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'The Great Pursuit' documentary on militants who fled Syria to settle in Europe

(Zaman Al Wasl)- “War Criminals: The Great Pursuit” is a documentary film by Syrian journalist Daham Al-Asaad that follows a number of ISIS war criminals who, since the fall of the organization, have fled Syria to settle in Europe as refugees.

The documentary, which was broadcast on the French channel M6, has garnered within the first hour of its release a million and a half views, trending on French Twitter.

The film, funded by French TV and the French Film Foundation, relies on the testimony of a number of Syrian activists, including Ahmed Ramadan, who after losing both his father and brother to the Islamic State in 2014, established a network of 30 journalists and investigators from Istanbul, regularly publishing the results of their investigations on “Euphrates Post”.

Al-Asaad told Zaman Al Wasl that his new film is an investigation seeking to provide evidence that the fleeing members were in fact affiliated with IS or other organizations. This was, according to him, a difficult task, which was basically similar to police work from gathering evidence and witnesses to researching the background of each of the suspects.

The documentary was filmed in several regions in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Greece, Germany and France, taking up to two years of work between research, investigation, and filming, which was made even more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic, the security concerns, and difficulty to access certain places to shoot, explained Al-Asaad. 

The film focused on how Syrian activists collect documents and information about the fleeing war criminals, in addition to relying on investigation by the film team through communicating with French courts and security.

The film followed several stories, including a video of IS members beheading and desecrating the corpse of a person. One of the identified fighters, who was responsible for IS communication between Mosul, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, left Syria in 2015 applying for asylum in Europe then returning to IS with his German asylum passport. The team collected testimonies by his family and people from his region.

The journalist revealed that his film also focuses on people of French nationality who are affiliated with the Islamic State and live in Rouge and Al-Hol camps, and who were left there without accountability or trial, with French authorities refusing to bring them into the country despite holding French citizenship. 

Around 200 members of ISIS are French, out of the 700 who joined the organization, many of whom disappeared or were killed among them children born in Syria to French fathers. 

Al-Asaad expressed his regret at the lack of cooperation and sharing of information regarding war criminals between the countries of the European Union, where these same criminals are living as refugees.

Daham Al-Asaad, born in Palmyra in 1989, is a journalist and documentary filmmaker who started his career in the written press, working in several newspapers and magazines, including the French “La Croix” and “Le Parisien”, the Danish “Information”, “360”, and the German “Die Zeit”, as well as France 24, Danish TV and Fox News, before moving to documentary filmmaking. His documentary film “One-Way Ticket” won the Migration Media Award of 2019, presented and funded by the European Union and Open Media Hub.

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