He insists he travelled to Syria in January 2015 without knowing the true nature of the terrorist group – despite the widespread media reports and internet videos depicting its extreme violence – and worked as a tradesman rather than a fighter.
As the IS extremists made their last stand in Baghouz, Masri said thousands of people made up of IS fighters and members, as well as civilians, were in makeshift camps in the village as the battle raged. Ample food was being sourced but it was reserved for fighters.
“There was kids that were dying from malnourishment. I seen kids die actually, seen it with my eyes,” he said. “Kids died because they didn’t have food to eat. They were keeping that for their fighters.”
He said there was a black market operating. Some fighters would take food and then resell it at massively inflated prices.
“If I had a bit of cash left with me mate, I’d spend it all … the prices of things were very high.”
He says he dug a hold about two metres by 1.5 metres in which his family sheltered from air strikes and rocket attacks.
Kids died because they didn’t have food to eat. They were keeping that for their fighters.
Mohammed Noor Masri
“I put some blankets on top. I put some rods on the side to support the framing … You’d have to keep fixing it every day because there’d be windy weather, sandstorms, rain,” he said.
“My kids spent most of the time in there. Their mum would want to take them outside and let them just sit outside in the sun. But you can’t, you’re in a war zone.”
Masri had met and married Sydney woman Shayma Assaad in Syria. Together they have had three sons, Alae, aged three, Dawood, two, and Umayr, one. Assaad, who is pregnant with their fourth child, and the three sons are in a massive camp for IS families in northern Syria.
Masri said his oldest son Alae would cuddle an empty date packet as a teddy bear.
“Whenever he’d hear the jet come out or the AC-130 [gunship] or the RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] being launched from the mountain onto us … he would call for me. He wouldn’t sleep until he was underneath my armpit,” he said.
“There’d be no way of calming him down until I hug him tight and he’d be next to me.”
David Wroe is defence and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.