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As U.S.-backed troops close in on last ISIL-held village in Syria, reports say Canadian women have been detained

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syrian forces captured 41 positions held by ISIL militants and destroyed their fortifications in the last tiny pocket they hold in eastern Syria amid fierce fighting, a spokesman said Sunday.

Mustafa Bali said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces made the advances overnight and on Sunday, hours after they launched a final push to clear the area from ISIL militants Saturday night.

The final battle to clear the village of Baghouz is now playing out after 20,000 civilians were evacuated from the area in the eastern province of Deir-el-Zour over the past few weeks.

Following a CNN report that quoted two allegedly Canadian women detained as they fled the caliphate’s last enclave, Global Affairs Canada confirmed to City News that it is aware that Canadian citizens have been detained in Syria.

As a Muslim wife you have to obey, even though it was really hard for me to do it. I had to

A woman who called herself Dura Ahmed, 28, told CNN she was a college student from Toronto and said she first went to Raqqa, Syria in 2014 after being convinced to do so by her husband, who had gone there in 2012.

“Then finally he said you have to come, but I was studying,” she told CNN. “English and Middle Eastern studies,” she said when asked her subjects. “I didn’t know anything about ISIS or anything. He said just come and see. Come and see.”

An Alberta graphic designer, whose name was not provided but whose age was listed as 34, told CNN she also went to the region because of her spouse.

“He’s like, ‘it’s obligatory for you to come here. You have no choice, and as your husband I’m telling you to come here.’ And as a Muslim wife you have to obey, even though it was really hard for me to do it. I had to,” she said.

The woman said she was pregnant with her third child when her second husband, who was also from Canada, was killed. She said she didn’t let her children go to school in Syria because it was too dangerous with the bombings.

Both women, each of whom had children with them, claimed they knew nothing about ISIL before travelling to the region.

The women’s future remains uncertain. Global Affairs Canada said its ability to provide assistance is currently “extremely limited.”

“Canadian diplomats have established a communication channel with local Kurdish authorities in order to verify the whereabouts and well-being of Canadian citizens,” a Global Affairs spokesman told CBC.

The government has not come to an agreement concerning their repatriation, Global Affairs told CTV.

It’s not clear how Canada’s criminal justice system will deal with people who were involved with ISIL.

The Syrian Democratic Forces said heavy fighting was going on inside Baghouz on Sunday, with its spokesman Bali adding that an ISIL counterattack was foiled early in the day. He did not say how long the battle was expected to last. U.S.-led coalition warplanes are giving cover to advancing SDF fighters.


Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) attend the funeral of a fellow fighter from the Kurdish women’s protection units (YPJ), who was killed while fighting against ISIL in northeastern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli on February 9, 2019.

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile U.S. President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that ISIL will lose by next week all the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria.

That would mark the end of a four-year global war to end the extremist group’s territorial hold over large parts of Syria and Iraq where the group established its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in 2014.

U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that ISIL has lost 99.5 per cent of its territory and is holding onto fewer than 5 square kilometres in Syria, or less than 2 square miles, where the bulk of the fighters are concentrated. But activists and residents say ISIL still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq, and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency . The U.S. military has warned the group could stage a comeback if the military and counter-terrorism pressure on it is eased.

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