TUNIS, Tunisia – A 3-year-old Tunisian orphan whose parents left home to join the Islamic State group has returned to his grandfather’s custody after over a year in a Libyan prison.
Trilling joyfully, a small crowd gathered at the airport late Wednesday in Tunis as Tamim Jandoubi and his grandfather walked through the terminal building. The child was taken away by ambulance and was under observation Thursday in a hospital.
Tamim’s grandfather, Faouzi Trabelsi, has fought to recover the child since learning last fall that his mother and father had died in an airstrike on a Libyan Islamic State camp in February 2016. Tamim was taken to a prison in Tripoli, along with other widows and orphans of foreign fighters. They are caught in limbo after the militant group’s retreat, with their home countries hesitating to take them back.
“We were in Tripoli 11 days and we finally succeeded in getting him back after a huge effort,” Trabelsi said.
Tamim was the only child freed. Tawfik al-Gasmi, a Tunisian diplomat in Tripoli, Libya, said he expects the remaining Tunisian children to return from the prison soon, with or without their mothers’ consent.
Tamim is among hundreds of children fathered by Islamic State’s foreign fighters or brought to the self-proclaimed caliphate. Their parents dead or imprisoned, many are in legal limbo. Tamim was living among about two dozen Tunisian women and their children, being raised by a woman who had joined the Islamic State group willingly.
Earlier this year, Tunisia’s government attributed its delay in retrieving Tamim to questions about his identity and about the role of the Libyan militia that had control of the prison. At the time, Tunisian authorities said 44 Tunisian children were being held in Tripoli and elsewhere, some with their mothers.
In Iraq, wives and children of the Islamic State group’s foreign fighters have been rounded up into camps while their cases are sorted out.
Jawad al-Chlaihawi, the Iraqi ambassador to Belgium, recently told the Belgian public broadcaster RTBF that around 100 European foreign fighters face the death penalty in Iraq, among others, while a total of around 14,000 Islamic State family members are detained at the camps.
“Some of their home countries don’t want to take them back. France, for example, only accepts the children,” al-Chlaihawi said. “But for the adult women, they tell us: Do what you want with them according to Iraqi law.”