Sydney woman Karen Nettleton is living a nightmare. In 2013, her daughter Tara took her five grandchildren to live with their father, Khales Sharrouf in an Islamic State stronghold in Syria. Tara has since died, and the couple’s five children – who range from teenagers to a baby - are at the mercy of the militants.
This week, a video was released showing the six-year-old Hamze being instructed by his father about how to kill Australians and non-Muslims. His tiny voice is still babyish and unformed. “He still has got this cute little voice and little lisp,” Nettleton told ABC’s 7:30 last night.
"Hamze is wearing military fatigues, a head scarf and what appears to be an explosives belt," the program reported.
"He responds softly when his dad asks him, "How do you kill a 'kafir'?", an arabic word for a non-Muslim and "how do you kill an Australian?"
"He makes head chopping and throat slitting motions. He seems eager to please but also uncomfortable."
It’s not the first time Nettleton has been forced to see her grandchildren used for propaganda. Another of the boys, who was seven at the time, was filmed holding the severed head of a soldier.
Nettleton just wants her grandchildren to come home, but is at a loss about how that could happen. Last year she travelled to Turkey to attempt to retrieve them, but failed after media interest in the area alerted the fighters to her plan.
“Is my messaging and my love enough to bring him back, to get them back here?” she told the ABC.
Remarkably, Nettleton is sometimes able to talk to her grandchildren. She spoke to six-year-old Hamze recently. He told his grandma, “I love you Nanna. I miss you, Nanna.”
Nettleton believes the children are innocent pawns, and are being used for propaganda purposes by the rogue group. She hopes the Australian government will intervene to bring her babies home. “Everybody out there is going to think he’s a little terrorist,” she said.
“He’s just being used as some sort of media tool.”
Last year, Nettleton’s lawyer said that if the children were able to be brought back to Australia, they would be helped. “Everyone is on alert to reintegrate them,” barrister Charles Waterstreet told The Sydney Morning Herald. Legally they are still Australian citizens and have a right to return.
But until then, Karen Nettleton is forced to watch, wait and grieve – helpless as the children she loves slip further from the life they once knew.