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Islamic State fighter wants to return to Italy, warns of 'sleeper cells'

March 10, 2019

QAMISHLI, Syria - An Islamic State fighter detained in Syria urged Italy on Saturday to let him come home to start a new life, saying he had abandoned the self-styled jihadist “caliphate” after growing disillusioned with its rulers.


Mounsef al-Mkhayar, a 22-year-old of Moroccan descent who grew up in Italy, spoke to Reuters in his first interview since surrendering to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) two months ago.


He has been in prison since emerging from Baghouz, a tiny village in eastern Syria where the SDF is poised to wipe out the last vestige of Islamic State rule - which once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria.


Mkhayar gave an account of growing chaos among jihadists on the brink of defeat, and of disputes in the ranks as top commanders fled Syria.


But he said Islamic State was also planning for the next phase, smuggling out hundreds of men to set up sleeper cells across Iraq and eastern Syria: “They said ‘We must get revenge.’”


Mkhayar is one of thousands from all over the world who were drawn to the promise of an ultra-radical Sunni Islamist utopia overriding national borders. Kurdish security officials identified him as Italian, and he said he holds Italian citizenship.


“I wish to return to Italy to my family and friends ... for them to accept and help me to live a new life,” said Mkhayar, who walks on crutches after shelling injured his leg. “I just want to get out of this movie, I’m tired.”



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