15 members of Rio Claro imam Nazim Mohammed’s family members–including his son, grandchildren and in-laws–who went to the Islamic State to become ISIS fighters are likely dead.
Since secretly leaving Trinidad between 2015 and 2018 to join the extremist group, Mohammed has not received any word from his relatives, he said.
The 15 were part of a group of 19 men, women and children who entered Syria and Iraq illegally as jihadists but were caught.
“You could imagine three 0’clock in the morning I get a phone call from my grandson who was held by the Iraq authorities indicating all who get killed. This one get killed and that one get killed,” Mohammed, 82, lamented as he spoke to the Sunday Guardian recently.
Mohammed said only his 58-old year daughter, Aneesa Mohammed-Waheed, and three of her daughters–Aidah, 23, Azizah, 32 and Sabirah, 29–are alive.
These four women are each serving 20-year sentences in Iraqi camps for illegal entry into that country.
Aneesa’s husband, Daud Waheed, 61, together with his daughters’ three husbands, Shuab Hasib, Curtis Rapsey Williams and Umar Rabby Kumar, cannot be found.
In 2018, the US Treasury Department blacklisted another one of Waheed’s sons-in-law Emraan Ali, 56, and Eddie Aleong, a national, on suspicion of financing ISIS. Ali, a financier of ISIS, was married to another one of Mohammed’s granddaughters Shaloma who both went to Syria in 2015. Five years later, no one knows where the Alis are.
Insisting that his loved ones did not inform him of their plans to join ISIS, Mohammed said he had no personal connection to the terror group.
Mohammed said Aneesa–his firstborn, her husband, Daud, and their three daughters, Aidah, Azizah and Sabirah along with their husbands were the first to go to Iraq.
All eight were caught entering Iraq illegally, and Aneesa and her daughters were separated from their husbands.
Duad was supposed to face a trial in a Baghdad court, but Mohammed said he was unsure if this ever took place.
“That was the last time they (men) were seen. Nobody can account for them. The International Red Cross checked all over, and they could not find them.”
Mohammed believes the four men were executed.
In Iraq, the death penalty is imposed on people found guilty of terrorism, murder, treason, espionage and war crimes. Hanging is the common method of execution.
Mohammed said with his daughter and granddaughters imprisoned, Daud’s son Masood, his wife, and their twin daughters also went to Syria, but they too have not been located.
Among those who have also gone missing in Syria are Mohammed’s granddaughter Sumiyah, her husband Akeil and their 14-year-old son, Samir. He feared the worst as the death penalty in Syria is usually carried out by hanging.
Mohammed said his son Musab Mohammed followed his sister (Aneesa) but was picked up by Iraqi forces after he tried to sneak into the country.
Musab was accompanied by his wife, Cassie Bissoon-Mohammed. They too have disappeared. “We heard Musab was executed,” Mohammed said.
Untold sadness and pain
Mohammed was married to two women who have departed. His first wife, Salima Mohammed, 78, who gave birth to five children, died of a massive heart attack three years ago. She was Aneesa and Musab’s mother. His second wife, who gave birth to two children, died of health complications in 2015.
The father of seven said the imprisonment of Aneesa and his three granddaughters brought Salima untold sadness and pain.
“As a human being and mother, you would grieve…it would hurt you.”
He said Salima was ripped to pieces when she received the tragic news that her son Musab had been executed. Mohammed could not give a precise month or year when they got the news.
Musab, he said, was Salima’s pride and joy. “She loved her son to death.”
Mohammed came to the conclusion that Musab’s death could have taken Salima prematurely to her grave as she agonised over his killing.
Asked how he found out about the family members, Mohammed said the Islamic State authorities did not inform them. “We got information from inside,” and also from his grandson Masood who also cannot be accounted for.
A count showed that the whereabouts of 15 of Mohammed’s relatives are unknown. He said none of the 19 relatives who left were trained as ISIS fighters.
“None of them were found in any battlefield. They were just in the country illegally.”
Mohammed, who heads the Masjid Umar Ibn Khattab Jamaat in Boos Village, Rio Claro, shot into the spotlight in 2016 when he vehemently denied being an ISIS recruiter.
He first came under the radar in 2009 when he was interviewed by FBI agents prior to T&T hosting the Fifth Summit of the Americas.
The agents wanted to know if Mohammed was a threat to then-American president Barack Obama during his attendance at the summit.
Mohammed became a target by the police who searched his mosque for arms and ammunition but came up empty-handed.
Mohammed consoles himself:
This is Allah’s programme
In his sea of loss, Mohammed consoled himself saying, “This is Allah’s programme. You see, we are Muslims and we believe everything happens by the will of Allah. If they have to die there or come back here all of that rests in the hands of Allah.
“Whenever something happens to us as Muslims, we say Alhamdulillah (praise to Allah). It happened by the will of Allah.”
Mohammed said he strongly believes in Akhirah–life after death.
He said believing in the afterlife encourages Muslims to take responsibility for their actions.
“In this world, it is just a passing through. We will die one day, and we have to return to our Lord. We have to give God an account. There is a day of judgment, this is not the real life.”
He said Aneesa and her three daughters have repeatedly written the Government of T&T asking to return home but never got a response. They have also penned letters to the United Nations.
The four women use the International Red Cross to send their letters.
“The Red Cross would visit them in their camps in Iraq. The last letter I got was several months ago. They complained that during winter the weather was very difficult for them as they are not provided with any woolen clothing and had to fend for themselves.”
Mohammed said he knows one day he will meet Aneesa and his granddaughters in the afterlife.
“I am old now. I don’t have long again.”
Bring back nationals home
Mohammed pleaded with the Government to help bring back his daughter and granddaughters and other nationals locked in two camps in Northeast Syria.
“All our nationals are in the same position,” Mohammed said.
Of the 99 detained in camps in Syria, 56 are children while 21 are women.
On March 7, Human Rights Watch (HRW) counter-terrorism association director Letta Tayler disclosed the number of T&T nationals detained in Syria at the launch of its 2023 report entitled “T&T: Bring Home Nationals from Syria” during a press conference.
Tayler said most of the women and children were victims of ISIS and had not committed any crimes.
She disclosed that children have died in tent fires, drowned in sewage pits, and killed by water trucks. Hundreds have also died from treatable illnesses.
Mohammed said these detainees deserve to be free because of the life-threatening conditions they are forced to live in.
Responding to the HRW, Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne said the Government has been working on repatriating our nationals.
However, Browne was unable to say exactly when that process will begin.
The 15 feared dead:
Musab Mohammed and his wife Cassie Bissoon-Mohammed (2)
Duad Mohammed (1)
Shuab Hasib (1)
Curtis Rapsey Williams (1)
Umar Rabby Kumar (1)
Emraan Ali and his wife Shaloma (2)
Masood Mohammed, his wife and their twin daughters (4)