ISIS-linked Albanian child heads home to Italy from Syria camp

Repatriation is first since Turkey’s military incursion began in early October

In this photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, Alvin, an 11-year-old Albanian boy who was taken to Syria by his mother when she joined the Islamic State group, is accompanied to Damascus airport by Red Cross and Red Crescent officials, after he was freed from a crowded detention camp. The boy, who found himself with no family in the al-Hol camp run by Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria after his mother and siblings died amid fighting, is heading home, to Italy, where his father lives. (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent photo via AP)
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An Albanian boy taken to Syria by his mother to join ISIS was on his way home to Italy on Thursday, in the first such operation co-ordinated with Damascus, a humanitarian organisation said.

The Italian public has been avidly following the story of Alvin, 11, who was born in Italy to Albanian parents, since it emerged last month that he was living in a Kurdish camp in north-east Syria.

A media report in October showed the emotional reunion between the boy and his father in Al Hol camp, which houses thousands of family members of suspected ISIS fighters.

A spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the boy was in Beirut on Thursday on his way back from Al Hol to his father in Italy.

"This started five years ago with the mother kidnapping the child, and deciding to go and fight for ISIS," the spokesman, Tommaso Della Longa, told AFP.

Syria's Kurds hold thousands of suspected foreign ISIS members in detention camps including men and women, but also about 8,000 children, more than half of whom are under the age of five.

The UN says hundreds of them are unaccompanied.

The Red Cross said the boy's mother was killed in fighting but "we discovered through a message from Al Hol camp that the boy was still alive", Mr Della Longa said.

With the backing of Italian and Albanian authorities and after negotiations in the Syrian capital, the child was handed over to the Red Cross on Wednesday.

"Our Syrian Red Crescent volunteers escorted the boy from Al Hol to Damascus," Mr Della Longa said.

"We took the kid under our responsibility and today we arrived in Beirut."

International powers have warned of mass ISIS breakouts from Al Hol and other Kurdish-run camps and jails, after the deadly Turkish cross-border offensive that began on October 9.

Syria's Kurds have renewed relations with Damascus after years of seeking semi-autonomy.

The Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called for western countries to repatriate their nationals linked to ISIS, but the response has been largely reluctant.

Austria, Germany, France and Belgium, however, have taken a few orphans home, while the US has repatriated several women and their children.

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kosovo have repatriated dozens of women and children.