Israel Charges Arab Couple With Joining ISIS in Iraq

The couple moved with their three children to Syria and Iraq, where the father fought alongside Islamic State. They decided to return to Israel following heavy bombing on Mosul.

Sabareen Zabidat.
Sabareen Zabidat.

A husband and wife from the Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin who joined Islamic State and moved to Syria and Iraq with their children were detained upon attempting to return to Israel.

An indictment was filed against the couple, Wissam, 41, and Sabareen Zabidat, 30, at the Haifa District Court on Thursday.  

Wissam had fought alongside ISIS, and the family resided in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The two are charged with numerous counts of security-related offenses, including contacting a foreign agent and membership in a terror organization.

Wissam Zabidat.

According to a police and Shin Bet investigation, the couple flew in June 2015 to Romania, from which they planned to carry on to Turkey and then Syria in order to join ISIS. Sabareen allegedly contacted an ISIS operative who transported the family to Syria.

Prior to their journey, the two expressed an interest in ISIS and its activities, and began following the organization on social media, the indictment said. In Romania, it added, they left their mobile phones in order not to be followed, and didn’t tell family members of their plans to join the group.

Haaretz has learned that the couple's families were not aware at first of the two's intention to join ISIS, and began working to return them to Israel. Sabareen's family had also traveled to Turkey to ensure their return.

The couple allegedly handed in their Israeli passports to ISIS upon arriving in Syria and pledged their alliance to the group. Wissam took part in training courses, and the family then moved to Mosul. In Iraq, Wissam fought for the group and was wounded during a raid on a local village. Sabareen worked as a security cameras operator, and their children, aged three, six and eight, studied in local institutions. Their living expenses were paid for by ISIS.

The couple decided to return to Israel in July 2016 following heavy bombardments by the U.S.-led coalition on Mosul and due to their children's irregular schooling. According to the indictment, the family moved from Iraq to Syria, and then repeatedly attempted to enter Turkey, leading their children through the mountains, at times without food or water, and while drugging their younger daughter so she would not cry and draw the attention of guards at the border.

The family was detained by police once it crossed the border and transferred to Israel. Toward the end of September they landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, where the parents were detained by police and the children transferred to the care of their families.