Yusuf Zahab, an Australian teenager, was one of an estimated 750 children detained in a prison in north-eastern Syria for adult former Islamic State (IS) fighters. In January this year, an IS cell attacked the prison, triggering a terrible days-long battle between militants and US troops and their allies.
Bleeding from his injuries, Zahab, 17, survived days as a human shield in a battle that killed an estimated 500 people. The last time his family heard from him was when he told them he saw a small window to surrender safely and was taking it. After that, he vanished.
What Yusuf was doing in a western-funded jail and the mystery surrounding his fate raise uncomfortable questions about a group of children that governments in the UK and Australia would prefer to wish away – the boys left behind after the defeat of IS’s so-called caliphate.
In Sydney, Zahab’s family presume he is dead, and now spend days and nights on the phone to Syrian fixers and the Australian government, seeking answers to a simple question. Hala Zahab gives the family’s first-ever interview to Michael Safi, to ask publicly: What happened to Yusuf?
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