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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

British doctor suspected of radicalisation demands right to return from ISIS ranks

Muhammad Saqib Raza is the latest ISIS suspect to challenge Western governments after claiming he was in fact kidnapped

A worker searches for bodies still trapped under mounds of debris in Raqqa, Syria. REUTERS
A worker searches for bodies still trapped under mounds of debris in Raqqa, Syria. REUTERS

One of six British nationals being held as ISIS detainees by Syrian Democratic Forces has denied accusations that he fled Britain to fight for the group and instead Muhammad Saqib Raza wants a “second chance” to return home from the battlefield.

Raza has told a British newspaper that he fell victim to an elaborate kidnap plot that unwittingly led him to ISIS controlled territory. “As a doctor I was very moved by what was happening in Syria, but I never wanted to go over there,” he said.

Raza, 40, left Britain – where he worked in the health service – in the summer of 2016 to buy property in Istanbul and escape a crumbling marriage.

There, he was approached by a man. “We started chatting and when he found out about me he said, ‘Wow, I’m a recruiter of doctors in Turkey,” Raza said. “He told me my services could be used at a hospital, he told me other foreign doctors were there and that Turkey had no problem with us entering Syria.”

He did not imagine the man could be a recruiter for ISIS. “I thought it would look good on my CV, he sold me an opportunity.”

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He crossed over to Syria with the handler’s help, expecting to work at a medical facility controlled by Turkey in the border town of Jarablus. But he was instead taken to the Idlib province, where he was held for three months before being transferred to Hama in central Syria and then to Raqqa, the Caliphate’s former self-proclaimed capital.

There, he was forced to attend an Islamic studies course, where the extremists promoted an interpretation of Islam he called “sick”. “I saw a hand being cut and I wanted to vomit. I saw a heads of SDF fighters. I was disgusted,” he said.

Raza pleaded with the British forces to be repatriated and put on trial in the UK, where he is aware that his story may not be believed.

“Maybe parts of my story don’t make sense, but I can’t change it to make it more sensible,” he said. “I love Britain, Britain is my home. I respect British law, there is justice.”

But whether or not Britain will decide to take back Raza and other five nationals currently detained by the SDF remains to be seen. Western governments are currently being pressured to repatriate nearly 1,500 foreign ISIS suspects, whom the SDF say will neither be tried in Syria or be held indefinitely.

The British government has considered amendments to make its Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill more stringent. Britain’s Home Office announced in September it would make it an offence to travel to designated countries where terror groups like ISIS are prevalent without a “reasonable excuse”, bypassing the need to prove the involvement in criminal activities within these countries.

While up to 80 widowed wives of ISIS fighters in Syria are set to return to the UK for questioning – including the wives of two “Beatles” extremists – the government has not yet made a pronouncement on the destiny of male ISIS members.

As for Raza, he said he feels abandoned by his home country and that he is willing to make a fresh start. “Everyone deserves a second chance,” he said.