BAGHDAD, Iraq – The family of a British boy said they were “devastated and heartbroken” after ISIS apparently released a photo showing their 17-year-old relative smiling in front of an ISIS flag.
ISIS media posted images of a boy the group called Abu al Britani. In one picture, the teen known as Talha Asmal back in England raises his index finger as if he’s No. 1. A black flag hangs behind him.
In another shot, he’s posing inside a black Toyota.
The family’s heartache played out this weekend against the backdrop of two waves of car bombings in Iraq, notable for the role foreigners were said to have had in them.
Family: ‘A loving and affable’ boy
Asmal’s relatives in West Yorkshire, England, were in shock after British media published the pictures of him.
Asmal was a “loving, kind, caring and affable” and had no “ill will against anybody nor did he ever exhibit any violent, extreme or radical views of any kind,” his family said in a lengthy statement Sunday.
It seems that ISIS targeted the teen and “exploited” his “tender years and naivety,” they said, adding that the terror group apparently carried out a “process of deliberate and calculated grooming of him.”
“As a result of this and completely unbeknown to us, his family, and entirely against our wishes, he ended up traveling it seems to Iraq,” the family’s statement reads.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s North East Counter Terrorism Unit said that police are aware of media reports that allege a British national has died in Iraq. The identity of the person has not been confirmed, and the office unable to give further comment, it said.
“We are aware that large numbers of British nationals are traveling to the Middle East for a variety of reasons, and we understand that some of those traveling have resided in West Yorkshire,” it said.
Seven bombers, all foreigners?
ISIS is known for staging multiple bombings at a single time to rattle its enemy, but this weekend’s violence stands out — the seven car bombers who attacked near the city of Baiji were all from countries outside of Iraq, the terror group claimed. According to ISIS, the attackers were a Brit, a German, a Kuwaiti, a Palestinian, two Dagestanis and one national of Turkmenistan.
The bombings happened in two waves.
During one, four car bombers raced toward and drove through an Iraqi security forces checkpoint. At least 16 were killed and 29 wounded.
In another attack, three car bombers blew themselves up near security forces, causing numerous injuries but no deaths, an Iraqi Security Forces paramilitary commander told CNN.
The commander told CNN that in the first attack security forces mistook four speeding SUVs heading toward them as a convoy escorting a high-level official.
Violence in Iraq continued Sunday. A parked car exploded near a shopping area in Shaab, a predominantly Shia district northern Baghdad. Two people were killed and seven wounded, police told CNN.
A family waits, worries
Other families around the world share in the pain Asmal’s family is experiencing.
British teens have been swept up in the allure of ISIS. Earlier this year, three teenage British girls were seen on airport surveillance footage heading to Syria. A Scottish teenager wrote extensively on her Tumblr account about her love of ISIS. She stunned her family, left her country and became an ISIS bride and recruiter. An American teenager from suburban Chicago, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, allegedly was on his way to join ISIS in October when he was stopped at an airport.
Asmal’s family said he comes from a “close knit, hardworking, peace loving and law abiding British Muslim family.”
“It appears Talha fell under the spell of individuals who continued to prey on his innocence and vulnerability,” they said.
If he was one of the suicide bombers, the boy was “ordered to his death by so called ISIS handlers and leaders too cowardly to do their own dirty work,” they said.
ISIS does not represent Islam, they stressed.
“They do not represent in any way, shape or form Islam and Muslims and we are no longer prepared to allow a barbaric group like ISIS to hijack our faith,” their statement said. “ISIS Not and Never in our name.”
They are grieving, they said, and need a break from talking to reporters.
They need “time and understanding to come to terms,” they said, “with our unimaginable and painful loss.”
CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali reported from Baghdad while Ashley Fantz wrote the story in Atlanta. CNN’s Ben Wedeman and Anas Hamdan contributed to this report.