IS re­cruit promised cash to do hu­man­i­tar­ian work


In a small room in an In­done­sian jail, meat­ball seller Ma­zlan (not his real name), a slightly built, young fa­ther of four, tells of the fear and hor­ror of his life in Syria as a mem­ber of the Is­lamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

It was noth­ing like he was told it would be, he said in an in­ter­view with The Straits Times. He now faces trial and likely jail.

Ma­zlan, 32, who can­not be named for se­cu­rity rea­sons, cuts a for­lorn and ner­vous fig­ure.

Dressed in Mus­lim garb with an or­ange-col­ored prison jacket, he spoke to The Straits Times at the prison in De­pok, near Jakarta.

He says he has re­ceived death threats since re­turn­ing from Syria. Those who can­not en­dure the con­di­tions and re­turn home are viewed by IS as traitors and in­fi­dels who should be killed.

“Those threats were com­mu­ni­cated through my wife af­ter I was pre­sented to the press when I was first ar­rested (in March 2015),” says Ma­zlan, who then cov­ers his face with his hands.

He was ar­rested in March this year dur­ing counter-ter­ror­ism oper­a­tions.

He now faces the prospect of a max­i­mum prison sen­tence of 15 years un­der the Anti-Ter­ror­ism Law 15/2003 for al­legedly be­ing a mem­ber of a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice.

His dossier has just been sub­mit­ted to the at­tor­ney-gen­eral’s of­fice but no date has been set for the trial.

He says he was not a fighter but in­stead car­ried out me­nial tasks for IS and was lured with the prom­ise of money to do hu­man­i­tar­ian work.

Now back in In­done­sia, he presents a chal­lenge to se­cu­rity of­fi­cials on how best to deal with In­done­sians re­turn­ing from the con­flict in Iraq and Syria and the prob­lems of ac­cu­rately as­sess­ing whether they present a threat to so­ci­ety.

An es­ti­mated 280 In­done­sians have gone to Syria, out of which 20 have re­turned.

Of the re­turnees, 13 have been ar­rested. The re­main­ing seven are un­der sur­veil­lance, ac­cord­ing to In­done­sian po­lice.

In­done­sian po­lice say Ma­zlan is not a hard­ened mil­i­tant. “He is not a fighter. He is a naive man. We be­lieve he was re­cruited be­cause he is flu­ent in Ara­bic,” a po­lice of­fi­cial told The Straits Times.

It is of­ten dif­fi­cult for po­lice and media to in­de­pen­dently ver­ify the sto­ries of re­turnees.

Ma­zlan says he went to Syria in March last year af­ter be­ing re­cruited by an In­done­sian mil­i­tant named Salim Mubarok At­tamimi, who goes by the pseu­do­nym Abu Jan­dal al Ye­meni al In­donesi.

‘Noth­ing good comes out of

go­ing there’

Jan­dal, who re­mains in Syria, be­came in­fa­mous af­ter ap­pear­ing in a video threat­en­ing to re­turn to In­done­sia to wage war on the coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic caliphate.

Ma­zlan said Jan­dal knocked on the door of his home in Malang, East Java, early last year.

“I was told I was go­ing there on a hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion and that I would be paid lots of money. I had no idea what Syria was like,” he says.

“I ac­cepted the of­fer to go as I had in­curred a debt of 9 mil­lion ru­piah ( US$ 648) which I bor­rowed as cap­i­tal to start my meat­ball busi­ness.”

“When I got there, I was paid only US$50 a month. I made more money back home. I could earn at least 3.5 mil­lion ru­piah a month,” he added. “I was very dis­ap­pointed as the re­al­ity was not what I had been promised.”

Jan­dal pro­vided Ma­zlan with the air tick­ets and trav­eled with him and 19 other In­done­sians to Syria in March last year.

He flew from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur, stopped over briefly, then flew to Is­tan­bul.

From there, his en­tourage trav­eled by bus for 18 hours be­fore ar­riv­ing at Gaziantep, a town on the Tur­key-Syria bor­der.

“An Arab man came and cut through the barbed wire for us to cross into Syria,” Ma­zlan said.

In Syria, he says he was given ba­sic train­ing on how to han­dle weapons and was then as­signed to teach the chil­dren at his camp how to read the Qu­ran.

He said many of the In­done­sians were given me­nial jobs, such as cook­ing. Very few were se­lected as fight­ers.

He de­nied wit­ness­ing any ex­e­cu­tions or be­head­ings at his camp. But he spoke of the poor con­di­tions and the death of col­leagues in fight­ing.

He said he asked to leave within weeks of ar­riv­ing, a re­quest that was re­jected.

A few months later, Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces at­tacked the city of Aleppo, near his camp, with bar­rel bombs.

“The bomb­ings lasted for an hour. I was ter­ri­fied. I thought I would never see my fam­ily again. I never imag­ined such a thing could hap­pen to me,” adds Ma­zlan as he buries his face in his hands again.

He asked again to leave, which was ap­proved, but he said he had to pledge never to re­veal he had been to Syria and that he would not re­turn.

He paid around US$800 for his travel ex­penses home which he funded out of his earn­ing plus some ex­tra cash from Jan­dal, us­ing the same route he took to get in.

“I re­ally re­gret go­ing to Syria. My ad­vice to any­one want­ing to join IS is to think very care­fully and to think it over many times be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion,” said Ma­zlan.

“Noth­ing good comes out of go­ing there.”

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