A BBC investigation has uncovered details of a secret deal that let thousands of heavily-armed ISIS fighters and their families escape from Raqqa in Syria, under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces who control the city.
Almost 4,000 ISIS militants and their families were reportedly allowed to leave in a four-mile convoy as the group were defeated in the city last month.
The remarkable report can be seen here.
British fighters are thought to be among hundreds of foreigners allowed to escape ISIS’s former stronghold under the noses of coalition forces.
This was despite the coalition being assured that no foreign fighters would be allowed to leave and previous US pledges that they would all be killed rather than be allowed to return home.
The exodus is understood to have been agreed to spare Kurdish forces, the BBC reported. They were leading the fight against ISIS on the ground and it would have required a fight to the death to clear the last surviving ISIS fighters from the capital of their self-declared caliphate.
So a truce was negotiated with local leaders to allow the remaining fighters and their families to leave.
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The convoy, which was also said to have been carrying tons of weapons and ammunition, left on October 12 bound for a camp further north in territory still held by ISIS or towards Turkey.
The coalition monitored the convoy from the air, dropping flares to help drivers in the 163 vehicles, including lorries and buses, navigate the road, witnesses told the BBC.
One driver hired to take part in the convoy said there was a “huge number” of foreign fighters among the thousands involved, including many from Europe.
Many of those who escaped have now moved on from Syria, with human traffickers on the Syria-Turkey border reporting a boom in business with the influx. One who has helped smuggle 20 families into Turkey in the past week said most were foreign. “Some were talking in French, others in English, others in some foreign language,” he told the BBC.
Others went to the city of Idlib, to the west of Raqqa, where many Britons have also escaped from the country, usually paying £3,000 per fighter, it was reported.
As yet, neither the coalition, nor the Kurdish fighters, have commented.