Rukmini Callimachi @rcallimachi Correspondent for The New York Times, covering ISIS. NBC contributor. Previously, seven years in West Africa. Ex-AP bureau chief. Ex-refugee. Jan. 13, 2019 2 min read

1. A few days ago, the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced the capture of eight ISIS members, including a 16-year-old American whom they say was among a group of militants actively plotting an attack. Intrigued, we started digging:

2. If he was indeed American, the teenager would be the first minor caught fighting on behalf of the terror group overseas, as @SeamusHughes explains here: 

3. But within hours of the SDF releasing their press release, claiming the teen is American, University of Kent scholar Simon Cottee, who is at work on a book about jihadists from Trinidad, found a similar name to Soulay Noah Su in his database of 130 Trinidadians who joined ISIS

4. According to Cottee’s database, a Sulay Su left for Syria in 2014 when he was 12 with his mother Gailon Su. Mom had been radicalized by a man she was involved with: Anthony Hamlet, who appeared in ISIS propaganda, including the group’s magazine Dabiq and in a recruitment video

5. Online, we found social media accounts for a Sulay Su & a Gailon Su, and I wrote messages to their friends in their profiles that had open accounts. Eventually, Su-lay Su’s (correct spelling) older sister called me. She confirmed her brother was indeed teen in the SDF mugshot

6. The sister explained to me that her little brother Su-lay (correct spelling has a hyphen) and her mom converted to Islam in Trinidad under the spell of Anthony Hamlet. Then in 2014, they disappeared. She filed a police report but for the next 4 years she had no news from them.

7. It wasn’t until last month that her mom Gailon Su reached out on Facebook messenger. She sent her daughter a series of voicemails begging for money, saying she and her son needed help to get out of Syria. One of the recordings is embedded in our story: 

8. Meanwhile, I reached out to Dartmouth University computer forensic expert Hany Farid who used facial recognition software to confirm with a “high degree” of confidence that the boy in the SDF mugshot is the Trinidadian teenager, as identified in photos vetted by his sister.

9. And three different US officials including at the Pentagon & at the State Department told @EricSchmittNYT and I that the teenager captured by the Kurds is *not* American. (They could not confirm his real nationality). But to date the SDF is maintaining that the boy is American

10. The boy’s sister meanwhile is distraught and doesn’t even know which government or body to approach to try to ask for her teenage brother’s extradition. While the boy has been caught, there is no further news from the mom. Our story: 

You can follow @rcallimachi.


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