'I could hear him shouting 'Allahu Akbar' as he was charging towards us' - Laois soldier who took up arms against Isis
Published 01/05/2016 | 10:24
The Laois solider who took up arms against Isis and was arrested by Iraqi police is set to return to Ireland this week.
Joshua Molloy (24) had been in Syria since October after travelling to the war-torn country to fight the so-called Islamic State.
For nine months he had been pushing forward with Kurdish guerilla forces liberating Christian and Yazidi territory from fighters of the Isis.
"It was a static frontline position, similar to World War One," he told the Irish Mail.
"Usually snipers from their village would engage us, or one of our guys would engage with them. Some of the Isis fighters were crazy and would open up, revealing their position, firing wildly.
"Night time was so tense, sometimes you can't see your comrade and you feel totally alone. We used to leave the villages and secure positions on the front line, doing guard duty for three hours. I didn't sleep for the first few nights."
Mr Molloy, a former pupil at Ardscoil na Trionóide in Athy, Co Kildare, saw the war in Syria as a humanitarian crisis.
"I felt this was was not just about the horrific crimes Isis was committing against people but it was also a war on their history, a sort of cultural genocide.
"They were just erasing Christian and Yazidi communities. It was brutal and ignorant," he said.
He was involved in the liberation of Sinjar in November last year - the area where thousands of Yazidi men and women were killed by Isis. It's also the region where women were kidnapped to be used as sex slaves, sold in markets in Raqqa and Mosuil.
Mr Molloy, from Ballylinan, had served in the British army for four years before deciding to depart for Syria to help stem the rise of Islamic State.
He was arrested, along with two British soliders, by Kurdish authorities on 15 April after illegally crossing the Syrian border to return to Iraq.
The three were being held by the Kurdish Regional Government but, after negotiations involving the UK Foreign Office and representations by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, local authorities decided to free them.
He's currently staying in the Iraqi city of Erbil, before he continues his journey home.
However, the horrors of the way are still with him.
He described a particular night where he came within meters of the enemy in Tell Tamer.
"That night we were so close to them, one fighter was less than 50 metres from me. I could hear him shouting 'Allahu Akbar' as he was charging towards us.
"It was a failed assault on the village in front of us. The whole thing was just chaos and confusion and a lot of panicking, which is a symptom of a poorly trained militia.
"When I think about that now it sends a shiver up my spine," he said.
Defending the region's minorities was the main driving force behind his decision to move East. He had always been passionate about human rights and environmental causes.
He had no clear plan at the time and was ill-prepared for the frenzied pace of guerilla warfare.
"After four years of training as an infantry solider in the British Army, these tactics seemed insane to me. They seemed suicidal and useless but they had such determination to fight. I was impressed by their bravery.
He spent weeks training his ears to recognise the difference between outgoing and incoming fire and at times found the fight to be both "unpredictable and boring".
"It was boring because you get used to living in the environment and you don't think about the dangers any more. You start to feel invincible. Then something unpredictable happens, randomly without warning.
"On my first front line battle in Tell Tamer, I walked the same route five, maybe six, times a day. I was so comfortable, then one day bullets rained down on me from Isis fighters I hadn't observed. That sort of thing gives you a reality check. The comfort is taken away," he said.
As Mr Molloy and his unit pushed forward to the city of Shadaddi, where the corpses of Isis militants changed his fixed opinion on the profile of Isis fighters.
"I was under the myth that these guys want to die. I had the image in my head of suicidal fighters using their time on earth as a weapon. When I came over and got up close on them, they had individual first-aid kits and body armour... they clearly want to preserve their lives," he said.
Mr Molly left Syria after becoming exhausted and disillusioned with the war.
"The war is over for me because of the frustrating external factors that I'm powerless to change. The complex political situation there is forever changing, and after a while it just makes you weary.
"There's only so much you can do. My opinions on everything have changed now," he said.
"I went to help people over there and I did my best," he said.