How An Arab-Israeli Couple Joined ISIS

It has been cleared for publication that security forces arrested last month a couple, Wissam and Savrin Zabidat, from the Arab town of Sakhnin in the lower Galilee, as they arrived at Ben Gurion Airport with their three children from Iraq – where they had joined ISIS.

Investigations revealed that the couple had been exposed to ISIS propaganda before their departure.

The journey to Iraq

In mid-June 2015, the couple travelled to Romania with their three children – aged 3, 6, and 8 – for a family event. From there, they travelled, without the knowledge of other family members, to Turkey.

In Turkey, the couple got in contact through Facebook with a resident of Umm al-Fahm who had joined ISIS in 2013. With his help and the help of smugglers, the couple and their children crossed the border into Syria.

Military Training

The couple was met at the Turkish-Syria border by ISIS members, who took the couple’s’ Israeli passports, and transferred the couple to the ISIS stronghold of Al-Raqqa. There, Wissam was separated from his family and sent to a training camp in Iraq, where he studied religion and ISIS ideology. After his religious indoctrination, he was transferred to another base for military training – including instruction on Kalachnikov, PKS and RPG.

Afterward, Wissam was sent to active duty, during which he helped guard ISIS facilities close to areas of fighting; later, he participated in raids on Iraqi military outposts. In one of these raids, Wissam was injured in his leg and evacuated to a hospital in Mosul.

Life in Iraq under ISIS

Investigation also revealed the family’s living conditions after joining Wissam in Iraq. The family lived in cramped conditions, in houses without water or electricity and bad sanitation, without proper medical care or access to medical institutions. The children didn’t learn in educational institutions for an extended period, and were exposed to others with contagious diseases. In addition, at the beginning of the year, the couple experienced a serious explosion that resulted in significant destruction and many injured in the area in which the couple lived. As a result, the children suffered trauma.

The investigation also gained insight into daily life under ISIS. For example, ISIS rule discriminates heavily against women, and uses cruel punishment techniques such as cutting off limbs, whipping, and beheading. In addition, ISIS “ethics police” enforce women’s dress and the form of a man’s beard. ISIS allows holding Yazidi slaves for housework and sex. Starting from age 8, children start military training. In addition, the economic situation in Mosul under ISIS is dire, with many people destitute and starving.

Returning to Israel

Within the context of the difficult situation in Mosul, the couple decided to return to Israel this past June. To this end, the couple turned to family members, who had to pay thousands of dollars to border smugglers and others to ensure the smooth passage of the couple back to Israel.

The couple tried to cross the Syria-Turkey border numerous times with their children, which included walking through mountainous terrain in difficult weather, sometimes without food and water. During these attempts, one of the couple’s daughters was drugged so that she would not disclose the family’s whereabouts. At other times during the attempts to cross the border, the family was met with fire from the Turkish army and from ISIS.

After crossing the border, the couple was arrested by Turkish police, and was placed in a detention camp. After several days, they were freed – but arrested upon their arrival in Israel.

Shin Bet security forces emphasize: “The phenomenon of Israelis going to Syria and Iraq is serious and dangerous. ISIS works to spread false propaganda to present a false image of itself as enabling a good life under Islam, or religious and military adventure. In contrast, the investigation of Israelis returning from Syria and Iraq presents an opposite picture.”

Today, the prosecution of the district court in Haifa presented a serious indictment against the couple for departing to enemy territory and joining ISIS.

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