News & Opinion | October 31, 2017 10:06 am

Swedish Family Discovers It Adopted Syrian Teen With ISIS-Connected Past

What happens when it's revealed that a war refugee's past has troubling, not so innocent aspects?

When “Paul” finally escaped war-torn Syria at age 16, he told nurses that he was a Christian who’d been imprisoned multiple times by militants; in actuality, his name is Ammar, and he is a Muslim teenager who American journalist Theo Padnos described, after living in an ISIS jail with him, as a jihadist.

This is according to a new GQ article by former New York Times reporter Scott Sayare, in which Sayare describes a “fairly extraordinary case of terror, madness, betrayal, benevolence and trust.” Ammar is a clear victim, the article illustrates, but lies and truth often blend together in war. One example: Ammar recounted having worked within the sex trade to save Yezidi girls who were sold to ISIS as sex slaves. He says he bought them and then freed them by selling them back to their families.

“He had little to say about his reasons for doing this, and no proof to offer, but said that after [his girlfriend’s] death he was afraid of nothing and angry,” Sayare writes.

The theme of “trust” in this story is clearly an important one. For some, it’s a worst-case scenario to welcome a refugee into their home, only to later find out that he or she has lied about who they are, what they believe, and what type of violence they are truly capable of. But Ammar’s adoptive mother Lina, a physician who is the head of her family, refuses the image of Ammar that Padnos remembers.

“I have spoken to him so many hours,” Lina told GQ of Ammar. “I have thought about it. But I have landed in—no, this is not my story of him. I don’t know the truth. But I have landed in this. And I have chosen now to trust him.”