British twin sisters detained in high security detention centre after trying to escape refugee camp

Video report by ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo

Twin sisters from Manchester who went to Syria to join Islamic State have told ITV News how they were arrested and are being detained in a high security detention centre after trying to escape from a refugee camp.

Zahra and Salma Halane said they had been trying to break out to return to Europe when they were caught a few weeks ago.

The sisters were born in Denmark but were “raised from a baby” in Chorlton.

Aged 16, they left the UK to travel to Syria in June 2014 and were dubbed the “terror twins” in newspaper reports.

The sisters escaped IS territory during the battle for Baghouz last year, the terror group’s last stronghold.

They spent the following 16 months at the Al Hol refugee camp in Syria, with Zahra’s young son and alongside thousands of other former IS members.

The women said they tried to leave because conditions in the camp had become unbearable. They were arrested by Kurdish security forces.

“I had never thought of leaving. Things were good. We had WHO [the World Health Organisation] checking, me and my sister but the situation became very bad” Salma said, speaking to ITV News inside the detention centre where she is being held.

“The water is yellow, I am suffering, I have injuries on me and my nephew and my sister, she has injuries on her head.

“We tried our best to go to hospital, we tried our best to do something for our health. So it was like survival of the fittest. We wanted to go to a better care.”

In a separate interview, her sister Zahra said her priority had been her young son, who was born inside the so-called caliphate and is with her in detention.

“I was looking at my son because we are all injured. Me and my son and my sister, we are injured people and we was getting sick and I’ve seen many people in Al Hol leaving - many women are leaving, leaving, leaving," Zahra said.

She said she and her sister left for Syria after being radicalised online.

“On my phone, you know Instagram and this. And I was just reading about Islam, 2014 you have to come to Shām [Syria] and help Syrian people," Zahra explained.

They arrived in IS territory weeks before the terror group carried out its first execution of a western hostage, the beheading on camera of the American journalist James Foley.

Both women said they now want to be repatriated to Denmark having apparently given up any hope of a return to the UK.

The Home Office has revoked their right to British residency.

Like many detainees in Kurdish camps and prisons, they claimed they are no longer influenced by IS ideology.

Salma said: “We have nothing to do with the Islamic State. I see myself as a victim. I am not happy about the Islamic State.”

Six months before leaving Manchester, Salma Halane was questioned by teachers after viewing an image of IS fighters on her sixth form college computer, according to the Manchester Evening News.

She told them she had been searching for images of their older brother, who had travelled to fight in Syria.

The sisters’ escape is said to have helped inspire the journeys of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green, east London, including Shamima Begum, who followed their path several months later.