Writing project helps young Syrian refugees connect with New York kids

In this file photo, Syrian refugee children stand along a street in south of Sidon, southern Lebanon. (Reuters)
Updated 16 February 2018

Writing project helps young Syrian refugees connect with New York kids

BEIRUT: Syrian child refugees in Lebanon are using hand-written letters and drawings to bridge the vast gap between their experiences and the lives of other children in New York.
The 1,000 Letter Project allows the young refugees to share their hopes and dreams. So far about 700 letters have been exchanged between the refugees and children in Hudson, New York, since the project started several months ago.
“I release my pain when I write these letters,” said Nijmeh Almawla, a 14-year-old Syrian refugee living in an informal settlement south of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.
“Somebody is listening to me, and finally someone is hearing me,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says nearly 1 million Syrians are registered as refugees in Lebanon, and account for about a quarter of its population. More than one in four Syrian refugees in Lebanon are children.
The project is a joint effort between Help Syria’s Kids, a US charity that assists young Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and Imagine Workshop and Concert Series (IWCS), a Lebanese art and outreach program.
The goal is to exchange 1,000 letters by the end of 2018.
Danette Gorman, the founder of Help Syria’s Kids, which is based in Hudson, said the idea was to create “unity between children” and help them understand how the other lives.
The letters and drawings were exhibited on Thursday at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, where some of the Syrian children performed a song as part of a larger IWCS concert.
“I want to learn to speak your language,” one of the letters that came from New York read.
Another said: “I hope you get the things that you need like a lot of food.”
“It shows that people care,” said IWCS director Seba Ali.
“It gives them self-esteem and tells them that they are a very, very important part in our society and that they matter.”
Among the letters were drawings, one of which — drawn by a Syrian child — was of a broken heart with a knife through it.
“Seeing is different from hearing. And when they read how we are living it will affect them ... they don’t know how bad our living conditions are,” said 12-year-old refugee Baraa’a Anter.
“I am every happy because I am talking to them,” she added with a beaming smile. “And I hope one day I can see them and they can see me.”


New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

Updated 18 September 2020

New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

  • CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York.

“Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s Future Caliph” is based on Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) — the paper trail the US military creates when enemy fighters are detained and interrogated — from Al-Mawla’s time in captivity in the late 2000s.

Before his release in 2009, Al-Mawla named 88 extremists involved in terrorist activities, and the information he divulged during his interrogations led US forces in the region to successfully capture or kill dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters, the report claims.

The CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US air raid in Syria in October 2019.

Although Daesh announced that a man called Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was Baghdadi’s successor, US officials have also stated that Al-Qurashi’s true identity is actually Al-Mawla — also known as Hajj Abdullah.

Before joining Daesh, Al-Mawla is believed to have been the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda.

While details about the operation resulting in his capture are scarce, the TRIs reveal that he was captured on January 6, 2008.

The following day, US Central Command announced the capture of a wanted individual who “previously served as a judge of an illegal court system involved in ordering and approving abductions and executions.”

In his interrogations, Al-Mawla offered up details of terrorist plots to his interrogators, while minimizing his own involvement. He identified many jihadists by name and offered descriptions of their roles in the terrorist organization and details of their involvement in attacks on US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al-Mawla — a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and once Baghdadi’s speechwriter — emerges from the TIRs as a mysterious personality with a vague past, whose ethnicity could not be determined with certainty. The statements in the reports are rife with contradictory elements and open to a wide range of interpretations. As the authors point out in their introduction: “It is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether what Al-Mawla divulges regarding himself or ISI (the forerunner of Daesh) as an organization is true.”

Details of the specific demographics of Al Mawla’s birthplace of Al-Muhalabiyyah in Iraq’s Tal Afar district are sketchy, but it is generally accepted to have a predominantly Turkmen population. The authors of the report point out that some sources have suggested “this could pose legitimacy problems for him because (Daesh) mostly has Arabs in its senior leadership echelons,” but add that at least two other senior members of the group were reported to have been Turkmen.

Al-Mawla also claimed to have avoided pledging allegiance to ISI because he was a Sufi. The report’s authors cast doubt on that claim, given his quick rise to prominence in the terrorist group and the fact that ISI and Daesh branded Sufism as heresy.

But the authors do believe the TRIs give some valuable insights into Al-Mawla’s personality.

“The fact that he detailed activities and gave testimony against (fellow jihadists) suggests a willingness to offer up fellow members of the group to suit his own ends,” they wrote. “The amount of detail and seeming willingness to share information about fellow organization members suggests either a degree of nonchalance, strategic calculation, or resignation on the part of Al-Mawla regarding operational security.

“He appears to have named individuals in some capacity across all levels of the organization, while describing some individuals in some detail,” they continued.

The US Department of Justice has offered a $10million reward for information about Al-Mawla’s identification or location.