birth safely, ideally in an Australian hospital, The Australian reported on Saturday.
However, things didn’t work out that way.
The mother-to-be and Merhi were both captured trying to escape Syria. He is still in a prison in Baghdad after being captured by Kurdish forces and transferred to Iraq.
She handed herself over to the Kurds and was taken to al-Hol – a detainment camp for women and children of ISIS fighters, before being taken to another camp, al-Roj, 10 days after that.
Four months later, she gave birth to Abdul Rahman by C-section.
She thought she’d be free to return to Australia – declaring her citizenship to camp administrators and told her family where she was.
In April 2018, when her son was 29 days old, Ms Zahab was told to pack her bags because her father was going to meet her in Turkey.
Ms Zahab married Islamic State fighter Ahmed Merhi (pictured), who was captured and sent to Bahgdad
She was told he would take her back to Australia.
‘I was ecstatic, I was so excited,’ she told The Australian.
‘I realised there were buses of people and they were mostly Turks. So I’m like, “OK, this is real, I’m actually going”.’
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, Ms Zahab was taken to a remote mountain in the desert and handed back to ISIS fighters in a prisoner exchange for Kurdish captives.
‘What happened was I was apparently the first prisoner-swap group. Everyone after was actually asked for their permission but I think we were like the test class. They tested with us and no-one actually asked,’ she said.
When she arrived back at the camp, ISIS commanders were furious with her because she managed to escape – they didn’t care that her only motivation was to give birth safely.
Ms Zahab ended up back in al-Roj (pictured) but she hasn’t stopped trying to get back to Sydney
She eventually found some of her husband’s friends, who helped her find other family members at the camp – but she was closely watched by guards who threatened to take her son away.
Ms Zahab then found Mariam Dabboussy, who was married to Ms Zahab’s cousin, Khaled Zahab and found herself in a similar situation, and they decided to try and escape.
The women wanted to find an Australian consulate, but there were none in Syria, so they had to try and make it to Turkey.
They were caught every time and, eventually after ISIS were pushed out of the area, surrendered themselves to Kurdish forces again, and ended up back in al-Roj.
Ms Zahab has been trying to return to Sydney for four years – her son Abdul, now four, proudly tells everyone he’s Australian, her bags are packed, and she said she poses no threat to the community.
She said she is ready to return home and give her son the life he deserves.