Tribal truckers, praying paramedics: mixed bag on last Daesh front

Sahale Eubank, a volunteer with the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), is pictured at a plateau overlooking the embattled Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on February 15, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019

Tribal truckers, praying paramedics: mixed bag on last Daesh front

NEAR BAGHOUZ: As destitute civilians stumble out of the Daesh group’s last enclave in east Syria, a mixed bag of unlikely characters are pitching in to help get them to safety.
They include a team of medics led by an American veteran and his children as well as a group of truckers from a remote Syrian town.
Close to 40,000 have fled Daesh’s last Euphrates Valley bastions into territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, in pitiful conditions after weeks of bombardment and food shortages.
Citing security concerns, global aid agencies have kept their distance from the town of Baghouz where the jihadists are making a last stand and the SDF’s limited humanitarian capacities cannot cope with the influx.
Enter the Free Burma Rangers (FBR).
Led by a US veteran and passionate Christian, David Eubank, the team of around 25 volunteers — including his wife and three children — is camped out on a plateau overlooking Baghouz that serves as the first stop for fleeing civilians.
“We’re not qualified to be here. I asked God, what would I do here?” Eubank told AFP, dressed in military fatigues and a fishing hat, a pistol holstered on his hip.
“I felt God say: ‘Give up your own way. Just come help,’” he said.
In the distance, about two dozen civilians could be seen shuffling toward the plateau from Baghouz.
Eubank and another volunteer were the first to descend the sandy bank to meet them, hoisting displaced women’s overstuffed bags over their shoulders and helping children scramble up.


One bearded volunteer tended to a thin boy’s chest wound, shouting for antibiotics in English as the child stared at him in confusion.
Eubank established the FBR in Burma in 1997, with a slogan drawn from a Bible verse calling on people to “preach good news to the poor” and “release the oppressed.”
After Daesh swept across the region in 2014, the FBR expanded to Iraq, where Eubank, his wife and their three children became local celebrities for rescuing a young Iraqi girl after her mother was killed in fighting in Mosul.
What brought them to Syria? Another message from God, said Eubank’s eldest daughter, Sahale.
“We feel like God sent us here, otherwise we wouldn’t have wanted to come,” said the 18-year-old blonde, who usually drives wounded people to the main civilian point further on but was using a quiet afternoon to study Thai in the shade of an armored personnel carrier.
When they’re not treating civilians, the rest of the team spends their spare time jogging through the Syrian plain, praying, and doing “camp stuff,” said 24-year-old volunteer Tyler Sheen.
Sheen, from Colorado, said he felt he was in the right place to witness the end of IS.
“It’s the scourge, the most talked about evil in the world so I think it’s a great place to be right now,” he told AFP.
The volunteers inevitably strike an odd figure in the Syrian plain, surrounded by gruff Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters with whom they can only communicate through translators.
When the SDF’s spokesman visited their outpost recently, Eubank grabbed his hands to lead him in prayer as a translator stood between them, as if presiding over a marriage ceremony.


But if the Eubanks are inspired by goodwill, the truckers who form another key link in the evacuation of civilians from Baghouz are motivated by financial rewards.
Once displaced families are taken to a larger collection point further away, they are screened and guided onto the backs of cargo trucks to be driven about six hours north to the Al-Hol displacement camp.
Their 11 drivers are tribesmen from the town of Al-Shuhayl, hired by the SDF at a rate of 75,000 Syrian pounds ($150) for each round-trip, which usually takes two days.
“Wherever there’s a trip we can earn from, we do it,” said one driver in his forties, Farhan Al-Ali.
Some truckers said they rely on pills to stay awake through the 600-kilometer (380-mile) round trip.
“Sometimes we get to Al-Hol at two or three in the morning, then we drive all the way back to Shuhayl,” said Abu Hamud, a 54-year-old driver with a red-and-white scarf draped over his head.
They are used to shuttling cattle or farming equipment, so the dozens of veiled women and children are an unusual — and fragile — load.
The International Rescue Committee, which works in world crisis zones, said Wednesday that 51 people, mostly newborn children, had died after arriving at Al-Hol or during the “precarious journey.”
The United Nations has called on authorities to provide more suitable transportation like buses.
“My heart aches for the kids. They’re tiny and hungry,” said Abu Hamud. “I had a 20-day-old baby die in my truck.”


Europe’s ‘most wanted women’ targeted in new campaign

Iveta Tancosova. (Europol)
Updated 20 October 2019

Europe’s ‘most wanted women’ targeted in new campaign

  • The wanted suspects face a range of charges including murder, and human and drug trafficking

THE HAGUE: Europe’s policing agency Friday rolled out a new campaign to catch the continent’s most wanted female criminals, saying their crimes were just as serious as those committed by men.
Called the “Crime has no gender” campaign, Europol’s new website reveals the faces of fugitives wanted by 21 EU countries in an interactive way, Europol spokeswoman Tine Hollevoet said. Of those, 18 are women.
“People think that usually these crimes are not being committed by women, but they are and they are equally as serious as those committed by men,” she told AFP.
The wanted suspects face a range of charges including murder, and human and drug trafficking.
The interactive campaign first shows the suspects hidden behind spooky neon masks, before their faces are slowly revealed as viewers read the stories behind their crimes.
“After the last time a viewer scrolls, the face of the wanted fugitive is revealed and they will be able to see if it’s a man or a woman,” Hollevoet said.
“The idea is to attract as many visitors as possible, with experience showing us that the more eyes that look at the wanted fugitives, the higher the chance to locate and arrest the wanted person,” she said.
For instance, France is looking for Jessica Edosomwan, a Nigerian citizen who escaped after police raided a prostitution ring in the Lyon region in late 2007 and arrested 26 people.
The ring exploited some 60 prostitutes who were lured to France with the promise of a better future and were smuggled there through Libya.
Once in France, the destitute women were subjected to voodoo “juju” rites and their families threatened, French police told AFP.
The case against the suspects are expected to start in Lyon on November 6 and Edosomwan is the only suspect still outstanding.
She is believed to be either in the Benelux countries, Italy or Germany, police said. Another wanted suspect is Hungarian national Ildiko Dudas, 31, who is wanted for drug trafficking and child abuse. “Very often the suspect’s children were brought along to the drug transactions,” Europol said of Dudas.
Dudas was sentenced to six years in prison for crimes committed between 2011 and 2012 but her current whereabouts are unknown.
Europol’s “masquerade of crime” can be viewed on the following website www.eumostwanted.eu/crimehasnogender — along with instructions on how to send a tip-off to police.