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After IS: Scarred children plea for return of 'arrested' father

Children who were separated from their father when he was mistaken for a spy by the Islamic State militant group are seen together in the village of Fazliya in the Nineveh Governorate of northern Iraq, in August. The youngest child Mustafa, second from left, now uses the bicycle that his father first gave to the eldest son, Firas. (Mainichi/Kenji Konoha)

NINEVEH GOVERNORATE, Iraq -- In the village of Fazliya in the Nineveh Governorate of northern Iraq, an olive grove spreads out across the dry landscape. Children ride their bicycles down a bumpy lane, under the watchful eyes of elderly people cooling themselves in the shade of a shop awning. Time now flows peacefully by in this village, which sits on the skirts of a mountain, some 20 kilometers northeast of Mosul. Yet the deep scars left by the so-called Islamic State militant group remain.

Four years ago, on Aug. 16, 2014, local olive farmer Aidin Ismael Mohammed, then aged 29, set out from his home in the afternoon in his favorite blue 2-ton truck.

"I'm off to Bashiqa," he told his wife. At the time, the villages and towns were under IS control. Aidin's oldest daughter Enas and her four other siblings waited for their father to return, but night fell and he had still not come back.

The next day, a suspicious call was made to one of Aidin's relatives from his mobile phone. "Aidin has been arrested," the male caller said, identifying himself as a member of the Peshmerga, the armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan. Yet he spoke in Arabic, not Kurdish. Further calls to the phone went unanswered.

Aidin's family members asked around if anyone had seen anything, and heard that Aidin had happened to be with a friend from the Peshmerga when IS mistook him for a spy and carried him away.

The olive farmer had suffered a fractured left knee in a traffic accident the previous year and couldn't walk without a cane, making him unable to work.

Enas recalled her father's peaceful nature. "He never once got angry, even if we broke a cup or broke the TV remote control," she said. Aidin had doted on his children, uploading several videos of them to social media.

Aidin's 73-year-old mother Najia heard several rumors about him. One was that he was in a prison in IS-occupied Mosul. Another held he was with the U.S. military in Baghdad. Each time, clutching at straws of hope, she visited those places. The only hint of her son she found came about two weeks after his disappearance, when she saw his blue truck in Mosul. But even after the city was liberated in July last year, Aidin did not return.

As the Islamic festival Eid al-Adha (feast of the sacrifice) approached, Aidin's youngest son, 5-year-old Mustafa, started to tell the family, "Father is going to return." At Friday prayers, he always prays, "Please let my father return home."

Aidin's oldest son Firas, 10, received a bright pink bicycle from his father about five years ago. "I had looked after it well, but it got too small for me," he said. Its paint now chipping, the bicycle has been handed down to Mustafa.

(Japanese original by Kohei Chiwaki, Osaka City News Department)

--- Politics of fear

IS aims to create a new state based on Islamic law, and expand its dominion. It has support from some dissatisfied elements of society, but many residents have suffered from its cruel acts conducted in the name of Islam and from its politics of fear. One displaced citizen, a former police officer, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "If my background were exposed I would be killed. I was unable to go one step out of my house for two years." His mother says, "I saw IS fighters tie up a youth they suspected of being a spy handing information to the Iraqi military. They poured cement over him, suffocating him."

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