EXCLUSIVE – The Iraqi ambassador to South Africa, Dr Hisham al-Alawi says he has received “credible reports” that several South African citizens have been killed while fighting for the Islamic State (IS). The reports come as the region struggles to come to grips with the radical groups rise in northern Iraq and Syria, where IS are attempting to expand its self proposed ‘caliphate’. Iraq has desperately sort the military assistance of the international community, against a threat that has been deemed the most severe in the region since a Saddam Hussein led invasion of Kuwait.
Dr Al Alawi’s revelation of South Africans in combat in Iraq and Syria raises fears locally that young men are being recruited as militants to IS. This week, it was revealed that a South African man named ‘Shuayb’ may be a member of IS, after an online video was posted in which he pledged his loyalty to the armed group. VOC News has contacted the Department of International Relations (DIRCO) for comment, but no answers have been forthcoming.
Speaking to VOC Drivetime, Dr Al-Alawi said events in the last month indicated that the Islamic State represented one of “the most brutal and extremist groups” in recent memory. He accused them of committing widespread, systematic abuses of human rights, and described their rise to power as not only a serious threat to Iraq’s sovereignty, but to the entire region and world as a whole.
“Unfortunately the stories we have seen, and the videos that have been displayed, clearly demonstrate that many of the atrocities they have committed represent various forms of genocide, and crimes against humanity,” he said.
Communities around the world have expressed outrage at Wednesday’s shocking beheading of U.S journalist, James Foley. A video of the beheading was widely circulated on the internet. Addressing the incident, Dr al-Alawi said the group worked on an ideology of hatred, where they deemed it acceptable to execute anyone who shared opposing views to their own.
In addition to Foley’s murder, he said there was sufficient reports to indicate IS were committing acts of terror against ordinary Iraqi civilians as well.
“The ideology they present to the world, and the horrible crimes they have committed represent, in my view, an insult to Islam and Muslims. It also represents a disgrace to all of humanity,” he said.
Little is known about the group’s self-proclaimed leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. However, Dr al-Alawi said recent information suggested he may be an Iraqi citizen with a background of serving in the Fedayeen Saddam, or Saddam’s `Men of Sacrifice’. Furthermore, he suggested al-Baghdadi may have had close relations with former al-Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
“He was kept in prison for a while, and he was, for reasons that are not clear to me or the Iraqi authorities, released from prison later on by the Americans,” he noted.
According to Dr al-Alawi, one of the reasons why the Iraqi government were calling for regional and international cooperation to deal with the threat, was related to the fact that a significant number of IS members were coming from places like Europe, America, and other parts of the world. This was evident in the video of Foley’s execution, where the executor had a distinct British accent.
“Somehow they have been manipulated and radicalised to adopt this ideology of hatred, and behave in this extremist, terrorist way,” he said.
Despite the outcry for internal cooperation to deal with the issue, he said there had been a number of positive developments in the region over the past month. Amongst those was the fact that Iraqi forces had managed to retake control of a number of key towns and areas, most notably the Mosul dam.
“We feel confident that over the next few weeks, we will continue these efforts. Obviously the support we get from the international community, more specifically when it comes to air support, will definitely help speed up the process to retake the areas they control, and push them back to where they came from,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)