Tunisian military doctor died trying to extricate his son from ISIS
Tunis - Tunisian Army doctor Fathi Bayoudh fought, until his last breath, to free his son from the grips of the Islamic State (ISIS).
Bayoudh, a lieutenant-general, who was head of paediatrics at the Tunis military hospital, was at Istanbul Ataturk Airport on June 28th waiting for his wife, Saida, who was flying from Tunis to join him in reuniting with their only son. They expected he would be extradited to Tunisia after being detained in Turkey upon suspicion of assisting ISIS in Syria.
Bayoudh was among the 44 people killed by ISIS assailants at Istanbul’s main airport on June 28th.
He had taken non-paid leave from his job to find his son. “I will sacrifice my life to save you, son,” Bayoudh wrote to his son Anouar, 26, in an e-mail exchange during the more than two months that he spent working to rescue his son from ISIS.
Anouar Bayoudh joined ISIS in 2015 before changing his mind. “They are savage, monsters. Please bring me out of here,” he once told his father, who made contacts with smugglers and Syria rebel leaders in attempts to get his son to Turkey.
Details of his struggle were recounted by his wife to friends and relatives who gathered at the Bayoudhs’ home in Tunis before his burial on July 1st.
“Fathi did all he could for his son,” said Saida Bayoudh, as she showed messages Fathi exchanged with Anouar.
An estimated 5,000 Tunisians have joined ISIS and other radical Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq. About 800 are believed to have returned to Tunisia and are under the watch of authorities. Dozens have been killed in battle.
While attention has focused on poorer young Tunisians being lured by ISIS in an effort to escape poverty, the Bayoudh family epitomised the successful urban upper-middle class with good jobs and a comfortable villa in the Ennasr district of Tunis.
That was before ISIS ripped the family apart.
The trouble began at al-Salam mosque in Tunis where Anouar Bayoudh, a medical student, was recruited by ISIS.
“For the past five years, this mosque was a hotbed of extremism as it was out of state control,” said Ali Ghorbal, who leads Friday prayers at the mosque. “As a result, up to 15 young people from Ennasr district, including students and engineers, were recruited to join Daesh in Syria,” he said using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“[Anouar] was a good boy, very polite but not very religious. He did not even pray all the time,” his mother said.
Anouar Bayoudh told his family last October that he was going to Switzerland for a training session. Less than a month later he telephoned to announce he was in Iraq where he had joined ISIS.
But his enthusiasm for the extremist group seemed to fizzle after he was sent to Raqqa in Syria, the de facto capital of ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
“He asked his father to rescue him… He was very afraid of these people,” Saida Bayoudh said. “In the messages he sent his father, Anouar described them as monsters and would say that Daesh was a sham.”
The Bayoudh case has shown not only that ISIS recruits from all sectors of society but also shed light on the plight of returning jihadists.
Upon his eventual return to Tunisia from Turkey, Anouar Bayoudh was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the Tunis military hospital. He is reported to have reacted hysterically to the news of his father’s death. However, after public outcry over the medical attention he was given, an arrest warrant was issued charging him with joining a terrorist organisation abroad.
Issam Dardouri, head of the civic Security and Citizenship Association, took issue with people who showed sympathy towards Anouar Bayoudh.
“He is like the other armed militants in Syria. They are criminals. The hospitalisation and the sympathy are a form of normalisation of Daesh,” he said.
“The case of the fighters in conflict zones abroad is a booby trap for the government here. They are not coming back from holiday-making. They are returning home from killing fields armed with a hate-and-death mindset.”