IN­SIDE ISIS

Matthew Hall speaks with two re­searchers who have in­ter­viewed nu­mer­ous ISIS defectors and dis­cov­ered what re­ally goes on in­side the world’s most in­fa­mous ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Men's Style (Australia) - - Contents -

Sto­ries from defectors of the world’s worst ter­ror­ist group

THEY CALLED THE KID OMAR*.

He was 14 years old and had a story that no 14-year-old should ever have to tell.

“They wanted to make me a but­ton,” he says. He was not be­ing cute. His teach­ers, who he trusted, had made a com­pelling case for a mis­sion no child should ever have to con­sider.

They would give him drugs. They would tell him to drive a truck to­ward a build­ing. He would fol­low in­struc­tions: “You push the but­ton, you won’t feel a thing, and then you’ll be straight in par­adise.”

The teach­ers had trained Omar to be a sui­cide bomber. Boom. Wel­come to life in­side the Is­lamic State.

Omar’s ex­pe­ri­ence is one story told by a group of Syr­i­ans who last year de­fected from IS – the most-feared ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion in the world today. IS is a death cult that has waged a bru­tal war to carve out chunks of ter­ri­tory in Syria and Iraq, ter­ror­ized com­mu­ni­ties across the Mus­lim world, and made high-profile at­tacks on restau­rants, cafes, rock con­certs, work­places, train sta­tions, and air­ports in the West.

The defectors who told their sto­ries now live in Turkey and were in­ter­viewed by aca­demics work­ing on be­half of the Wash­ing­ton Dc-based In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for the Study of Vi­o­lent Ex­trem­ism. The re­search will be pub­lished as a book in mid-2016.

Their ex­pe­ri­ence of the defectors reveals the re­al­ity of life in­side IS­con­trolled sec­tions of Syria as a daily diet of vi­o­lence, drugs, fear, and con­flict­ing morals – all at odds with what they ac­tu­ally be­lieved to be the true in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam.

Ac­cord­ing to the defectors, all IS fight­ers have vol­un­teered for mil­i­tary ser­vice but for many Syr­i­ans, years of civil war has left lim­ited civil in­fra­struc­ture, a crip­pled econ­omy, and the break­down of so­cial struc­ture. A big chunk of the pop­u­la­tion is des­per­ate and vul­ner­a­ble to ex­ploita­tion.

“At the third class, I de­clared that I was ready to be a sui­cide bomber as I was re­ally af­fected by the preach­ing of the teacher,” ex­plains an­other teenager re­cruited to be a “Cub of the Caliphate”.

“There were 300 stu­dents like me,” claims Abu Ja­mal*. “The classes lasted two hours per day. They usu­ally lec­tured about the po­lit­i­cal prob­lems Mus­lims are fac­ing around the world and about how Mus­lims were as­sim­i­lated and how their lands and wealth was im­pe­ri­alised. They spoke about how [Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-as­sad’s] sol­diers were rap­ing our sis­ters and that we should be send­ing birth con­trol pills to our sis­ters if we chose not to fight Bashar.”

Ac­cord­ing to the defectors, mil­i­tary train­ing for re­cruits in­cludes bomb­ing and weapon tac­tics and sur­vival train­ing. In what sounds like a plot from an apoc­a­lyp­tic movie, re­cruits who were iden­ti­fied as hav­ing psy­cho­pathic traits or who took plea­sure in cru­elty were se­lected to be­come ex­e­cu­tion­ers.

Abu Walid*, one of the defectors, says fight­ers are typ­i­cally given “one pis­tol – a Glock, a Colt, or a Smith and Wes­son; one ri­fle – an M-16 or an AK-47; at least two hand grenades; a back­pack with med­i­cal supplies, food and water; and at least 500 bul­lets”.

Abu Ja­mal*, a former IS com­man­der re­calls: “The weapons are com­ing from ev­ery­where but mostly we take them from other groups and from the bat­tles we win. We had ob­tained a lot of [As­sad’s] army ware­houses as well. They left all the weapons.”

In a video record­ing of his in­ter­view, 14-year-old Omar looks al­most com­i­cal if you ig­nore that his tes­ti­mony is that of a former child sol­dier. Dressed in kef­fiyeh-style head­scarf and over-sized dark sun­glasses wrapped around his head to cover his face, Omar sits in a plas­tic chair against a white wall back­drop and de­scribes weapons train­ing in a mil­i­tary camp.

He re­calls class­mates as young as six years old, how re­cruits were told to be­head a cap­tured “in­fi­del” as part of their ini­ti­a­tion, and how other pris­on­ers were drowned when the cages they were held in were in­ten­tion­ally dropped un­der­wa­ter.

“They are not real Mus­lims,” Omar says of his ex­pe­ri­ence with IS. “They are in­fi­dels killing in­no­cent peo­ple, just here for the money. They train chil­dren to blow them­selves up and say they will go to heaven – but none of it is true.”

Dr Anne Speck­hard (pic­tured, right), one of the in­ter­view project’s re­searchers, has spo­ken with over 500 terrorists dur­ing her ca­reer. A psy­chol­o­gist, she worked with Pro­fes­sor Ah­met Yayla, a Turk­ish aca­demic, to lo­cate and in­ter­view the 25 Syr­ian defectors hid­ing out in Turkey.

Those in­ter­viewed had un­der­gone Sharia law and mil­i­tary train­ing and sworn al­le­giance to IS be­fore be­com­ing fight­ers for the group, some ac­tive in the IS mil­i­tary wing for 18 months. Some had been com­man­ders, oth­ers or­di­nary sol­diers – in­clud­ing Omar, the 14-year-old groomed to be­come a sui­cide bomber.

Con­duct­ing the in­ter­views proved dif­fi­cult. Be­sides lo­gis­tic and lan­guage is­sues, the defectors live in fear of reprisals from IS. Speck­hard, Yayla, and their lo­cal fix­ers and in­ter­preter were also at risk. Mid­way through the project the dan­ger was bru­tally high­lighted. They learned an IS fighter had crossed into Turkey, won the trust of two ac­tivists, Ibrahim Ab­dulqader and Fares Ha­madi, work­ing for the ac­tivist group Raqqa Is Be­ing Slaugh­tered Silently, and then mur­dered and be­headed them in their apart­ment in the city of Sanil­urfa.

“We’d heard a lot of sto­ries of other defectors that were killed try­ing to leave,” says Speck­hard ex­plain­ing the ad­di­tional dan­ger to the Syr­i­ans. “They’re im­me­di­ately be­headed. But they leave Syria be­cause of the cor­rup­tion, the bru­tal­ity, the dou­ble stan­dard, the crim­i­nal­ity, and the things that they know are not right and are not Is­lamic and they don’t want any part in it.”

‘AT THE THIRD CLASS, I DE­CLARED THAT I WAS READY TO BE A SUI­CIDE BOMBER.’

IS RE­CRUITS FIGHT­ERS BY EI­THER IM­POS­ING ITS WILL on the pop­u­la­tion of cap­tured Syr­ian or Iraqi towns and cities or by lur­ing vul­ner­a­ble and des­per­ate peo­ple to its ranks with a prom­ise of a bet­ter life than the one they now live. For re­cruits from outside Syria and Iraq, es­pe­cially many from Europe, a com­mon thread is dis­crim­i­na­tion and iso­la­tion at home and the prom­ise of ad­ven­ture in a far off land.

“It used to be the vir­gins in par­adise but now it is sex,” Speck­hard says of the ex­trem­ist’s prom­ises. “You’ll get a part­ner now; you’ll get a sex slave now. For a young man, that’s a pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tor. You’ll get a job. So if you’re in Molen­beek, Brus­sels, and you’re fac­ing 30 per cent un­em­ploy­ment and a lot of marginal­i­sa­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion, come [to fight in Syria]. You’ll be very re­spected as a Mus­lim, you’ll have a high so­cial sta­tus, you’ll be given a job, you’ll be able to marry, and you’ll be sex­u­ally grat­i­fied. Of course, you’ll be in dan­ger and you’ll have to fight – but that is ro­mance.”

One de­fec­tor con­firmed that mar­riage is also a strong lure for for­eign fight­ers who come from eco­nom­i­cally poor re­gions of sev­eral Mus­lim coun­tries in­clud­ing Tu­nisia – a coun­try that has de­liv­ered a large num­ber of young for­eign fight­ers to IS – and Turkey.

“‘Come take our 10-day Sharia course!’” ex­plained Abu Walid*, mock­ing an IS call to arms. “Af­ter you grad­u­ate you can be in IS. ‘You can have money, a gun, a car! Now you will be important’.”

The defectors claimed that fe­male slaves, usu­ally women and girls cap­tured when IS takes ter­ri­tory, are given to Western­ers who do not have wives. The slaves live with the fighter un­til he gives or sells her to an­other fighter.

“If the man wants to marry the slave he can,” ex­plains Abu Nasir*. “She can come in the pres­ence of other men to serve chai and cof­fee. She does not re­quire a chaperone. When you have one, it’s like your wife. Although un­like wives, there is no limit on the num­ber you

Dr Anne Speck­hard has in­ter­viewed over 500 terrorists for re­search projects.

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