Father relives horror images of Islamic State beheadings

In a windowless shack in the poorest region of Lebanon, a father-of-five has a vacant expression as he recalls being witness to beheadings by Islamic State.

Now in relative safety, he replays the barbarity of the indiscriminate horrors everyday in his mind's eye.

"I used to shake like a little baby," he said.

"I hoped it was not my turn.

Jamil Hussein Hawayish, who witnessed beheadings by Islamic State before fleeing Syria, sits in the wooden hut he built in the Akkar region of northern Lebanon with the support of the UNHCR and aid agency Concern.

"I still see the images in my head everyday but I'm safer here and I'm trying to be strong for my children."

Jamil came from a village in the Al-Hasakah governate in northern Syria where he had a farm and three wives.

The family are among 1.5 million Syrians lucky to have made it that far.

After Islamic State took over he endured 18 months of its reign of terror and successfully shielded his youngsters from the spectre of violence by keeping them permanently indoors.

In 2015 he fled with wife Helwa and five children to the Akkar region of Lebanon, near the border with Syria, with little to remind them of their home bar the psychological scars.

Jamil shares sweet tea and his trauma as his 14-year-old daughter Khouloud prepares a stew on a camping stove in the makeshift kitchen.

Khaled, 12, who works 13 hour days on farms in the Akkar region of northern Lebanon, sits in the hut his father Jamil Hussein Hawayish built with the support of the UNHCR and aid agency Concern.

The 50-year-old recalls seeing two men having their heads cut off in the street in his home village.

On another occasion he was confronted by an Islamic State fighter who had a man's head in his hand.

Jamil survived by answering the killer's questions and praying that he would be spared their unpredictable savagery.

"Even if Daesh were just walking down the road they would find someone to slaughter," he said.

"No-one could intervene."

He cannot talk in detail about the beheadings, only to say that the men were decapitated with knives, on the street and in broad daylight, while Isis killers gloried in their terrorism.

One of the victims was apparently targeted for listening to music, others were attacked and killed over the way they smoked or dressed.

A Sunni muslim, Jamil said Isis barred traditional prayers at a funeral.

"The graveyard, they even blew the graves up. The dead even had a share of this. And the mosque, the house of god they destroyed it," he said.

There are no formal refugee camps in Lebanon - a country with about the same land mass as Northern Ireland and where a quarter of the population has fled the six-year-old Syrian civil war.

Instead families house themselves in makeshift huts and tents on rented fields or in flats in towns and cities and in unfinished, derelict or disused buildings.

Thanks to local UN staff and Irish aid agency Concern, Jamil's family found a patch of land in Akkar.

Along with more than 40 families they live in windowless wooden huts with electricity for a few hours a day.

They have water, modest insulation, blankets and flimsy, thin foam mattresses to sit and sleep on.

"When I got to Lebanon I felt I was getting my dignity back," Jamil said.

Work is scarce.

Two of his sons Mhammad, 20, and Khaled, aged 12, and his daughter Khouloud work from daybreak to sunset for up to seven US dollars.

Mhammad said: "Life under Isis was like slavery. If you have 10 cows you have to give them the cows. You have no choice."

Khaled has a drawn expression and watery eyes, evidently exhausted from day after day of hard work on Lebanese farms.

"I don't have time to live my life. I don't go to school. I want to see my home again but it could be destroyed," he said.

"I don't know anything about my future. I don't even have time to live my life as a child."

Jamil walks gingerly. He had a broken leg that was not set correctly to mend while his wife Helwa has liver disease.

Their youngest daughter, seven-year-old Sami, walks with a limp.

Jamil has trouble explaining her condition but through a translator he says he fears she has polio after missing the inoculation as war gripped their homeland.

He only has one message as he thinks of the future.

"Don't go away with the idea that all Sunni are Isis or Daesh," he said.

"We have been hounded by Daesh. If you are Sunni and you don't apply the law of Daesh you will be slaughtered. The Sunni have been hounded as much as any other religion in Syria.

"We used to live next door to each other - Christian, Sunni, Alawite. We lived. When Daesh came, if you were a Christian sometimes killing them was good for them."

PA


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