SANLIURFA, TURKEY - During their offensive across northern Syria, Islamic State militants in June kidnapped more than 150 mostly Kurdish students from the city of Kobani. The group released most of them several months later but kept about 20.
One of the freed youths, 16-year-old Azad, now lives in Turkey. His family fled here after he was kidnapped by Islamic State militants in June.
Azad said the militants seized him and 150 fellow students as they returned home after taking secondary school exams in Aleppo.
“We were scared. They had long beards. They told us 'we will slaughter you, you infidels.' They asked us to pray and to make the ablutions. Some of us did not know how. They hit them and said, ‘Why do you not know the ablutions?’” said Azad.
Islamic State militants have executed thousands of people, accusing them of being infidels. Azad said for three months the teenagers were subjected to beatings and threats of execution.
“They hit us, and gave us religion lessons. They were taking medicine. Their eyes become red after that. They put bombs on themselves and said we will go to heaven. We cried and said we want to go to our parents. They hit us and said 'why are you crying for your parents? If you become Muslims and return to Kobani you must kill your parents because they are infidels,’” recalled Azad.
His mother, Berivan, said she and the other mothers pleaded for their children’s release.
“It was very difficult, three months of tears and crying. We tried to see them, [the Islamic State fighters]. We went without the men. But they told us to leave. They said if you don't go now we will kill your children now. We cried and cried,” said Berivan.
The militants released most of the children a few weeks ago after trying to exchange them for IS prisoners. But they kept 20 of them. Azad said he still has nightmares.
“Even after we moved to Turkey I am still afraid. I will always remember one of them. He came at two o'clock in the morning. He had a long beard. He told us 'I will kill you all' and then he left,” he said.
Azad passed his exams in Aleppo. He wants to be a petroleum engineer. He said he hopes to continue his education in Kobani, someday.