An epic and unheard of story of a rescue operation to free a graduate student from ISIS captivity is grabbing world headlines after it was revealed that a professor at a Swedish university financed and put together the whole plan by hiring mercenaries for the high risk venture of entering Islamic State territory.
In 2014 a chemistry PhD student named Firas Jumaah returned to his native Iraq while on break from Lund University, located outside of Malmo, Sweden. He returned in order to help his family escape ISIS, which at that time was sweeping northern Iraq, especially decimating the ethno-religious Yazidi community, to which Jumaah’s family belonged.
In a cryptic text message Jumaah notified his graduate professor in Analytical Chemistry, Charlotta Turner, that he would not be returning to his studies. ISIS had advanced so rapidly that Jumaah and his family were trapped behind Islamic State lines.
According to Sweden’s The Local, which broke the story, Jumaah notified Lund University that he and his family were “hiding out in a disused bleach factory, with the sounds of gunshots from Isis warriors roaming the town reverberating around them.”
Though little in the way of details have been given, the professor along with Lund University’s then-security chief Per Gustafson took matters into their own hands, reportedly hiring a private security company to enter Iraq to search for Jumaah and his family. A team of mercenaries was then dispatched into Islamic State territory, which at that time stretched across Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.
“It was almost as if he’d been waiting for this kind of mission,” Turner told the university magazine, according to FOX. “Per Gustafson said that we had a transport and security deal which stretched over the whole world.”
For his part, not knowing the extreme measure the university had to taken to put a rescue team on the ground, Jumaah told Lund’s University Magazine LUM, “I had no hope then at all.” He added: “I was desperate. I just wanted to tell my supervisor what was happening. I had no idea that a professor would be able to do anything for us.”
Professor Turner said in interviews that she couldn’t just let her student die without exhausting all measures: “What was happening was completely unacceptable,” she told LUM. “I got so angry that IS was pushing itself into our world, exposing my doctoral student and his family to this, and disrupting the research.”
After the team of mercenaries were dispatched — perhaps the first in history to be hired to enter an active war zone on behalf of a university — they were quickly able to locate the graduate student, according to The Local:
A few days later two Landcruisers carrying four heavily-armed mercenaries roared into the area where Jumaah was hiding, and sped him away to Erbil Airport together with his wife and two small children.
Though Jumaah and his immediate family made it out, many of his other relatives did not. Jumaah is currently back in Sweden working for a pharmaceutical company in Malmo.
As for the bizarre and unlikely nature of the whole operation, the university security chief that first reached out to the mercenary team, Per Gustafson, said, “It was a unique event. As far as I know no other university has ever been involved in anything like it.”