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A young Australian jihadist bride who fled ISIS while pregnant was shocked to realize she had been returned 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 snuck away from a family vacation in Lebanon to help refugees on the Turkish side of the Syrian border.
She ended up in Syria but is adamant that she had no intention of entering the war-torn country and ended up there by accident.
“Who walks into a war zone?” she previously told ABC’s Four Corners, amid claims she knew what she was getting into.
‘I had a whole family. I had a whole case. I did uni. I had everything.’
Ms Zahab eventually married Islamic State fighter Ahmed Merhi, who was also from Sydney, but in 2017 she was pregnant with her son and desperate to escape the war-torn country.
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’s 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 while trying to flee Syria. He is still in prison in Baghdad after being captured by Kurdish forces and transferred to Iraq.
She surrendered to the Kurds and was taken to al-Hol – a detention camp for women and children of ISIS fighters, before being taken to another camp, al-Roj, 10 days later.
Four months later, she gave birth to Abdul Rahman by Caesarean section.
She thought she would be free to return to Australia – she declared her citizenship to the 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 to meet her in Turkey.
Ms Zahab married Islamic State fighter Ahmed Merhi (pictured), who was captured and sent to Bahgdad. was sent
She was told he would take her back to Australia.
“I was ecstatic, I was so excited,” she told The Australian.
‘I realized that there were buses with people and that they were mainly Turks. So I’m like, “OK, this is real, I’m really going.”‘
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, Ms. Zahab was taken to a remote mountain in the desert and returned to ISIS fighters in a prisoner exchange for Kurdish prisoners.
“What happened was that I was apparently the first group for the prisoner exchange. Everyone after that was actually asked for their permission, but I think we were just like the test class. They tested with us and nobody really asked about it,” she said.
When she got back to the camp, ISIS commanders were furious with her for managing to escape – she 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 friends of her husband’s, who helped her find other relatives in the camp – but she was closely watched by guards who threatened to take her son.
Mrs. Zahab then found Mariam Dabboussy, who was married to Mrs. Zahab’s cousin Khaled Zahab and was in a similar situation, and they decided to try to escape.
The women wanted to find an Australian consulate, but there was none in Syria, so they had to try to reach Turkey.
They were caught each time and, finally after ISIS was driven out of the area, they surrendered again to the Kurdish forces and came back to al-Roj.
Ms Zahab has been trying to return to Sydney for four years – her son Abdul, now four, proudly tells everyone he is 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.