Yousuf & Zahra were aged 4 and 1 when they were taken from their home in Miami, Florida. Their father Bashir Shikder received videos of them inside the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria. When the ISIS caliphate collapsed he traveled there himself to search for his children. We (Correspondent Seb Walker and VICE News) went along with him on his search.

Watch our story “Taken By ISIS: One American Father’s Harrowing Journey to Get His Kids Back from the Caliphate”

Watch more of my work at VICE News here


Comments: 1162 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

PaleImportance764 karma

Have there been any significant updates to the case since the story aired on HBO?

VICENews851 karma

Thanks for the question! Since the story aired I have been receiving so much support from all corners, the comments that I have read on YouTube and other places have warmed my heart. This is a true story, but many people that I know did not realize everything that I have been going through. The feedback has been overwhelming - the sympathy for how much suffering Yousuf and Zahra are going through, and how much suffering I am going through...all of this has given me more strength to continue with my search. There are no significant developments so far on finding them, but we have renewed momentum and I am hopeful that this documentary can show everyone my appeal. I’m grateful to all the journalists who have highlighted this story, including the VICE News team that has told my story very powerfully

emills345703 karma

What will you do when you get your kids back?

VICENews1632 karma

This question made me smile! The first thing I would do is thank my god and every individual who helped me to find them. I will huge them, kiss them and pick them up like used to and put them on my shoulder. I will teach Yousuf and Zahra to be good people and to love everyone. I want them to be true humans who will never discriminate against anyone, I will show them how to be good citizens. As an American and as a Muslim my values teach me not to hate, but to love everyone regardless of their background. Even if they are back in the United States I will make sure they remember the many thousands of children who are suffering around the world, I will encourage them to participate in society to set an example for everyone. They left so many memories here for me, they left me at such a tender and beautiful age...Zahra was just crawling and used to wait for me near the door when I got back from work. Yousuf used to wait by the window and when he saw me parking the car he would run out to hug me. I will never get those years back, but I have kept all of their toys here and in the memories are still in my heart. Everytime I drive around Miami now it breaks my heart to see the places we used to go, but if they are here I will do everything I can to make them happy and care for them. Yousuf loved chocolate and potato chips, so I would take him to Sam’s Club and buy him anything he wanted...and the toy store for Zahra! She loves playing with dolls so I would give her so many of those!

blackcountrylad1266 karma

What do you think is the correct response from Western countries in dealing with captured IS terrorists? For example my own country the U.K has stripped the citizenship of some IS terrorists such as Shamima Begum and the terrorist known as "Jihadi Jack. How would you both describe the current situation in Syria right now? I wish you good fortune in your search for your children and I hope as you have said earlier that you will be able to hug and kiss them soon. Best of luck to you and your crew.

VICENews246 karma

SEB: This is a great question - the question of what to do with those who survived the caliphate is becoming increasingly important as time goes on and conditions in the camp get worse. From our experience in Syria, it was clear that the ideology of ISIS remains strong amongst those who escaped the fighting - so keeping tens of thousands of them locked up in this camp forever is not going to solve the problem. Speaking to those involved in these issues, a common theme is that Western countries should take responsibility for their citizens - otherwise it just becomes someone else’s problem. Stripping someone of their citizenship doesn’t make them go away, it just means they become a burden on the under-resourced local forces who are currently housing them. The US actually has a very good approach to this issue - they are planning to take ALL of their citizens back to the USA to face justice there. The camp has been described as a ticking time bomb - you can read more about that here

VICENews210 karma

Thanks everyone for joining this discussion! I have been so touched by all of your support, and if you are interested to continue following my search I would be so grateful.

I have created a Twitter account that you can follow for updates

There is also a Facebook page that you can like and follow

And I am even making a website but it’s not finished yet!

I will never give up my search for my children, and if there is something you would like to do please contact my political representatives and ask them to really works!

My senators are and

Lastly, please keep my children Yusuf and Zahra in your thoughts and prayers.

Thank you!

FROM SEB: Thanks for watching everybody! We will keep following this story


facebookID :

Yusuf Zahra Shikder


nanucacadogs139 karma

I watched the vice news special when it was released last week and I just wanted to know how long has it been since you last heard your kids voice? Have the Isis caliphate stopped sending you messages or are you still in contact with them? I pray for your kids safe return, god bless you.

VICENews300 karma

I watched the vice news special when it was released last week and I just wanted to know how long has it been since you last heard your kids voice? Have the Isis caliphate stopped sending you messages or are you still in contact with them? I pray for your kids safe return, god bless you.

Thank you for your kind words. The last time I heard their voice was September last year...I got a call and I heard Yusuf’s voice for a few moments. He told me he missed me and asked how I was doing, I told him to take care of himself and Zahra. Yusuf told me he could hear explosions from bombs falling, this was during the time when the offensive against ISIS was in its last stages. I told him not to use any words of hatred and to keep love and respect in his heart. That was the last message I received from them, and right now I’m not in contact with anyone directly. When my wife was killed, I received messages telling me this news but that the children were still alive - since then all the communication has stopped

OneStandardMale104 karma

Hello, have you considered contacting Marco Rubio's foreign policy advisor, Robert Zarate (twitter @RobertZarateDC)? He has a track record of foreign humanitarian aid. I worked for him, and I can put you in contact with him

VICENews60 karma

BASHIR: Thanks so much! I would love to connect with him, I will follow him on Twitter from this account If you could follow me also then perhaps we could DM for more about this?

Coconut20144447 karma

How can WE help get your kids back faster?

VICENews58 karma

BASHIR: I think something that can make a difference is pushing our elected officials here in the USA - the louder and more frequent your voice the more helpful it can be. Senator Marco Rubio’s office has been very useful but they have limitations. Intelligence resources have to be approved by the US Congress, so putting pressure in all these places can help. It can be writing a letter, making a phone call, every little bit of attention on this case will go a long way to making my search easier. I don’t have the resources to do everything I would like, but I have set up a GoFundMe page in case anyone wants to make a contribution to this cause. I will post the link to this on Twitter and Facebook later today

ConnorI40 karma

What’s it like traveling through Syria, is it difficult going from one place to another, and do you still hear fighting going on?

VICENews48 karma

SEB: Our filming took place in an area of Syria that is a de facto autonomous zone in the country’s north east commonly known as Rojava. There is currently no active conflict here since March when the last patch of ISIS territory was recaptured by the US-backed Kurdish and Arab militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF. However, the security situation remains unstable and there has been an increasing number of attacks by ISIS sleeper cells in the region. There are checkpoints as you drive from one town to the next, but as long as you have the correct paperwork it’s fairly easy to travel. In the rest of Syria, fighting still continues between the rebels and government forces controlled by Bashar Al-Assad. But Assad does not control Rojava, in fact this is where US forces in Syria are located.

Zetsu2532 karma

Salem Alaykom from Tunisia :)

Just watched the youtube video :(

I'm not a parent yet so i can't even imagine your huge pain, but all my heart and prayers go towards you and your childrens. Keep faith and don't lose hope.

I got the same question asked by Trips89 how did you know that the girl wasn't your daughter (other than the dad feeling). Was it a mark on her hand ?
I imagine if it was your daughter she would have recognized you but that wasn't the case in the video.

(Sorry for my bad english)

VICENews55 karma

BASHIR: When I saw her standing there I thought it might be Zahra. I was really feeling that I might have got my daughter back and I was filled with happiness. I tried to talk to her briefly but she did not understand English. The cameras did not record this moment, but I was able to see her face after the women who brought her lifted her veil. They asked us not to film this and we respected their wishes. Zahra was just a baby when she left me, so it would not be easy for me to recognize her. As her father, I think I would have the feeling she was my daughter but it’s been so long now that I cannot be sure. It was a very difficult moment for me because it meant this effort to find my children had failed, and I had to leave the camp soon afterwards. You cannot imagine the grief that comes with this experience

ILoveToEatLobster26 karma

Have you had recent proof they're still alive?

VICENews76 karma

BASHIR: I am in contact with US law enforcement on a regular basis and I receive a lot of information that I cannot share on here, they also have told me they have information they cannot share with me either. Do I have absolute proof they’re alive? No, that would a huge step towards finding them. But do I think they are alive? I am 100% sure of this, based on many different sources. Having dedicated my life to this search, I’m working every day on this and I am very optimistic that we are getting closer

Jaglicious21 karma

How will you get them back? Are they still considered US citizens?

VICENews178 karma

They were both born in the United States, and they are minors - being American is their birthright. They are from Florida! Yousuf was born in Orland, Zahra was born in Miami. Yousuf was just 4 when he was taken from my home, and Zahra was a baby...there is no reason why should not be considered US citizens. They are innocent children, born and raised in America and they deserve the same rights as any other Americans, white or black, Muslim or Christian. That is what I believe and it is what I think this country stands for

Jaglicious16 karma

So how will you get them back? Do you know exactly where they are?

VICENews115 karma

It is not 100 percent confirmed where they are exactly. We know that they have been seen inside Al Hol which is a refugee camp in Syria for women and children who were in the Islamic State’s caliphate. I have heard from several sources that they are with a woman who is hardcore ISIS and is living in this camp. If US authorities cannot find this woman it will be difficult to locate my children, because she does not want them to ever be found. In her eyes, since I am living in USA and did not go to Syria to join ISIS then I am an “infidel” who doesn’t deserve to have my children back. It’s hard to track them down from here in Miami with my limited resources as a regular American citizen like many of’s something I never thought I would have to do! I am in regular contact with US authorities and they say they are doing their best, but it’s been nearly 5 years now since they went missing. I am worried they may get smuggled out of the camp and it will become harder to find them

VICENews19 karma

Hey everyone, this is Bashir and Seb. Ready to take your questions now.

shocktopper118 karma

This might be a dumb comment/question but how does the US or other agencies get their information from? Is there spies within ISIS that report back?

VICENews32 karma

SEB: The US has a strong relationship with the local forces that control Rojava, to the extent that there are US military personnel based in the area. We were on the ground in Syria when the caliphate finally collapsed and we saw US special forces on the ground helping to process ISIS members who had surrendered. The US has a robust intelligence operation in the region, and it’s likely they use the same methods here that they do in other parts of the world to gather information on the ground. There are tens of thousands of former ISIS members currently held in Rojava, so I think we can assume this is a high priority for the US intelligence community

sciencefiction978 karma

The title implies the father is doing the ama, but the post implies its the Vice employee. Is this another excuse to advertise like half of the ama's here?

VICENews3 karma

BASHIR: Thank you, this question made me laugh! In fact, you make a good point but the truth is that I have been looking for my children now for nearly 5 years - I was not doing Reddit AMAs until yesterday! I have been searching non-stop during all of those times, but it’s not easy to go to those areas...especially when there was heavy fighting and the borders were closed. I was in touch with US officials and I had to listen to the advice they gave me not to go myself. Still, I have now been out to those areas multiple times myself. The reality is that one man one his own cannot do everything, and I am not a superhero! I am a regular American who has to hold down a job and make a living at the same time as trying to locate my children. I am grateful to you for listening to my story, and I think it helps to raise awareness of my case if you can share this. My hope is that after this AMA I can connect with someone who might have information or clues about my children

VICENews7 karma

A previous but deleted question asked “Why should we care about the children of a terrorist? Why did you marry a terrorist? Why aren't you rotting in Guantanamo for it?” but Bashir wanted to answer.

BASHIR: Before responding to you, I want to offer you my blessings and love for paying attention to my story. Your words are said with anger and, respectfully, with some ignorance about me and my family. The person that I married was not a terrorist then, ISIS did not exist at the time of our wedding - I do not understand the person that she became, and I am not asking for any sympathy for her. As for why you should care about my children - we are talking about two young kids who were 4 years old and the other just a baby when they were taken from me. You ask why I am not rotting in Guantanamo...I can assure you that I would gladly do that if it meant that my children could be returned safely to their home. I am already broken in my heart, my life now is worse than being in a prison...the cracks in my soul can never be healed without my children. I came on here to talk, and I appreciate all of the support I have received

Snarkal3 karma

Where were you when your wife left the home with your kids and flew to Turkey?

VICENews4 karma

BASHIR: I was on a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. As a Muslim, this is the holiest place in our faith as described in the Koran. This is the first time I had gone there so it was very exciting for me. I wanted to go with my wife but she did not want to accompany me on this trip and I respected that. All Muslims respect this place, so no father would expect that something like this could happen while he is there. My wife flew off with my children just a few hours after I had departed.

Tedohadoer3 karma

Have you/people that work with your case thought about using facial recognition software to locate them in the camp?

VICENews7 karma

SEB: This is an interesting idea, what software would you recommend? The real problem, sadly, is more about access - these camps are huge and there are areas where it’s simply not safe to go. With Al Hol camp, there are just a few hundred guards for a population of more than 70,000 people so you can’t just go inside and wander around. The camps are being run by local forces with limited resources and equipment, right now they are barely able to maintain order let alone monitor the population. What to do with these people is a growing problem, and nobody seems to have a good answer

myops_rock2 karma

Their mother took them to Syria. She’s dead which seems fitting and well deserved. But we’ve got no business in Syria and should have never funded and armed religious extremists to overthrow Assad. Hopefully these disfigured children can find a way home. Have they been located? What will it take to get them out of Syria?

VICENews24 karma

Not yet. They have been seen by several people inside the camp and from different sources. FBI says they have several clues about their whereabouts. To find them and get them out of Syria my resources are very limited. I had to go from one agency to another...even during the final assault on the last ISIS stronghold I was trying to ask my senator Marco Rubio’s office for their help to stop the bombing...but I did not know how to contact them directly. We heard that many people who were fleeing the caliphate had seen my children alive. I heard from my US law enforcement contacts that they were tracking my children, but once my wife was killed the information became more scarce. Every day during the battle, I was worried each time I heard an airstrike had happened but I had faith that US authorities were doing everything they could to avoid something happening to my children

multihobbyist-34 karma

Is the father an american? If not, does he plan on staying in syria to rebuild and make sure ideology like Daesh's is never allowed to take root again?

VICENews34 karma

Yes I am American! I am a citizen of this great country, and I have had a strong belief in how Americans always lead by example to respect all human beings regardless of their race or religion, making this the best society in the world. This is why I chose to live here and why my kids were born here. With all that I have experienced, I will do everything to give back to the people who have helped me in my search for my children. If I get the opportunity, I will use my platform in any way that I can to spread love and understanding. I have tried to live my life without hatred, but I have been a victim of the people who follow this ideology. I have been so badly impacted by this ideology. There were periods of months where I would have no contact with my children - anytime I was able to contact them I realized how they had no food, no shelter, were being moved from one place to another. Understanding this hardship was my personal battle with the ideology of ISIS, it made me realize how ignorant those people were...the kind of brainwashing that happened to them, it stems from a lack of understanding of true Islam. Bombing and fighting will not defeat them - the real fight is to defeat the ideology and expose the falsehoods of how they have interpreted my faith.