Matthew, whose American mother and Moroccan stepfather joined Daesh in 2015, says he feels “good” to be back in the US after having a grueling experience in Syria.
In 2017, when the war between Daesh and the US-led coalition was raging across northern Syria, a ten-year-old American boy emerged in a Daesh video. In it, he told President Donald Trump that the self-proclaimed caliphate would reach US soil one day.
"My message to Trump, the puppet of the Jews: Allah has promised us victory and he's promised you defeat. This battle is not going to end in Raqqa or Mosul. It's going to end in your lands… So get ready, for the fighting has just begun," Matthew said in a video.
A year later, Matthew - not Daesh - arrived in the US along with his mother, Samantha Sally, and his three half-siblings as the extremist group lost its capital, Raqqa, and reached a dead end.
Now, Matthew, who had lived in Raqqa with his family from 2015 to 2017, says that it's a "sweet relief" to be home.
"It's like being in tight clothes or tight socks and shoes all day and then just taking it off and just feeling nice and chilling in a hot bath. That's what it felt like. Like sweet relief. It felt good," he told BBC.
Matthew’s mother received a six and a half year sentence over charges that concerned the financing of terrorism. He currently lives with his biological father, an American soldier, in Florida.
His stepfather, Moussa Elhassani, who was instrumental in bringing the family to Syria to fight on the side of Daesh, was killed in a coalition drone attack shortly after the release of Matthew’s infamous video.
"I was so young I did not really understand any of it," Matthew said of his gruelling experience in Syria.
After Elhassani’s killing, Sally decided to leave Syria, paying smugglers to get them out of Raqqa. She and her four children reached an area controlled by US-led coalition forces, which expatriated the family in 2018.
With the return to America, the family was broken up: the mother went to jail and Matthew joined his father in Florida. There is no information on the whereabouts of Matthew’s three half-siblings.
Many others waiting for repatriation
While Matthew and his family were repatriated to America, there are still more than 10,000 foreign nationals, who were alleged to have links with Daesh, living in poorly-conditioned camps in northern Syria.
But relocating even simply children and women, whose fathers and husbands might have been affiliated with Daesh, is not a popular policy across Europe.
Unlike other Western countries, the US, which rules much of northern Syria, has appeared to do more when it comes to the repatriation of its citizens.
“We call on other nations, particularly in Western Europe, to take responsibility for their citizens.” said Nathan Sales, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
Immediate repatriation of prisoners held in those camps is also important for the fact that their captors, the YPG, the Syrian wing of the PKK, is recognised as a terrorist organisation by the US, the EU and Turkey, being no part of any government or legal structure.