Former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith said a Canadian woman he helped get out of a Kurdish-run detention camp in northeastern Syria has totally rejected the Islamic State, under whose rule she previously lived, and has provided information that will help law enforcement.
Mr. Galbraith, who served as U.S. ambassador to Croatia and has had a long relationship with both Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, initially helped get the Canadian’s four-year-old daughter out of the camp in March.
He said he has been communicating with the woman for more than a year.
“She’s provided lots of information, which of course I’ve been sharing with law enforcement, information that relates to crimes committed by U.S. citizens, as well as information that’s been very helpful in humanitarian matters,” Mr. Galbraith said in a phone interview. He would not specify the agencies nor the humanitarian issues, but said the woman had information about American citizens who went missing in Syria.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces detained thousands of people from more than 60 countries, including Canada, who were living among IS terrorists when the group’s final holdout in the town of Baghouz crumbled in 2019. Foreigners were held in two camps, al-Hol and Roj, as well as in prisons across northeastern Syria. Human Rights Watch estimates 45 Canadians are held in Syria, including 24 children.
Despite experts and aid groups decrying the dire conditions of the camps, Canada has refused to repatriate its citizens – apart from two exceptions involving children. Global Affairs Canada has repeatedly said given the security situation, the government’s ability to provide consular assistance is extremely limited.
The Globe and Mail viewed a document from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) that said the Canadian woman was being handed over to Mr. Galbraith. The document, which included Mr. Galbraith’s signature, said that, after investigations, no sufficient evidence was found against the woman that proves her involvement in acts that violated the laws of the AANES or any terrorist acts in the AANES region.
Mr. Galbraith said he has brought seven people out of the camps so far, including three German children, a German woman, an American orphan, the Canadian woman and, previously, her child.
He called helping the Canadian woman “a special case.” He said she could be targeted by radical women who still dominate the camp, adding she is part of a small group that has rejected the IS and dresses in Western clothes.
He said the Canadian alerted him to a German woman at the camp who was abusing a child – a child who turned out to be that of a Yazidi woman who the German woman’s husband had enslaved. With that information, Mr. Galbraith said, he helped the child move from the camp to an orphanage, and the German woman was arrested.
He described his work in helping extract some foreign nationals from the camps as an “accidental consequence.”
“Let’s not forget the people who are the victims of the Islamic State. And frankly, that’s been the focus of my effort,” he said.
Kurdish authorities had asked Mr. Galbraith for advice on how to respond to the issue of IS fighters and their foreign family members.
In 2019, he started helping Yazidi women reunite with their children who had been taken away from them.
Mr. Galbraith said he was compelled to help facilitate the releases of the German woman and the Canadian woman because they rejected the IS and shared important information.
He said the foreigners who travelled to Syria and Iraq and who lived among IS fighters “had some issue that led them to this, because it’s obviously not a normal thing to do. But both of these women, I feel very strongly they’ve gotten their lives together.”
“I certainly believe in the possibility of redemption and rehabilitation,” Mr. Galbraith said.
The German woman has returned home, he said. She is attending university, sends photos of her children at Christmas and has resumed a normal life.
Mr. Galbraith said the Canadian woman was brought to Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq, after her release and then to the Canadian diplomatic office. He said the Canadian government has been clear that if a citizen makes their way to a Canadian embassy, Ottawa will help facilitate their travel.
Mr. Galbraith did not say whether she is still waiting for travel documents, but said the Canadian government is being “very helpful.”
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