My name is Maisa Saleh and I’m a journalist and activist based in Berlin. In 2013 my sister Samar Saleh was kidnapped by ISIS, along with her partner Mohamad al-Omar. Still to this day, my family and I know nothing about what happened to them.
Samar was an active person even before the Syrian revolution started and she was a source of happiness and positive energy to our family and all the people around her. Even though Samar is my younger sister, it was her who invited me to join her at demonstrations and who introduced me to her friends. She worked with internally displaced people (IDPs) in Aleppo and she took on huge responsibilities organizing support for these people who were displaced across several schools in Aleppo.
When I lived in Damascus in early 2013 I started working as an undercover journalist and eventually I was arrested by the Syrian regime for this work. During my time in detention, I was already worried about my sisters Samar and Rasha, as the intelligence forces kept threatening me and mentioning their names during interrogations. When I was released from detention in October 2013 I was so happy just to have survived. But I was freed only to learn that my sister Samar and her partner were kidnapped by an entity called “ISIS”.
That broke me and it was one of the worst moments of my life. I didn’t even really know what ISIS was, as while I was in detention there was a complete blockade on any news or communication. My family believe that Samar and Mohamad, like many others, were targeted simply for trying to fight for the most basic rights and freedoms for their people in an area where ISIS was active. But until now, we really know nothing about their fate.
A lot of people have tried to take advantage of families like ours’ search for our missing loved ones, including taking money and lying to families. Some ISIS members even set up ambushes of families who were searching, so they could kidnap them as well. But for the families of people who were kidnapped by ISIS, it is not an option for us to stop the search for our missing loved ones. It terrifies me to know that Samar might still live with those monsters, and it also terrifies for me to know that she might be dead.
Al-Baghdadi’s death was frightening for us families, as all of the countries who could have helped us in our search stopped their work on the issue. Victory was declared over ISIS and there was no longer any effort to find the people that ISIS kidnapped. There are ISIS fighters who hold a lot of information about our missing loved ones. I’m certain that they have names and lists, and they know where the prisons and mass graves are. But these questions are not being asked of the fighters.
As families, we are pressing for ISIS fighters held in detention in northeast Syria to be investigated. It is also the duty of any country that takes back their citizens who fought for ISIS, in Syria or in Iraq, to investigate and help us access any information.
My hope is like that of all families: to know Samar’s fate. I won’t stop advocating until my family knows the truth.