Syrian opposition groups in the liberated territories have set up a rehabilitation centre for former Daesh members to teach them Islam devoid of the militants’ propaganda, according to Reuters.
Set up last month in the town of Marea, which is under the control of Turkey-backed Islamist fighters, the centre hopes to address the growing issue of re-integrating the hundreds of people who lived under Daesh rule into Syrian society.
Whilst many who joined the militants came from abroad, locals were often coerced into signing up, according to an official at the centre. Additionally, despite the numerous civilians who were killed by Daesh, not all of the group’s members were armed insurgents.
“In the brutal administrative areas where Islamic State was, the overwhelming majority [joined] to protect itself or to have the bare minimum to live,” Ibrahim Najjar, a local official said. Some people joined just to obtain a canister of cooking gas, he added.
Judges in opposition-held areas have tried Daesh members who were captured or defected, and their sentences have included compulsory time at the centre, which includes psychological counselling. Former militants are evaluated each month and the results are shared with local authorities who use the information to determine conditions of release.
In the classes, militants are taught Islamic rulings alongside the tolerance and moderation religious texts prescribe. The lack of religious knowledge of many fighters is also apparent; lecturer Sheikh Mohammad Al-Mahmoud questions a group of militants on Islamic laws, but no one replies.
“Why did you join Islamic State and force Islam on people if you don’t even know these answers?” he asks.
The 25 fighters currently at the centre are divided into three groups; those who did not commit crimes against civilians, those who did and foreign troops.
Ersin Khizri, a 22 year-old foreign fighter, left his home in Ukraine and travelled to Syria with his wife and baby daughter to join the ranks of Daesh, in which he fought in Iraq. He left the group in January because he found it unjust and turned himself in to opposition forces in Syria instead.
“It’s over: there is no more Daesh left,” he said. “I don’t know what the outside situation is like.”
The centre is funded entirely by the Director Hussein Naser as well as small donations; all of the staff are volunteers.
“The goals of the centre are to defeat the extremist ideology of the IS [Daesh] members that we have, ensuring their safety when they leave the centre and that they can live with civilians,” Naser said.
Marea was besieged by Daesh last spring but has since managed to establish control over the area; the group has lost swathes of territory this year after being overcome by the US-led coalition and forces allied to the Syrian regime in numerous towns.
In Syria, it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert, with a declaration of complete victory expected imminently.