LONDON: Hundreds of Islamic State fighters, including Pakistanis and Europeans, and their families escaped from terrorist group’s former stronghold of Raqqa in Syria as part of a deal brokered by the Kurdish fighters and backed by the US-led foreign troops, according to a BBC report.
A convoy of almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 IS vehicles left the bombed-out Raqqa on Oct 12, “under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces who control the city”, the report said. Some of IS’s “most notorious members” and “dozens of foreign fighters” were part of the convoy and there are fears now that the fighters could return to their own countries.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, told truck drivers who joined the convoy that they were to take hundreds of displaced families from the town of Tabqa to a camp further north.
But when the drivers assembled the convoy on October 12, they realised “they had been lied to” as their “deadly cargo” comprised “hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition”. The dozens of drivers who were part of the convoy were promised thousands of dollars but told the matter had to remain secret.
It was initially understood that no foreign fighter would be allowed to leave Raqqa alive. But the foreign fighters were able to join the convoy, according to the drivers. One driver told the BBC: “There were a huge number of people from France, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, China, Tunisia and Egypt.”
The report said, “The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring the fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared.
Some of the foreign fighters have spread out across Syria, and some have sneaked across the border into Turkey, BBC reported after speaking to dozens of people “who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal”.