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LONDON: An Australian man who was brought to Syria as a child to live under Daesh is believed to be alive, two years after his family in Sydney mourned his rumored death.

Yusuf Zahab must be urgently identified by the Australian government and repatriated, Human Rights Watch said.

An interview dated to Feb. 25 aired by Australian broadcaster SBS shows a young man in an undisclosed location in northeast Syria identifying himself as Zahab.

He tells the SBS reporter that he was taken by adult relatives from Australia to Syria in 2015 following a holiday in Lebanon and Turkiye.

His family in Sydney “have no doubt” that the man in the video is Zahab, who first entered Daesh territory with relatives aged 11, HRW reported.

In the clip, Zahab tells reporter Colin Cosier: “I went through a lot of stuff, mostly bad. I wish to go back to Australia.

“I wish to go back to my normal life I used to live 10 years ago. I wish to see my family again … I think about them day and night.”

In a 2019 offensive backed by the US-led international coalition, Kurdish forces in Syria captured vast swathes of Daesh territory, as well as thousands of captives, including Zahab.

Males suspected of being Daesh members, including children, were then transferred to Al-Hasakah prison. Zahab was separated from his family and moved to the facility.

“Prison detainees were held incommunicado; lacked adequate food, water, and medical care; and had no way to contest the legality or necessity of their detention,” HRW said.

In January 2022, the Kurdish authorities overseeing the prison were overwhelmed by a Daesh attack and internal riot, with the terror group attempting to free the thousands of prisoners held at the site.

Zahab was reported as either missing or dead after the battle, in which more than 500 detainees, fighters and guards were killed.

In July that year, Zahab’s family members announced his death and held a memorial. But in August 2023, a video clip from September 2022 surfaced, showing a detainee in northeast Syria whom family members believed was Zahab.

However, relatives had received no definitive proof that he was still alive. HRW and other groups received reports that suggested Zahab had been in detention since the Al-Hasakah battle.

The Australian government and Kurdish authorities had declined to comment on Zahab’s status since 2022, despite inquiries from UN representatives and media outlets.

Though the SBS interview confirms the “great news” that Zahab is still alive, it is tempered by the “apparent failure of the Australian government to locate him for two long years,” said Letta Tayler, HRW’s associate crisis and conflict director.

She added: “Australian authorities should promptly confirm whether this man is Zahab and reinvigorate their efforts to bring home each and every Australian still held in northeast Syria.”

One of Zahab’s family members said that the SBS interview caused a “roller coaster” of emotions.

They added: “At first, we were overjoyed, but then you go from pure joy to grief to anger. And then you think, OK, now we know where he is, where do we go from here, and you realize you have so many questions and no one is giving you answers.”

The Australian government said it was “providing consular assistance to the family of a man currently detained in Syria.”

About 40 Australian nationals, mostly women and children, are still detained in prison camps for Daesh members and their families in Syria.

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