Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

3 ISIS Members Recount to Asharq Al-Awsat their Journey with the Terror Group | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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ISIS members from Kazakhstan, China, the US, Iraq and Syria held in Irbil jail and interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Irbil – The ISIS terrorist organization has created a series of catastrophes around the world. The tragedies have taken the form of persecuting minorities and massacres in cities near and far. The group has created tragedies in cities that were accused of harboring it and created tragedies when it justified the action of those who wanted to punish those places.

These are strange stories which is why I requested to return once again to the counter-terrorism center in Irbil. Perhaps I may hear new stories other than the ones about the Syrian or Iraqi ISIS member. This time I found a Chinese member of the terror group, a Kazakh and an American.

The Kazakh

I let Koblan Ozak Hassan recount his story with ISIS:

“I was born in 1982 and pursued by studies in the city of Aktau in Kazakhstan. I specialized in oil and chemistry. I am married with three children. I am a Muslim and in my environment, people speak of the conditions of Muslims in the world and what they suffer from in some occasions. We, like everyone else, used to follow the news on social media where we received images on the developments in Iraq, Syria and other places.

“In 2015, I was on a tourist visit to Antalya, Turkey and concluded that living in Turkey would be expensive. At this point, friends studying in Turkey told me that I could live in Syria, explaining that it was cheap and that I could find a job in regions controlled by ISIS. I also had some friends living in Mosul. We communicated through the internet and they encouraged me to live in the so-called Islamic State. They told me that I could work in my domain and earn some money.

“I was told to head to Turkey’s Gazientep where some Arab and Turkish youth were waiting for me. From there, they escorted me and my family to Syria’s Raqqa. I was dropped off at a house and my family was taken to another location.

“A number of men from various nationalities were living where I was staying. We underwent an eight-day Islamic Sharia law training in Raqqa. The training covered prayer, the nullifiers of Islam, jihad and combating the infidels. Afterwards, we were taken to Talafar where we underwent military training. I have long suffered from a back ailment that prevents me from becoming a military fighter.

“I asked to be sent to Mosul where I could meet up with my friends. This led to conflict between the ten newcomers and one of the ISIS officials. All ten of us were then returned to Raqqa where we were put under some form of house arrest. In the end, we were given the option to choose our destination and I was taken by bus to Mosul.

“The Iraqi city was calm and I lived there with my family. ISIS soon forced me however to head to Talafar that same year, meaning 2015. There I met a number of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Dagestanis, Chechens and Turkmen. There were hundreds of them and they either lived with their old or new families. I never heard them question ISIS. Most of them were there for religious reasons and they believed the group’s propaganda.

“I did not find a job in my specialization so I decided to buy horses to sell their meat. In 2017, a bus driver was killed in shelling and I was asked to take his place at a salary of 200 dollars a month.

“This is when I decided it was time for me to run away. We used to hear news of the battles in ISIS. I did not find a real job opportunity and I contacted security agencies in Kazakhstan. They told me that if I wanted to escape, I should bring with me any Kazakh who also wanted out. Based on a recommendation from the Russian consulate in Irbil, I contacted a man called Abou Mohammed al-Ramadani, who guided me on the route I needed to take to turn myself over to the Peshmerga.

“My children and pregnant wife were with me, as well as four women and ten children. It was a dangerous journey and we traversed 20 kilometers by car. It was an area planted with landmines. At one point, we left the car behind and hid in a farm. We knew that we would be killed if we were found. At the end, we walked two kilometers before turning ourselves over to the Peshmerga only 25 days ago.”

Koblan said that he did not take part in the fighting, but he suffered from the airstrikes that targeted the region. He added that he did not witness any of the executions or massacres committed by ISIS. I asked him about his religious position from these practices. He replied: “I do not know enough of Sharia to give a definitive answer.”

I asked if he believed in the so-called Islamic nature of ISIS’ state which he also avoided to answer, claiming a lack of sufficient religious knowledge on the issue.

The Chinese member

The Chinese member of ISIS asked me not publish his full name “because I will be killed as soon as I return, possibly at the hands of my family.” I will only mention his initials, S.K.K. This is his story:

“I was born in 1988 in Khotan in East Turkestan to a Muslim family and I have four children, the youngest of whom was born in Talafar. I left school after elementary school to work as a farmer with my father. I have three brothers and a sister.

“I don’t know if you are aware of how difficult life is for Muslims in East Turkestan. Wearing the veil is prohibited as is teaching the Qoran to children. Families are not allowed to have more than three children. The Chinese security agencies are not merciful. They believe that Muslim practices are a threat to the current Communist regime. They control everything, from the media to security to the universities. In China, you are not allowed to be different from the official stance of the state. You have to hide your feelings and convictions, but Muslims there also speak about what Muslims in the world have to endure.

“I heard from Muslims there that Turkey was ready to welcome Chinese Muslims like myself. This is why I decided to make the journey with my family. I left Turkestan to Shanghai and then to Laos, then to Thailand. From there I went to Malaysia and later to Kayseri in Turkey. The trip cost me 4,000 dollars and I sought to request asylum in Turkey.

“My savings ran out ten days after I arrived. A person then approached me and told me that he was prepared to give me all the money I wanted if I headed with my family to Syria, where Muslims live under Islamic law.

“The man took me to Gaziantep at the Turkish-Syrian border and I was escorted by other men to Raqqa in February 2016. I stayed at the ISIS center there and the man in charge was called Abou Abdullah. After a few days, they decided to transfer the Turkish-speakers to Talafar. There, I was sent to the al-Wahda area where I stayed for ten days. I then joined the base of Abou Hajar al-Turkestani. I spent 38 days there with some 15 people where we took courses on Sharia. We also received military training on the use of light and heavy machineguns.

“I was then deployed at the Seifeddine Battalion, under Abou al-Zabir al-Turki, which included 50 fighters. I remained at the battalion for a year and a half. I was then sent to the frontlines. Luckily, no battles erupted when I was stationed there. I earned 250 dollars a month during that period.

“One day, they told me to join an offensive on Mosul. I tried to get out of and was consequently imprisoned for four months during which I was tortured.

“I realized that living under ISIS rule was different than what I expected so I started to think about escaping. Twenty days ago, I succeeded in reaching a Peshmerga position with my family and turned myself over.

“I do not want to return to China. I would be grateful if Turkey takes me in. I will be happy if the US or Europe also take me in. Anything but China, because my punishment there will be severe and perhaps fatal. I did not kill. I can safely say that ISIS fooled the world. We believed what was claimed and we paid the price.”

The American

The meeting with the American ISIS member was not completed because the counter-terrorism officials asked me to halt the interview. They explained that publishing his story may help his partners escape. We will suffice in publishing information that will not harm the investigation:

R.K. was born in 1988. He later moved to Trinidad where he pursued Islamic studies. He said that he watched YouTube videos about the developments in Syria.

“I saw a Muslim women with her face covered in blood standing amid the rubble in Syria as she pleaded for help. She asked where all the Muslims were and why they were not running to help their brothers. I was moved by footage of mosques being shelled.

“I had graduated from medical school with my wife. We had one daughter. My wife suggested to me that we head to Syria for two months where could work with humanitarian organizations to help Muslims there. My sister decided to join us. We arrived in Turkey and a man called Tarek, who was later killed, and an ISIS member called Mustapha, helped us enter Syria.

“They took us from Gaziantep to a location in Syria. From there, we were transported on board an ISIS bus to Raqqa. I resided in one location, while my family lived in the women’s quarters. I received bread, lentils, rice and tuna where I was staying.

“After a while, Imam Abou Anas al-Azadi came to teach us about Islam. He taught us a list of who they believed to be infidels. They included the Syrian regime and others and all who operated outside a non-Muslim system.”

After that, the American mentioned a number of names that the concerned officials believed would compromise their investigation. I was therefore asked to stop the interview and I had no choice but to comply.