Four-year-old son of IS fighter found abandoned in Iraq's Mosul returned home to Chechnya
A four-year-old Russian boy who was found unaccompanied in the Iraqi city of Mosul last month has been reunited with his family in Chechnya, Chechen authorities said in a statement on Thursday.
Bilal Tagirov arrived on a plane coming from the Jordanian capital Amman after Chechnya's leader sent officials to Iraq to retrieve the boy from the former bastion of the Islamic State group.
A video of Tagirov wandering alone through the flashpoint city was widely shared on social media last month, triggering efforts to rescue him.
"I can't say at the moment how I feel, of course I'm happy, I don't even know how to express my gratitude, because I didn't think that I would see this day and that it would come so soon," Bilal's mother Zalikha Ashakhanova told reporters.
Ashakhanova explained that the boy's father kidnapped him in 2015 and took him to Iraq, where he joined the extremist group.
"As soon as I saw the video of him, I immediately knew it was him," she added, thanking the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov for his efforts to bring her son home.
The authoritarian strongman instructed authorities last month to repatriate the four-year-old, sharing footage of him speaking to the boy through a video call on his highly popular Instagram account.
Kadyrov said on Friday that more work must be done to return the around 400 Russian children of militants who travelled to Iraq and Syria to join extremist groups.
A large number of Chechens have joined IS fighters in Syria and Iraq, according to Russian authorities.
Mid-July, a video emerged on social media of Iraqi soldiers finding a shirtless Tagirov among the ruins of Mosul's Old City.
The boy tells the troops in Arabic as he eats an apple that an Iraqi flag waving on a nearby building belongs to "the apostates".
The Iraqi army has captured the boy's father Khasan Tagirov, who was injured in the battle to recapture the country's second city.
In June 2014, IS seized Mosul and routed Iraqi forces from the area, after what a parliamentary inquiry later found was a gross mismanagement of the crisis by Iraqi officials.
It found that they had ignored ample warnings of an impending attack on the city.
Three years later, tens of thousands of members of the Iraqi forces backed by Western warplanes and other international assistance retook Mosul after months of fierce fighting.
With Mosul in ruins and nearly a million displaced, Iraq now faces the enormous task of restoring order and rebuilding the city.
Dozens of minors, thought to be the children of IS fighters, were found in the rubble of the city in the days after Mosul was recaptured.