The family of an Australian teenage boy believes he was killed after he went missing when the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) attacked the prison where he was being held without charge in northeast Syria.
A statement from Yusuf Zahab’s family expresses devastation at the death of a 17-year-old who grew up in southwest Sydney before being taken to Syria when he was 11.
Yusuf’s family says he and other relatives were forced to travel to Syria by his brother Muhammad Zahab, a prominent IS recruiter.
He has been missing since ISIS attacked the al-Sinaa prison in al-Hasakah in January this year, where he has been detained for three years.
“We are devastated to learn of the passing of our beloved Yusuf Zahab,” the family said in a statement.
“Today we are heartbroken and angry. We are heartbroken and angry because Yusuf didn’t have to die.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been contacted for comment on what the government has learned of the reported death.
At least 60 Australians, including 40 children, are in separate displaced persons camps in northeast Syria.
Children gather near their tents at the Al-Hol camp, which is home to families of members of the Islamic State group, in Al-Hasakah province in northeastern Syria. Source: AP
At the age of 14, Yusuf was separated from his mother and imprisoned in a men’s prison because he was thought to be of an unsuitable age for a women’s and children’s camp.
Kamal Dabbussi is the protector of a family whose daughter was also forced to travel to Syria as a companion to Mohammed’s brother Zahab Kaled.
“I am devastated and heartbroken by the news we have received,” he told SBS News.
“Yusuf didn’t need to die – we knew he was injured – the government knew and we do believe it was a preventable death for a young Australian.”
In January, IS launched a 10-day siege at Al-Sinaa prison, using a truck bomb to blow a hole in a compound housing former militants associated with the group.
Kurdish authorities said more than 500 people died in the attack.
There are no doctors here who could help me, I need help, I’m very scared
After the incident, a recording of Yusuf’s voice surfaced, saying that he had been shot and suffered a head injury.
“I am Australian, I am 17 years old,” the entry reads.
“There are no doctors here who could help me, I need help, I am very scared. There are a lot of dead people in front of me, I’m afraid that I could die at any moment.
“I’m bleeding, please help me.”
Aid group Save the Children has been calling for the repatriation of Australian children and their mothers from camps in Syria since 2019.
Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said the death of an Australian teenager in Syria was a “shocking and terrible tragedy”.
“For any family, the loss of a child is unspeakably painful,” the statement said.
“We have repeatedly warned the previous government about the risks to Australian children who have been trapped in Syria for more than three years.
“Our worst fears have now become a devastating reality for this young Australian. This deeply disturbing news should serve as a wake-up call for the current government.”
The previous Morrison government had repeatedly expressed concern about conditions in the camps, but chose not to intervene to repatriate Australian citizens.
He retained their considerations with regard to the safety of such a mission for those involved, as well as the safety of the “Australian community”.
The Albanian government has not yet confirmed its position regarding the repatriation of Australians from displaced persons camps.
Last month, an interior ministry spokesman told SBS News that the government continues to monitor the situation in northeast Syria.
In a statement, Yusuf’s family said they believe the previous government did not do enough to ensure his safety.
“We are not aware of any attempts to support him, take care of him or learn about him,” they said in a statement.
“Other Australian children will die unless immediate action is taken.”
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Fionnuala D. Ni Aolein also urged the new government