This is what it's like for families of terrorists

“Sir, my father was an Islamic State militant, but he divorced my mother in 2013,” said Jassem Mohammad, 21, pulling out his identification card and presenting it to the camp manager. “He now has two other wives.”

In a tiny patch of shade on the edge of a blistering desert camp outside of Mosul, the manager listened as Mohammad made his case. He wanted to leave the camp and go back to college. He had good scores, he said, and was never involved with IS.

Militant rule in Mosul has collapsed and IS fighters here are dead, fled, arrested, or in hiding. But as their relatives try to re-integrate into society, Iraqi authorities face impossible questions with only bad answers.

Women and children wait at a processing station for internally displaced people prior to boarding buses to refugee camps near Mosul, Iraq, Mar. 03, 2017. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne

Women and children wait at a processing station for internally displaced people prior to boarding buses to refugee camps near Mosul, Iraq, Mar. 03, 2017. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Manne

If someone loved or even tolerated an IS militant, is that person guilty? How do the relatives of the perpetrators make peace with the relatives of the victims?

Officially in Iraq, the answer to the first question is “no,” especially when speaking of small children. Women and children fleeing areas IS occupied are checked for bombs, and when cleared, they are considered civilians.

Unofficially, families of militants are shunned, feared and often separated from the “regular” people, all traumatized by violence and extreme poverty under IS. Many IS families now live in camps, like Mohammad, where they are not quite sure if they are being detained or protected. And both, in fact, are true.

“We’d need to see the divorce papers,” the camp manager explained to Mohammad. If Mohammad offered evidence that his father was not in his life during IS rule in Mosul, it might be possible for him to go back to school.

“I want to study and do humanitarian work,” Mohammad continued, pleading his case to a nearby journalist.

USAF photo by Senior Airman Vanessa Valentine

USAF photo by Senior Airman Vanessa Valentine

As Mohammad and the reporter chatted, the camp manager looked nonplussed and strolled away. A security officer, in contrast, was visibly annoyed and abruptly ended the conversation.

“You cannot talk to him without official permission,” he said, ushering all journalists out of the camp. Other Iraqi officers said they worry that news about camps set aside for IS families will make them look like monsters, locking up women and children.

“What can we do as the Iraqi government?” said a member of a community police force who didn’t want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “We are exposed to danger. They are families, but we can’t loose them without rehabilitation.”

Inside the city, at the base of a long-dormant Ferris wheel, a short row of tents served as a collection point for families fleeing Mosul in the final days of battle.

A young boy pushes a cart outside of a market in Mosul, Iraq, July 4, 2017. Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm.

A young boy pushes a cart outside of a market in Mosul, Iraq, July 4, 2017. Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm.

Women and children filed into the tents, some collapsing where they sat. Medics treated injuries and food and water alleviated some of the most pressing pains. Many of the people had been hiding in basements for weeks, after months of water shortages. The smell of unwashed bodies was pungent and the heat in the stagnant tents was overwhelming.

“We were imprisoned,” said Khalifa, 46, a mother of three. Unlike the rest of the women in the tent, she wore no veil and her curly hair was tousled. “We tried to run away and militants locked us in a basement. For the past three days we’ve had no food or water.”

“Once they brought us food in the basement,” adds Hoda, 25, her daughter. “He came down wearing a suicide vest.”

Their story echoed tales from families all over Mosul and, even if their husbands or fathers were IS fighters, it could still be true. However, local authorities worried they were lying, casting themselves as victims, rather than somehow complicit.

Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

One man peppered Hoda with questions about the neighborhood she said she was from. IS militants in Mosul were often not stationed near their original homes. Hoda failed to identify the most famous church, mosque, and graveyard in the area.

“See, they are an IS family,” the man said. “They are lying.”

Another woman, Fatima, a mother of eight, said for relatives of IS omitting certain truths is a matter of survival. Sitting with an intelligence official, Fatima admitted she had two brothers that fought with IS. Both, she said, are now dead and she never supported their decision to join IS.

But when the officer walked away, she said at least one of her brothers is alive and now in Tal Afar, an Iraqi city still held by IS.

“We are afraid to tell them when we talk to family members who are with IS,” she whispered. “We don’t want to be blamed for what they did.”

TOP ARTICLES
This is how missing or captured troops get promoted

According to the Department of Defense, prisoners of war and those under missing status continue to be considered for promotion along with their contemporaries.

6 reasons Charleston might be America's most gung-ho military city

From Charles Towne Landing to the Medal of Honor Museum, go grab a pint where George Washington drank and read about the military legacy of South Carolina's Atlantic jewel.

This is how long South Korea thinks it will take to conquer the North

South Korea says they are developing new plans to defend against advancing North Korean threats after a data breach left their outdated plans vulnerable.

This stunning video shows how well 100-year-old ammo works today

While original 1911 pistols surely still function today, turns out so does the ammo from that era.

This could be the Army's next rifle — and it's totally awesome

Textron debuted its newest rifle, the Intermediate Case-Telescoped Carbine, at AUSA. It's lighter and more deadly than the current M4.

16 jokes Germans could die for telling under the Nazi regime

The Nazi Party was well short of a majority when it came to power. So it's easy to believe that not everyone was a big fan of Hitler or his ideas.

These really smart people say bigger is better when it comes to building aircraft carriers

In an effort to reduce its fiscal footprint, the Navy is looking at making smaller ships. But these defense researchers say it's a terrible idea.

Now that ISIS is on the ropes, these guys have turned the guns on each other

Two US allies, which were armed and trained by US forces, have turned their weapons on each other, and there isn't much the US can do about it.

This is the definitive history of the world's most advanced fighter jet

The new F-22A Raptor fighter jet is the most advance fighter jet in the world, and it dominates on every level imaginable.

This is how the $102 million B-1A almost replaced the B-52

The plan was to buy 240 B-1As to replace the B-52 as the Air Force's primary strategic bomber, but eventually, they each found their place in the force.