Reporter's Notebook: Refugee father's tale of horror and hope for the future

He stood off to the side of where we were shooting at the sprawling Khazir refugee camp in northern Iraq. The man was leaning against a tent, silent, staring off into the distance.

I sensed there was a story there. And there was.


The whole calamity that is the seizure of territory by the terror group ISIS ‎and the subsequent clash with Iraq and its partner -- the U.S. -- was all distilled in this one man.

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His name is Ali Muhammed. He is a 42-year-old father of five. He was living with his family in the heart of Mosul, working as a "blacksmith.” And then ISIS arrived.


"We were like prisoners," he told me. "All we could do was stay inside the house. I had no work. I could do nothing."

I asked him what ISIS was like. He volunteered: "I was a smoker. And smoking wasn't allowed by ISIS. They spotted me and arrested me twice. And then they whipped me. One lash for every cigarette they claimed I had smoked."

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After more than two years of this literal reign of terror, Ali Muhammed seized the chance for his family and himself. Last Tuesday, car bombs, rockets and mortars crashed thro‎ugh their neighborhood. When Iraqi soldiers finally reached their house as they fought back the militants, he took his family and they fled. Finally making it to the camp some forty miles away.  

We, in fact, came to the camp to report on the good work of the North Carolina-based charity Samaritan's Purse. Long active in the region which has seen the displacement of Christian as well as Muslim people, they are distributing food to the needy people at the camp. Specifically this day, sacks of sugar, flour and other essentials so the families can cook on their own.

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‎This is extremely important, Samaritan's Purse staffer John Freyler explained to me. "A lot of them haven't had food and this is the first food they've received."

Ali Muhammed did, in fact, express his gratitude for the shelter provided at the camp. And perhaps most importantly, he explained, the safety of the place after his family, including his boys and girls, had to live through this truly terrible time.

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He also expressed to us that he was hopeful, albeit grimly so, that ISIS would soon be driven out of his hometown. And that he could return soon with his family.  

Most officials here, in fact, say the group's defeat in Mosul could be a way's off. And the securing of the city for the safe return of its citizens longer still.

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We thanked him for his time. He shook our hands. And all the little refugee children who had gathered around us smiled and laughed. Thankfully oblivious to the horrific times befallen these people.