British Islamic State fighter 'dies in prison' in Syria

Abbie Cheeseman
File image of a woman posing for a portrait at Al-Hol camp, which holds families of Islamic State members, near Hasakeh, Syria - AP

A British Islamic State member from East London has died in a prison in northeast Syria, according to the BBC. 

Ishak Mostefaoui is the first British IS-supporter to die in the custody of the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The British government refuses to allow its adult IS prisoner suspects to return to the UK for trial, believing that they should be tried in the region.

The year-long impasse between the Kurdish authorities and the UK, and other Western governments has led to dangerously over-crowded prison and camps of IS members.

According to one BBC source, Mostefaoui was shot when trying to escape the custody of the jail in Hassakeh which houses over 5,000 IS prisoners from 28 countries in cramped conditions.

Another BBC source said that he died during rioting in the prison.

Neither his death nor the circumstances surrounding it have been confirmed.

The rumours of Mostefaoui’s death appear to be circulating from pro-IS Telegram channels.

The 27-year-old from Leyton, who admits to joining IS, travelled to Syria to join the terrorist organisation in April 2014.

He was among seven students from the University of Westminster, where he was studying economics, who travelled to Syria. Also among them was Mohammed Emwazi, better known as “Jihadi John”.

Like many captured IS fighters, Mostefaoui admitted to doing administrative work for the group, but denied being a fighter, when interviewed by the Independent last year.

The prison, a converted school, was set up shortly after the last of IS territory, Baghouz, was captured in March 2019. He was one of a handful of the Brits who had travelled to Syria to survive.

Mostefaoui told the Independent that he had left Baghouz unconscious after being injured in a US-led coalition airstrike. His wife and children, he says, were killed in the strike and his skull left fractured.

His citizenship was revoked by the British government in 2018.

Mostefaoui was among an estimated 10 British IS members in the prison in northeast Syria and 30 women.

Of the estimated 900 people who left the UK and travelled to Syria, ministers have said that 20 per cent have died, 40 per cent have returned to the UK and 40 per cent are still in the region. It is not clear how these numbers were reached.  

Mostefaoui, like most other foreign fighters in IS prisons, wanted to be tried in a court at home.

“If we go back home, and we get taken to court and we are found guilty of whatever crimes they see as a crime, I’ll put my hands up and do my time for that. And I’ll go out. This is what democracy is,” he told the Independent in December.

The British government cites security concerns as the reason for not trying the adult men in the UK.

The security situation in the severely overcrowded Hassakeh prison is tense and riots break out frequently.

Mostefaoui’s family have been settled in London since they left Algeria when he was five years old.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting.