Updated at 4:54 p.m. ET on 2019-02-28
More than four years have passed since Lidia, a Malaysian medical technician, disappeared from home with her infant son and husband.
The Mandarin-speaking university graduate, now 29, is among 102 Malaysians who left their country for Syria or Iraq to live under the Islamic State (IS) extremist group’s so-called caliphate.
Last week, her father, a businessman from Johor state, said he had received a text from Lidia informing him that she had left IS territory in northeastern Syria and wanted to come home. She is one of six IS-linked Malaysians who are in the Middle East but have expressed a wish to return to their country of origin, police said.
“She is currently sheltering at Al-Hol camp in al-Hasakah,” her father, who declined to be named, told BenarNews during a phone interview. Lidia is his daughter’s real name but he declined to release her full name and asked to remain anonymous, citing security reasons.
“She walked for five days together with her two sons, now aged 2 and 4, to reach the camp from Mayadin. Another Malaysian, named Aisyah, traveled with her,” her father said.
Al-Mayadin is a town in the Deir ez-Zor governate, where Malaysian IS members are believed to be holed up, according to the Royal Malaysia Police.
For years, her father pleaded with her to return, but to no avail.
“I believe she now wants to return home because both her husbands are dead,” Lidia’s father said.
“She also said there were heavy bombings all around her home,” he said.
The father and daughter have communicated sporadically since she left Malaysia, and the text message was the first time he had heard from her in more than six months, he said.
“She has just registered herself with the Red Cross. I hope she comes home safely with her sons,” the businessman said.
Lidia left Malaysia in October 2014, a few months after giving birth to her first son whom her father has seen only three times.
Her father had no inkling that she was going to leave.
“It was her husband who brought her there. She does not understand what IS is back then,” he said.
After her first husband died, Lidia did not want to return home despite pleas from her father. She then married again. Her second husband has also been killed.
Lidia is among thousands of foreign nationals and families who joined IS, but today are fleeing the final assault on the extremist group’s last redoubt in Syria.
The al-Hol camp in the al-Hasakah governorate in Syria’s northeast is under Kurdish control.
“She has food and shelter. But the place is not comfortable for her and her sons. She wants to return home as soon as possible,” her father said.
‘A lesson to her’
Malaysian police said they were working to repatriate at least six Malaysian IS members who are stuck in Syria but want to come home.
“We are trying to bring them home. But, you know, the situation is difficult as it involves many parties from different countries,” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of the counter-terrorism division at Special Branch, told BenarNews.
Special Branch is the intelligence arm of the Royal Malaysian Police.
Of the 102 Malaysians who ventured to Syria and Iraq since 2013 in hopes of joining IS, 40 have been killed in combat or other circumstances, including nine in suicide bombings, while 11 have returned home, Ayob said.
A total of 51 Malaysians, including Lidia and 17 children, remain in Syria, according to the top police official.
Asked whether returnees would be jailed, the chief of counter-terrorist police said each case would be evaluated individually, and not all returnees would be incarcerated.
“But all will have to go through a de-radicalization program,” Ayob said.
As for Lidia’s father, he said he just wanted her to be repatriated even if it meant that she might have to spend time behind bars.
“I don’t care about the possibility that she would be detained. I just want her home and to see my grandsons,” said her father.
“Let her experience under IS be a lesson to her. Now it is proven that Malaysia is better than the Caliphate. Now she can make the comparison,” he told BenarNews.