Man fights to save seven grandkids orphaned by daughter who joined the Islamic State
When Patricio Galvez heard that his daughter had died in Syria, he couldn’t pause to grieve — because he needed to rescue his grandchildren.
“I needed to find the children,” Galvez, 53, told The Post. “My mission was to go to Syria and to get [her] kids. It was very clear.”
But it wasn’t going to be easy. Galvez’s daughter, Amanda Gonzalez, had been married to Scandinavia’s most hated terrorist, Michael Skramo, who had raised money and recruited members for the Islamic State — ISIS — and instructed his social-media followers to murder non-Muslims in Sweden.
Amanda was killed in a January 2019 airstrike near Baghuz, conducted by US-backed rebel forces. Amanda was pregnant with their eighth child when she died.
Following their father’s shooting death two months later, the seven surviving children, who ranged in age from 1 to 8, had been taken to the teeming Kurdish-run Al-Hol refugee camp in northeast Syria.
At the squalid site, which housed more than 60,000 people, the kids were in danger of dying from malnutrition — not to mention being further indoctrinated into the Islamic State through networks of ISIS widows who brainwashed the “cubs of the caliphate,” said Galvez.
Only 40 percent of the ISIS orphans at Al-Hol are receiving an education. “Violence is a daily occurrence” at the camp, according to the group Save the Children, with many kids recently telling the charity that they feel “unsafe” when they go to the market or use the latrines and bathing facilities. “Murders, attempted murders, assaults and deliberate arson are also common,” according to a September report from the charity.
“I needed to get them out of that hell as quickly as possible,” Galvez said. “I wanted to get them away from intolerance, which is like a malignant cancer.”
The musician, who grew up in Chile and now lives in Gothenburg, Sweden, alternated between his native Spanish and English as he related the story of the two months he spent trying to rescue his grandchildren. He hadn’t yet met the three youngest, who were born in Syria.
His journey to free his grandchildren is told in excruciating and often painful detail in “Children of the Enemy,” a new documentary directed by Chilean-Swedish filmmaker Gorki Glaser-Muller. The film will have its North American premiere Saturday at the DOC NYC Festival before it streams online.
Glaser-Muller, 48, accompanied Galvez to the Syrian border in Iraq to chronicle his one-man rescue mission.
“It was just me, and I was behind the camera all the time,” Glaser-Muller told The Post from his home in Gothenburg. “It was scary at times because I had little idea about what I was getting into crossing the border into Syria.”
It was partly Galvez’s guilt about not being around for his daughter that fueled his mission to save her children.
Amanda Gonzalez had converted to Islam when she was 18 years old, guided by her mother, with whom she lived after her parents split when she was a toddler. (Galvez changed his surname from Gonzalez when he immigrated from Chile more than 30 years ago.)
After Amanda, who covered herself completely in a burka, tried unsuccessfully to convert her father to Islam and refused to dine with him in restaurants that served alcohol, the two grew further apart.
Amanda met Skramo through an Islamic-themed blog she wrote from Gothenburg, where the terrorist reportedly preached at the local mosque. Skramo had his own YouTube channel, and changed his name to Abo Ibrahim Al-Swedi as he became further radicalized.
After the two married, Galvez felt as if Amanda was completely lost to him, although he still visited her in Sweden after the birth of her eldest children. Her first, Ibrahim, was born when she was 21 years, he said.
“He was never around,” said Galvez of Skramo, a red-headed Norwegian convert to Islam. “Amanda was always at home with the children.” She had wanted to be a filmmaker, Galvez told The Post. To encourage that, her father bought her a camcorder, which he found untouched after she left Sweden. “Video cameras were haram — forbidden in the Islamic State,” he said.
In 2014, Amanda, then 24 years old and a mother of four, followed Skramo to Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State caliphate in Syria. She told her father that she was going to Turkey for a two-week vacation.
“I believed it,” Galvez said.
Instead, she ended up spending much of her time raising her growing family in the strict confines of the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate, which was established in the summer of 2014 by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the terrorist group. Thousands of ISIS members from around the world converged in Raqqa, where the soccer stadium was turned into a torture center where ISIS beheaded its enemies.
Amanda had three more children in the caliphate, and continued to communicate with her father through online chats in which she tried to convince him that she and Skramo had a higher calling. “Life isn’t worthless,” she said. “What we have matters.”
But by 2018, when a US-backed militia group took the city, the messages from Amanda to her father became increasingly desperate. Her family had to escape encroaching rebel forces and were moving from safe house to safe house amid gun battles and bombings. She begged her father to send her money.
“You know I’ve always been thin but now my clothes are falling off me,” she wrote, alongside photos of the children looking listless and thin. “The situation is extremely distressing.”
Galvez, who went to Chile on a music tour in the summer of 2018, promised his daughter that he would find a way to help her. The last time he heard from her was in December of that year. She said she was living under very difficult circumstances and had nothing to eat. Galvez received news of her death on January 3, 2019.
Amanda was killed in an airstrike when a piece of shrapnel pierced her back. Her eldest children watched her bleed to death. Skramo survived and fled with the children. Two months later, in early March, Skramo — who had already remarried — was paralyzed by a bullet.
He left the children in the care of his second wife, who told Amanda’s mother of his death, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. By mid-March, Galvez heard from Amanda’s mother that the children had made it safely out of the war zone and were living at the Al-Hol refugee camp.
Two months after Skramo’s death, Galvez and Glaser-Muller found themselves stuck in a hotel room in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, waiting weeks for Swedish and Kurdish officials to allow them to visit the children.
Both men were elated when finally granted permission to visit the camp across the border.
“I’ll teach them the word freedom in Spanish, libertad,” says Galvez in the film. His relief is palpable, and the scene is all the more poignant because both he and Glaser-Muller had left Chile under the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
“It was very clear that Patricio would succumb to sorrow if he was not successful,” said Glaser-Muller of rescuing the children. “And I thought, ‘Am I going to be the one who has to pick up the pieces?’ At a certain point you have to choose being a filmmaker or being a person.”
Glaser-Muller gets swept up in the drama, secretly filming the children in the camp where the youngest, 1-year-old Mohammed, was dangerously skinny.
As if the bureaucratic nightmare of rescuing his grandchildren wasn’t enough, Galvez was confronted with anger from his fellow Swedes. As Swedish media documented the rescue in May 2019, he received messages on social media from those who didn’t want the children of terrorists brought back to their country.
“You’ve raised a terrorist; you are not a fit parent,” reads one of the messages that Galvez shares in the film. At the time, a poll conducted by YouGov in Sweden found that 54 percent of Swedes were opposed to bringing back the children of Islamic State members, compared to 23 percent in favor.
The eldest children recognized their grandfather when he came to the camp and asked about their mother. Galvez flew with them to Sweden thanks to friends who donated money to buy them all plane tickets.
But there was no way for him to take in seven young children, as he lives in a small apartment and is already raising two more children of his own. Still, Galvez said he was heartbroken when Swedish social services took control of their destinies.
Today, his grandkids are living under different names, housed in foster care homes an hour’s distance from Gothenburg. After two years, they are finally starting to make friends, Galvez said. He told The Post that he regularly visits them on weekends and holidays, but social services in Sweden have not arranged to bring all the children together — a decision made to protect their anonymity in a country where they could still be stigmatized, Galvez added.
“I lost my daughter a long time ago when she was living a radical life,” he said. “I’m trying to do all I can for her children.”
Despite the life Amanda led, he would still like to return to Syria to see where, he has been told, she is buried.
“I am going back to find her,” Galvez said.
He has also started the nonprofit Repatriate the Children to help other families repatriate the children of Islamic State terrorists at the camp.
“They catalogued my daughter as a terrorist and the children the same way, but these children are innocent,” Galvez said. “It’s important to separate them from what their parents did, and realize that they are not guilty of anything.”
Source: New York Post