It’s a level of pastoral care few universities can boast of providing. A chemistry professor at Lund University dispatched a team of elite mercenaries into an Islamic State warzone to free one of her doctoral students and his family.
Charlotta Turner, Professor in Analytical Chemistry, received a text message from her student Firas Jumaah in 2014 telling her to to assume he would not finish his thesis if he had not returned within a week.
He and his Yazidi family were, he told her, hiding out in a disused bleach factory, hearing the sounds of gunshots as Islamic State (Isil) warriors roamed the town outside.
“I had no hope then at all,” Jumaah told Lund’s University Magazine LUM. “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.”
But Turner was in no mind to let Jumaah’s research project go unfinished.
“What was happening was completely unacceptable,” she said. “I became so angry that IS could barge themselves into our world, endanger my doctoral student and disturb the research.”
She contacted her superiors to find out if anything could be done.
“It was a question of basic humanity. My boss gave me the green light and said ‘just do it’,” she said.
She contacted the university’s then security chief Per Gustafson.
“It was almost as if he’d been waiting for this kind of mission,” she said. “Per Gustafson said that we had deal with a transport and security company which was valid all over the whole world.”
Over a few days of intense activity, Gustafson hired a security company which then arranged a rescue operation. Just a few days later two Toyota Land Cruisers bearing four heavily-armed mercenaries roared into the area where Jumaah was hiding.
They then drove him him away to Erbil airport together with his wife and two small children.
“I have never felt so privileged, so VIP,” Jumaah said. “But at the same time I felt like a coward because I left my mother and sisters behind me.”
Jumaah and his family follow the Yazidi religion, which has been declared a form of devil worship by Islamic State, and he had flown in from Sweden after his wife had rung him to say that ISIL warriors had entered the neighbouring village.
“My wife was in a total panic, everyone was shocked at how Islamic State was behaving. I took the first plane there to be with them. What sort of life would I have had if anything had happened to them when I wasn’t there?” he said.
Luckily the rest of the family all survived Isil occupation, while Jumaah, back in Sweden, completed his PHD and now works for a local pharmaceutical company.
“It was a unique event. As far as I know no other university has taken part in anything like it,” Gustafson said.
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