British Man Becomes ‘First Person’ To Holiday In Former Islamic State Territory
A British man believes he has become the first person to take a holiday in the ruins of the Islamic State, having taken a £4,000 ($4,900) three-day trip to former ISIS Caliphate centre Mosul, in northern Iraq.
Andy Drury, 53, has shared photos from his unusual mini break - where he was without visas and in constant danger of kidnapping, beatings from militia and even death.
The dad of four even spoke to the innocent survivors and their families about how they're trying to rebuild their lives in the rubble, and even gained access to an ISIS bride whose husband and two sons are all believed to have fought for the militant group.
Andy, a building firm owner from Guildford, Surrey, has spent the last two decades touring areas of the planet that most of us wouldn't dare go near. It's not even the first time he's been to Iraq, having visited the frontline in Bashiir, south of Kirkuk, back in 2016, where he spent time with Kurdish soldiers who were fighting ISIS.
Despite narrowly escaping death that time, Andy said he wanted to return to the dangerous region last month to see if the men he spent time with were still alive.
His three-day tour was split into the former front line near Kirkuk on the first day, followed by the former ISIS stronghold Mosul and, finally, visiting a refugee camp and interviewing an ISIS wife.
Andy said: "I must be the first person to be have been a tourist in the ruins of Islamic State.
"My fixer Ammar (not his real name) was right on the front line for the taking back of Mosul, taking reporters in there.
"But he said he is more scared with me, with the news reporters he was in an armoured car, but with me on the front line a couple of years ago, he said I didn't wear a vest or helmet or nothing, he said that was scarier."
The businessman is used to visiting no-go areas, having holidayed in the likes of Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan, and even spending time with the Klu Klux Klan.
Andy's adventures have also seen him star in the Netflix series Dark Tourist, where he travelled to Kazakhstan to a former Soviet nuclear testing zone.
Unsurprisingly, this time round Andy said travelling around was sometimes sketchy, and left him feeling very 'nervous'.
He said: "It was really nerve wracking with the soldiers at checkpoints putting guns up against the windows and it was quite clear they clearly hated us.
"It was then we were approached by a taxi driver, who said 'I can get you in there, I can get you into Kirkuk'.
"I thought f***ing hell, this is against everything I do, to be approached by a driver where hostage taking is still rife and ISIS are still in pockets in the mountains.
"I said, 'How are you going to do this?' and he said he would take us on back roads, behind people's houses, through gardens, he said he'd done it before.
"I was nervous, my heart was with in my mouth for 20 minutes as you can imagine, we'd been turned away by Iraqi forces, and if we were caught I don't know, we could have been beaten, imprisoned for spying, we were in an area now where we weren't supposed to be."
While they managed to get into Kirkuk with 'no problem at all', things weren't quite as smooth when they reached Taza - which is around 1km from Bashiir, where Andy said he had been shot at by ISIS before.
He continued: "All along the right side of the road there were pictures of martyrs, posters with pictures of the soldiers faces, and I was looking to see if I could find anybody I knew.
"This is when it became real for me, I've seen martyr's pictures through my travels, but actually the prevalence was I might see a picture of someone I was with.
"At the final checkpoint leaving Taza they knew all the guys in my picture, they pointed to one guy and said he was killed.
"There was a group of about four of five I spent most of my time with and he was one of them, I had given him money for a phone card and we had chatted about his life and his family, his village and how he was hoping to get back one day, but he never did."
In West Mosul, Andy found himself in 'shock' at what he saw.
He said: "We drove through the obliterated streets, you could see plates, left rotting food, and then there was a clearing, an opening.
"The opening is a children's playground, there is a children's swing. Ironically everything around this playground was smashed to s***, apart from this swing and children's bit.
"I don't know whether during the battle, somehow some humanity didn't blow it up, or the bombs just missed it."
He added: "You could smell the death, it's strange, you knew that thousands of people had died where I was. The fighting was intense."
On his third day in Iraq, Andy travelled to the camps at Hamman Al Ali, where around 8,650 tents house nearly 50,000 people.
The camp is split into those women and children suspected of being part of ISIS, and those who are refugees.
Andy said an Iraqi woman suspected of being an ISIS wife told him she would tell her story, and he was ushered into her tent.
He said: "In her tent there was her family, with six children with her, she had like a block with bedrooms, it was better than some hotels I've stayed in.
"I'm looking at her with my own eyes and I hate her after what I had seen the day before, I'm thinking about the terror she has brought to all those people, the buildings, the Christian symbols.
"She claimed her husband wasn't an ISIS fighter, but her two sons were, I wasn't convinced her husband wasn't in ISIS and in fact later she told us she had to divorce him because he was in ISIS. So, her story didn't make sense."
The woman told Andy one of her sons was killed within one month of joining ISIS, but remained adamant that her husband had not met the same fate, and merely insisted he had gone 'missing'.
Speaking of how he felt about the woman and her story, Andy continued: "I've gone from hatred at first, to sympathy because she explained she is no-man's land because she has no papers, because they are a family of ISIS. Her children have no papers. Without papers in Iraq you are nobody.
"Unless she can prove her husband wasn't a member of ISIS she will never get any papers ever. Which is why I think she was telling us he wasn't a member of ISIS.
"I feel sorry for her because she has nowhere to f***ing go. In that camp they tried to get rid of some people the week before we were there.
"They sent them to an area but the people in the villages drove them out, so they had to come back to the camp.
"This is a woman whose son has died, her other son is in prison and she's sold her daughter, I asked if I could have my picture taken with her as we left and she said starting laughing and said will your wife not be upset?
"I thought to myself what has made this woman like that, she spoke about her son dying with no emotion. Was she evil?
"There probably is something human in her, the fixers felt sorry for her, and maybe I don't understand their culture enough, I don't want to judge her culture.
"But not feeling sorry for her son dying, but that she's got no one to provide for her, it didn't make sense to me.
"Where she lived, the tower they threw people off was within walking distance of her house. She said she had heard about them, but she didn't see anything.
Featured Image Credit: Magnus News