A Syrian refugee whose teenage brother refused to join Islamic State found out he was captured, tortured and murdered by the terror group when photographs of his body were posted on Facebook.
Alaa Alkhalef, who fled to Scotland from war-ravaged Syria nearly two years ago, was distraught when she discovered her 17-year-old brother, Ali Alkhalef, was being held hostage by IS.
The teenager had been travelling from his home in the south to cross the border into Turkey, in a bid to join his sister in Scotland.
After he was captured by IS he was killed in front of a crowd of people and his body left to rot for three days before he was buried. It is believed the young man was tied to a post, crucifixion-style, then shot in the head.
The Sunday Herald has seen images of his death, but we have decided not to publish them due to their distressing nature.
Alkhalef, a mother-of-three now living in Glasgow, says the barbarity of IS is “becoming worse every day”. The 25-year-old has called on the UK Government and other agencies to do more to support Syrian nationals.
Through a translator, Alkhalef, who asked us not to show her face because she believes IS will hunt her family down, said: “I never thought my brother would die like this. It’s so cruel.
“The reason they persecuted him was because he was refusing to join IS. We know how strong his views are. He knows they are unfair, cruel people and he has always been against IS. They tried to get him into their army and he strongly refused. People who were with him said he was tortured but he stuck with his views. He didn’t want to join IS. He was punished.”
Alkhalef’s brother Ali left his home in Daraa, in southwest Syria, just north of the border with Jordan, earlier this year with a group of friends.
They had been called up to join the Syrian army as part of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Alkhalef’s partner, Hasan Alsalkhadi, 35, said: “They were wanted by the regime. They were called for military service. He did not want to join the army. He believes the army is killing civilians – women, young children, everybody – and he didn’t want to do that.”
Alkhalef said Ali “wanted to provide support to the family away from the regime”.
She added: “Life conditions in Syria have been really hard since the war has been going on. There is lack of food, water, healthcare – everything has stopped. There are no jobs either. It has been like this for four years.
“My brother decided to cross the border and go to Turkey in order to work so that he can support the family. He decided to travel with a group other men to try and cross the border.”
The route the men took involved passing through an eastern part of Syria, Deir al-Zour, which has a high population of IS fighters.
“They were trapped within this area,” said Alkhalef. “There was no checkpoint, they were just stopped on their way. All the other guys managed to run away but my brother was caught.”
Alkhalef said the IS fighters asked him for his ID – but didn’t believe him when he showed it. They accused him of lying about being a Muslim because he swore on the prophet Mohammed instead of on Allah.
“Obviously, he’s a child, he’s just 17 years old,” said Alkhalef. “He doesn’t know what to say in these situations. He made a mistake, he should have been neutral. They’re the type of people who can trap you in their words. They will jump on you for any mistake.
“Whatever they say they always criticise and then you will be punished as a result.”
The other men who escaped from the scene crossed the border and contacted Ali’s family to let them know he had been captured.
Alkhalef said her brother endured two months of torture at the hands of the hardline terrorist group.
“They were beating him with whips every day,” she said.
Last month, Ali was paraded in public before being murdered in front of a crowd. There is still confusion over how he was killed exactly.
“They executed him in front of people,” said Alkhalef. “They put him in a courtyard so all passers-by could see it happen.”
Other members of the Alkhalef family who are in Syria were given the news on October 16. However, Ali’s father did not believe them. “On October 20, I spoke to my dad and he confirmed the execution because he saw the pictures posted on Facebook,” said Alkhalef.
“They put it on Facebook to make the family and village aware. We saw it and realised it was true.”
Alkhalef feels desperate for the other members of her family and worries they are in danger. “They started with my young brother and now they will follow up and find other family members,” she said. “I really fear for my family – they may face the same future.
“The UK involvement with the airstrikes is not always helpful, we need to support the families who are in the UK to bring families over and also help families who are there.”
Alkhalef said the situation in Syria is getting worse all the time.
Her partner said he also feared people going to Syria from Scotland and the UK to join IS.
He said: “I thought people were travelling to Syria to give aid and then I find out that they are joining IS. They are ruining their lives.”
There are between 250 and 300 Syrians living in Glasgow.
Daniel Gorevan, policy lead for the Syria crisis at Oxfam, said the charity hoped western countries would accept more refugees.
He said: “Oxfam has called for 5% of the projected Syrian refugee population to be resettled in rich countries by the end of next year.
“For the UK, for example, this would equate to offering safety to about 9000 Syrians.
“To put that in context, Lebanon has over 1.1 million [Syrian] refugees and the country’s total population is around four million. This is the equivalent of Scotland accepting the entire population of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen as refugees.
“The generosity of host countries and communities has been extraordinary, but it is beginning to wear thin and there are increasing restrictions on the border, meaning people are trapped inside Syria.
“Resettling refugees, coupled with a fully funded aid response and long-term support to neighbouring countries, will make life better for refugees, and it will also concretely contribute the stability of those countries.”
Ahlam Souidi, who came to Glasgow as a refugee from Algeria 14 years ago, helps to run the Uniting Nations in Scotland (UNIS) group, which is supporting refugees.
She said: “Every refugee from Syria is facing the same future. The country is still in a war. They are just waiting to get bad news.
“It is really important to give strong support to the family. It doesn’t stop when they get leave to remain in the UK.
“We are helping to support them but there needs to be more for them here.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Since the crisis in Syria began we have granted asylum or other forms of leave to more than 3000 Syrian nationals and their dependants.
“In addition, through our Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, we are working closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify those most at risk and bring them to the UK.
“The scheme is not designed to fulfil a quota – it is helping those in the greatest need, including people requiring urgent medical treatment and survivors of torture and violence.”
The spokesman continued: “The UK is the second-largest bilateral donor to the Syria crisis after the United States and has also committed more than £700 million to the relief effort – our largest contribution ever given to a single humanitarian crisis, helping hundreds of thousands of people to access food, essential supplies and healthcare.”