A former soldier from Halifax is among three men who have been freed from a jail in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq after months fighting the so-called Islamic State.
Joe Akerman had been in prison along with Joshua Molloy, from Ballylynan, Co Laois, a former Royal Irish Regiment soldier, and fellow Briton Jac Holmes. It is understood they were freed on Saturday night, with Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan first to break the news to the Molloy family.
A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman also confirmed the release of the two Britons. “We are helping two British men make arrangements to leave Kurdistan after they were released from custody,” she said.
According to reports Mr Akerman updated his status on Facebook, posting one word: “Free”.
It is understood they had been with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a force reported to have in the region of 25,000-50,000 fighters trying to quell IS in northern Syria.
Mr Molloy’s father Declan said: “We are all delighted here. We are jumping with joy to know that he is out,” he said.
“You know that Christmas morning feeling, it’s a bit like that, when you find your most sought-after present under the tree, the dream present. That’s how we feel.”
Mr Holmes, an IT worker in his early 20s originally from Dorset, had no military experience before he went to Syria. He was shot in one arm in a gun battle with IS forces last May. His mother Angie said she was elated at the news and described her son and his front-line comrades as “heroes”.
“Jack’s family and friends are grateful for all the help and support they’ve received during this difficult time,” she said.
“(We) would like to thank everyone including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Kurdish Regional Government for their assistance in securing his release.”
Mark Campbell, a Kurdish rights campaigner for 20 years, tried to raise awareness of the men’s plight by visiting the KRG High Representatives’ offices in London last Friday with Mrs Holmes. “I am so happy that common sense has prevailed and these brave men have been freed and able to return to their families,” Mr Campbell said.
“They deserve medals, not prison, and I hope they will get apologies and the recognition they deserve.” Mr Campbell had tried to dissuade Mr Holmes from travelling to Syria before he went out but had no contact with Mr Molloy or Mr Akerman before they left.
The men were detained after leaving the front line to come home. It is believed they had been in the Rojava region of Syria for some time and at least one had fought in the liberation of Sinjar, the city where thousands of Yazidis were slaughtered and fled from after IS took it over in 2014. They were imprisoned in Erbil for about 10 days by authorities of the Kurdish Regional Government.