Qamr al-Dawla Abdullah had never met his niece and nephew who grew up in Libya, where their father Yehia was killed fighting alongside Islamic State, but he stood tearfully at Khartoum’s airport on Tuesday waiting to pick them up.
The Sudanese children were two of eight returning from Libya, where their parents had joined Islamic State in the coastal city of Sirte. The youngest of the children has not turned 1 yet, and the eldest is only 9 years old.
After being placed in a corrective institution in Libya, the children were being sent to live with family members in their native Sudan, said Moataz Abbas, a Sudanese community leader in the Libyan city of Misrata.
“The mothers are detained and the fathers are dead or missing… Six children are being picked up by their families, but there are two whose families we have been unable to locate,” Brigadier General Al-Tigany Ibrahim told reporters at Khartoum airport.
Islamic State captured Sirte in early 2015, turning it into its most important base outside its heartland in Syria and Iraq, and attracting large numbers of foreign fighters to the city, many of them Sudanese.
The group imposed its hardline rule on residents and extended its control across some 155 miles (250 km) of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline.
“It is painful for the sun to rise and for you to not find your daughters or grandchildren at home and to not know where they went or why. We are simple people … our daughters had never even left Sudan,” Hassan Sughayroon, grandfather of four of the rescued children, told Reuters.
Two of Sughayroon’s daughters fled the country last year. He only learned of their whereabouts when Sudan’s intelligence agency called him four months ago.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Eric Knecht)