A plane carrying 30 Russian children, some as young as three years old, who had been kept in a Baghdad prison together with their Islamic State-linked mothers, has landed in Moscow.
Flying from Baghdad to Moscow were 16 girls and 14 boys, who are now undergoing medical checks at Moscow’s Center for Children’s Health. Twenty-four of these children come from the Republic of Dagestan and three are from the Chechen Republic, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on his Telegram channel. The other three minors are from the Penza Region and from Moscow.
The high-profile operation is a breakthrough in the dramatic story of the children of Russian nationals who went to Iraq and Syria to join the ranks of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. RT first put the issue under the spotlight by starting the Bring Them Home campaign, which helped relatives of children kept in a Baghdad orphanage recognize them from footage and then safely deliver them to their homes.
Over 120 such children are now being kept in an Iraqi jail with their mothers and getting them out is no easy task. It took the efforts of several ministries, including the Russian Foreign Ministry and a special commission overseen by ombudsman for children’s rights, Anna Kuznetsova, to solve the deadlock and find legal means to reunite the minors with their relatives in Russia, with the help of Iraqi authorities.
Kuznetsova flew to Bagdad with medics, emergency officers and psychologists to meet the first group of children, aged between three and 15 years old. She gave each of them a toy and chaperoned them on their flight to Moscow. The ombudsman had earlier met Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and thanked him for helping to organize the operation.
“The first operation to return the children from a Baghdad prison. The first 30 children,” Kuznetsova wrote on her Vkontakte page, ahead of the mission. The plane also brought humanitarian help –warm clothes, toys and 70 kg of candy– for those children and their mothers who remain in jail.
An estimated 700 underage children are known to have been brought by their jihadist parents into Middle Eastern conflict zones from Russia.
Hundreds of children suffered the fate of becoming innocent victims of war, when their jihadi parents arrived in the Middle East to join the ranks of terrorists. After their fathers or entire families had been killed, scores of minors – some unable to speak their native tongue – landed in jails or children’s homes.
In August 2017, a RT crew shot a video report from a Baghdad orphanage about Russian-speaking children being held there. RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan raised awareness of the issue, calling for people to email firstname.lastname@example.org if they recognized any of the children. Her call was echoed by Kadyrov’s, who posted the RT footage on his Instagram account.
The channel received scores of calls from people claiming to have recognized the kids, and several families of the children were soon found. People shared heart-breaking stories about their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who had been lured to join Islamic State in faraway lands.
RT’s original campaign resulted in at least 11 children returning to their home communities in Russia, with several dozens more reportedly brought back as part of various efforts since then. Relatives told RT that some of the kids are still traumatized by the horrors of war they endured while living in the conflict zone.
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