British Anti-ISIS Fighter Witnessed Brothels With Nine-year-old Girls and Beheadings

A British former currency trader who traveled to Syria to join militias fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization has seen "the worst of humanity".

Macer Gifford,30, abandoned his life in the U.K. in 2014 to help people—particularly those from the Yazidi ethno-religious minority—who suffered at the hands of the jihadis.

ISIS, which rose to prominence after seizing large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, soon became infamous for its public executions, slave auctions and persecution of anyone who did not abide by their strict version of Sunni Islam imposed in occupied territories. Videotaped beheadings, mass-killings and the trading of women and girls used as sex slaves became the norm under the group.

Gifford could no longer stand what he thought was inaction from the international community.

"Everyone from the President of the U.S. to the man on the street watched 'Jihadi John' parade his victims in front of a camera," he told Newsweek. "Going to Syria was almost an attempt to shame the international community."

With no prior military training, the then 27-year old from Cambridge embarked on a perilous journey to join the the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the mainly-Kurdish militia group YPG.

He fought alongside the groups for three years, a time during which he witnessed harrowing suffering and violence.

"I saw entire communities wiped out, homes abandoned and religious sites blown up. I took mobile phones from the dead jihadis and through their videos, watched them laugh while they murdered women and children," he said.

"I've walked through abandoned ISIS brothels where girls as young as nine were kept for the 'pleasure' of ISIS fighters."

Gifford fought in many a battle against ISIS, actions that cost the lives of many people who had become his friends. However, he found courage to remain on the frontline thanks to the bravery of "comrades" around him, whom he said are his heroes.

"When we went on an operation someone usually died. An IED [improvised explosive device] in a stairwell could kill an entire unit, ambushes could have you pinned down for hours, snipers were a constant threat and ISIS were in entrenched positions," he explained.

"ISIS has no rules, it uses our uniforms, it uses child suicide bombers and deploys civilians as human shields. That mixed with little equipment meant that grit alone was what defeated ISIS."

Macer Gifford
Macer Gifford in Syria. The British former trader who traveled to the Middle Eastern country to join militias fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization. Macer Gifford/Facebook

Foreign fighters

ISIS is progressively losing territories and fighters due to multinational offensives in Syria and Iraq. Foreign fighters who had joined the group in the past are now fleeing both.

An estimated 800 British people traveled to territories controlled by ISIS. Of these, 130 are believed to have been killed. Some 300 are believed to be hiding in Turkey now, with Western intelligence agencies warning they might plan terror attacks throughout Europe.

Gifford, now back in the U.K., believes that his government should apply the maximum sentence for returning fighters.

"I just hope the British government take a zero tolerance approach," he said. "ISIS membership should mean a mandatory life sentence. It was their decision to commit murder and rape abroad. In my view they should expect to die in jail in Britain or in a ditch in Syria.

Rebuilding Syria

Although ISIS has been officially declared defeated in Iraq and parts of Syria, the group still operates in pockets of territories and its propaganda machine that helped them radicalize thousands of people is still in place.

Gifford believes that the greatest challenge ahead is to rebuild Syria, rocked by both the ISIS insurgency and a seven-year-long conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

To help rebuild a country ravaged by a war where government forces, multinational coalitions and militant groups have razed entire cities to the ground, Macer is launching his organization, the Arya Foundation, which aims to promote education and healthcare in northern Syria.

"ISIS has devastated so much of Syria. In years to come, it won't be enough for me to say that I fought ISIS. I also want to say, that in my own small way, I helped put Syria back on its feet," Gifford explained.

"Thats far more of a noble cause in my view. I've never considered myself a soldier or fighter. First and foremost I will always be humanitarian and internationalist heart, body and soul.

"We need to invest billions into Syria and [help create] a federalized system of government where all the religions and ethnicities of Syria are fairly represented and their cultures protected. So we can close off the devisions in society that the fundermentalists like to exploit," he concluded.