Quiet lad who went to help in the fight against Isis

By: Michael O’Farrell 

Investigations Editor

It’s November 2014 and Joshua Molloy is enjoying a night out with old school friends in Carlow’s Terrace Bar.

The scene is one this close-knit group of pals – who schooled together in Athy’s Ardscoil na Trionoide – have repeated many times over the years.

Whatever the occasion – be it a private house party, a late night at Carlow’s Foundry Nightclub, a few pints in Clancy’s Bar in Athy or a weekend away in Belfast – Joshua Molloy is always surrounded by the same friends.

They include an IT professional, an employee of video game retailer GameStop and a third level student.

Like Joshua, one one of this bunch – a close friend from his hometown in Ballylynan, Co Laois – also looked further afield and joined the British Army.

But only Joshua wound up fighting ISIS in the deserts of Iraq and Syria alongside an extraordinary international collection of volunteer soldiers that includes a one-time Canadian glamour model and a gung-ho Hollywood actor.

While his friends back home maintained their nine-to-five routines, Joshua was sleeping beneath the stars in the battlefront trenches of Syrian Kurdistan, an AK47 by his side and a loyal guard dog at his feet.

‘At night if there’s an attack you’ll hear them bark,’ he told his family back home.

A Facebook photo from Syria posted by Joshua Molloy

ON GUARD – A Facebook photo posted by Joshua from Syria

For someone who had always been the quiet one of the bunch, the transformation is astonishing.

And were it not for his detention last week as he tried to cross the boarder into Iraq with two British colleagues his escapade may have gone entirely unnoticed – an adventure of a lifetime to recount back home over a pint or a future tale to be told to awe-struck grandchildren.

But now, amidst cautious diplomatic manoeuvres to secure his safe release, the episode has thrown fresh light on the crisis in the region.

It’s the first time an Irish citizen with no familial or ethnic links to the conflict is known to have engaged in battle in Syria.

According to his father Joshua’s motivation was only to help those oppressed by ISIS.

‘His motivations were less ideological and political and more humanitarian,’ Mr Molloy said adding that Joshua had discussed non combat possibilities such as driving an ambulance or training others.

‘It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he would go out there and pick up an AK 47.’

It’s easy enough though to imagine how a young, free, restless and adventure-seeking person would wind up in the region.


TOWERING STRENGTH – Joshua before travelling to Syria

Many more have gone before him to work with NGOs as doctors and medics or to make a name for themselves as photographers and journalists.

But Joshua Molloy had different skills.

He was already a trained soldier having joined the Royal Irish Regiment in 2011.

‘We went through a heavy recession there weren’t opportunities to do this and that. Some stand on the bridge and smoke fags while others go and try to have some life of adventure,’ says his father.

Mr Molloy, says his son always followed current affairs, kept himself well informed and was concerned about human rights and environmental causes.

Though it promised adventure, life in the British Army was initially far from easy as demonstrated by early messages home.

‘Fucking hell this is tough’ he wrote in March 2011. ‘This is like the only break I’ve had, its non stop go go go over here… Good few have already dropped out, kinda tempted to do the same too at times. Fucking ironing clothes, inspections, polishing boots.’

Months later he was still complaining.

‘Show parades… what a load of bollock’ he wrote in May 2011. ‘Its amazing how people don’t leave this place with OCD considering the standards were all forced to stick to.’

Another message home referred to the more violent nature of combat training.

‘Bayonet Training. Not cool. Not cool at all…Throat is in bits, never shouted so much in my life.’

But Joshua excelled and gained a reputation as a quiet but diligent and effective soldier even winning an distinction award for having the best shot in his company.

Joshua’s platoon took part in Askari Thunder in Kenya in 2012 – a battle training exercise used to prepare troops for the harsh and hot conditions of Afghanistan. The deployment was ultimately cancelled when operations in Afghanistan were scaled back.

In Kenya

ON EXERCISE – Joshua (circled) in Kenya with the Royal Irish Regiment in 2012

Then in 2015, just as is initial four mandatory year period of service was about to expire, Joshua was discharged on medical grounds related to hearing problems caused by exposure to live fire

Soon he’d be bound for the Middle East under his own steam and with his father’s worried blessing.

A free-thinking poet, painter, science fiction author and astronomer, Mr Molloy was never going to get in the way of the adventurous spirit he had instilled in his children.

‘I was the same. When I was 21 I went off half way around the world. Who am I to say to him it’s too dangerous out there?’

‘Joshua was well informed before he went. He would have known how ISIS had a $100,000 bond on the heads of Westerners…Going out there and knowing that takes something,’

Privately Mr Molloy hoped his son might make a name for himself via photography or by working as a medic – both possibilities that had been actively discussed.

‘He actually was very interested in photo journalism and he brought a couple of cameras out with him but unfortunately they were stolen.’


SETTING THE SCENE – One of Joshua’s photos from the front lines in Syria

Joshua’s mother, Anna Marie told the Laois Nationalist of her son’s concern for the Kurds.

‘He told me that the local Kurdish people were just ordinary people with no military training and he wanted to help them.

‘He came home last July and did a course in English language teaching. She said: ‘When he went back, he had to keep moving from village to village because of the instability in the region… He became involved deeper with the people’s struggle and ended up fighting on their side — the side of YPG — against Isis.’

Joshua entered the training academy of the Kurdish YPG force in Syria – known as the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit.

A renowned guerrilla combat force, the YPG has a fearsome, carefully-cultivated reputation and relies on speed, stealth, and surprise in its battle against ISIS.

The group is supported by the US and has attracted scores of international volunteers – from former professional soldiers to housewives – drawn to the cause of the Kurds and the battle against ISIS.


HARD WON SOUVENIR – Joshua in Syria with a captured ISIS flag

Most of these recruits were collected via a Facebook campaign called ‘Lions of Rojava’ set up in 2014 by US army veteran, Jordan Matson – now a Facebook friend of Joshua Molloy.

‘SEND TERRORISTS TO HELL and SAVE HUMANITY,’ the Lions of Rojava appeal reads.

Advice given by the campaign advised would be volunteers to ‘learn some basic Kurdish, don’t travel to Syria via Turkey and bring warm socks.’

Another Facebook friend of Joshua is former Canadian model Hanna Bohman who has become something of a poster girl for the YPG since being inspired to volunteer in 2015.

‘AK?’ she asked Joshua on Facebook when he posted a old photo in which he brandishes an AK 47 during his foreign weapons training in the British Army.

‘Never thought I’d see one again,’ he replied eliciting a ‘Haha!’ form the former model.

hanna conversation (1)

FLASHBACK – A post from Joshua’s Facebook

Opinion is divided as to whether these international fighters should be viewed as unpaid, thrill-seeking mercenaries or morally-justified freedom fighters and some have been arrested upon returning the UK and Australia.

Others never get home at all perishing on the battlefield.

But Mr Molloy is adamant that his son was motivated by humanitarian concerns and the desire to help those in need.

‘He wasn’t a soldier of fortune or a mercenary.’

And the reality on the ground in Syria is far tougher than the glamorous, souped-up photos and videos of heavily-armed guerrilla fighters posing with their weapons in captured ISIS positions.

Joshua pg 2 (1)

Former model Hanna Bohman – AKA Tiger Sun – fought with Joshua in Syria

‘There’s a huge amount of downtime. You get very board,’ said Hollywood actor, Michael Enright, who volunteered after he saw journalist James Foley beheaded.

Enright met Joshua Molloy in the YPG academy where all volunteers must train before going into combat.

Like everyone who meets him he describes Joshua as a ‘quiet person’ who was ‘emotionally mature.’

‘You get to know each other on a very deep level. He really, really did believe that he was doing good,’

Jac Holmes – one of two British citizens now detained with Joshua – raised funds through internet crowd source funding websites.

‘It’s impossible for somebody to work and earn any money while they are volunteering their life to help Kurdistan,’ his appeal reads.

‘If we don’t purchase our own supplies we essentially live on a vegan diet of soup rice and bread and we even have to buy our own cigarettes.’

It appears that after almost a year in Syria Joshua Molly had had enough.

‘I think he was cooked,’ says his father. ‘I think he thought he’d done as much as he could do. Maybe he was becoming just burnt out.

‘It was a long time to be at the sharp end. He was in every major confrontation that I could see and he just wanted to come home. We were already discussing what other things he might do – like NGOs, charity work or going to university. Maybe doing something like international affairs.’

Something else happened too – something that brought the reality of life and death home to Joshua in a more personal way.

On March 29, his Granny – Mary Molloy from Walkintown – passed away in St James Hospital.

‘Get yourself a job as a journalist or something,’ she used to pester him in recent times.

Now, still grieving for his mother, Declan Molloy has another burden.

‘I spend all my time staring at my phone, checking my laptop, you know.’

at leisure

DOWNTIME – A Facebook photo of Joshua

‘My brain is cold sticky porridge. I lost my mother a couple of weeks ago and I know he was kind of upset at the time. Although he didn’t say, I knew he was affected by that because she used to look out for him all the time.’

On Thursday Mr Molloy was told that Joshua is likely to be released in two or three weeks if a substantial fine is paid. Flights home will also have to be sourced.

‘I need help. I’d take put my kidney right now if I could get him back. Our family don’t have any money. We’re not wealthy. I’d give my right arm – wave it goodbye – to take one hour off his detention.’

‘All I want is to get him home and maybe open a couple of Heineken or something. Just get him home. Get him out of there.

Joshua’s family have appealed for help to meet his repatriation costs when he is released. Donations can be made to AIB, sort code 93-31-04, A/C No.34984-002. Any surplus funds will be given to Médecins Sans Frontières.



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