Women and children who fled the Isis's last embattled holdout of Baghouz wait to evacuate the area in Syria's northern Deir Ezzor province on Friday. Photo: Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP
Lise, 24, arrived with about 40 others on Tuesday clambering up the ochre, rocky hill which overlooks the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz. Dressed in a long black niqab which showed only her eyes, “she looked at us like a hunted animal,” said Paul Bradley, an aid worker with Free Burma Rangers.
He is part of a small team of international medics seeking to help feed and treat those fleeing as the jihadists make their last stand in Baghouz.
More than 40,000 people have fled IS's last Euphrates Valley bastions into territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, most in a pitiful condition after weeks of bombardment and food shortages.
Lise's escape marks the end of a four-year odyssey, which began in 2014 when at just 20 years old she suddenly quit France to join Isis. She confirmed to the aid workers that she is originally from the central university town of Tours and left behind her husband and a toddler.
“She said she converted to Islam on her own, when she was 12,” said David Eubank, who leads the team of some 25 Free Burma Rangers.
But now she wants to go home, and she hopes that the French government will take her back, the American aid worker said. Her return could prove complicated, as in her early years with Isis in Syria, she met and married a young Frenchman, Tayeb Derraz, according to sources close to the case.
Derraz, who had left for Syria in 2013 aged just 18, is originally from the southern city of Perpignan. Now an international arrest warrant has been issued against him. He had been closely tracked by French intelligence services because “he planned at the time to sneak back into Europe and carry out a violent attack,” said Jean-Charles Brisard, head of the Paris-based think tank, the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.
During a 2017 trial of two of his associates, a French prosecutor said Derraz was “a death machine who threatened France”.
Videos he posted of himself online showed him shooting a line of Isis prisoners in the back, or killing a Syrian rebel with a bullet to the head.
'Injustice and chaos'
Lise and Derraz spent two years together in the Syrian province of Hama and had a son, but she told the aid workers she did not know what had happened now to her husband. He was probably dead, she said.
According to Brisard, Derraz is thought to have been arrested and killed in Hama by the rebel Free Syrian Army, fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Derraz's death has however never been confirmed.
Like other “Isis brides”, Lise told the local Kurdish television Ronahi TV that at the beginning she had “a normal life”. She was happy to wear the all-covering black Islamic veil and to be part of the new “caliphate” declared by the jihadists. But as the proto-state began collapsing she lost the last of her illusions, she told Ronahi TV.
“After I see injustice, it was fauda,” she said in English, using the Arabic word for “chaos”.
During her final days with Isis, there was “no food, no medicine” and they were given wheat mashed up with water, grilled on a fire and sold for a fortune on the black market.
After fleeing Baghouz, the SDF forces trucked the escapees into camps in the northeast where they will await their fate. For Lise and her son, it may be a long wait.
By AFP's Emmanuel Duparcq