Brothers of the Caliphate is the 106th counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brandseries. This video features twenty-four-year-old Abu Qadir, a Syrian interviewed in December of 2015 in Turkey by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet Yayla. This video clip was produced by Zack Baddorf and the ICSVE team. It highlights the fact that ISIS was not good for the Syrians they purported to be liberating from Assad’s atrocities. During the Syrian uprising, Abu Qadir and his brother joined the Free Syrian Army, but ISIS overtook their area in 2014 and forced them to join ISIS.
Abu Qadir recalls being welcomed like brothers by those who didn’t know he came from the FSA. He and his comrades were surprised when they asked their trainers, “What comes first? Fighting Muslims or fighting Jews and Christians?” to hear in response, “Fighting Muslims comes first,” with the Islamic State explanation that Muslims who were not with ISIS were betrayers and infidels worthy to be killed.
Abu Qadir also recalls how foreign fighters were ordered by ISIS to attack and kill members of the Sunni al Sheitat tribe. Many defectors commented on this—that foreign fighters were unable to distinguish between the tribes or communicate in Arabic or local languages, and thereby followed ISIS orders to kill other Sunni Muslims. Abu Qadir also recalls how those killed were usually civilians, adding, “Whenever you see a dead body, it’s either an old man, a woman or a child who were killed.”
Abu Qadir became devastated after his brother was killed in a coalition-led attack of the ISIS base. “I can’t describe the situation, how I felt the moment he died,” Abu Qadir explains. “Imagine that your brother, who you used to sleep next to in the same bed, is now just a dead body. How would you feel?” he further adds. He began to hate ISIS and no longer believed their lies, nor reveled in their claims that the dead were earning Paradise.
Abu Qadir suffered immensely in his grief, recalling, “I broke down whenever I entered my brother’s bedroom. After that, whenever I remembered my brother, I got angry and wanted to quit.” He also started hallucinating about him during the daytime and dreaming of him during the nights. Now, having fled from ISIS, he finds himself unable to concentrate or work in Turkey.
Abu Qadir points out that those Syrians who did not serve ISIS starved under their rule and that ISIS did not rule according to Islamic principles. “They do not represent Islam. They didn’t do anything that benefited Islam. Everything they have done so far has harmed Islam,” he notes. He warns listeners, “My brotherly advice to you is to stay away from them. That’s all I have to say to you.”
What do you feel when watching this video?
What do you think of Abu Qadir’s decision to pledge his allegiance to ISIS?
Do you think terrorists groups manipulate Islam?
Do you think Abu Qadir will ever get over losing his brother to the conflicts?
Deaths that result from a terrorist act, during wars, or conflicts in general can often be difficult, if not impossible, to understand. In addition, the need for vengeance or seeking justice and the lack of clear resolution to a conflict (like in the case of Syria) can represent issues that may affect people like Abu Qadir and their respective families. How best can such individuals and families address these issues?
How can we help individuals who are deeply scarred by memories of extreme violence to deal with posttraumatic stress and with the loss of loved ones?
Transcript of Brothers of the Caliphate
Former ISIS Soldier
My family has 30,000 square meters [of farmland]. We did farming.
We stopped working on this land, because of the uprising.
There was a distribution of weapons amongst people in the neighborhood, so we had to join the Free Syrian Army.
Within a period of two months, the Islamic State took over the entire area. In 2014, they took over everything.
They started harassing us, like, ‘Why do you have a weapon?’
‘Are you with the Free Syrian Army?’
To be honest, we were really scared and found ourselves forced to go and pledge allegiance to ISIS.[At the training camp], they welcomed us as new brothers.
We stayed at the camp for about one month for shariah classes and street fighting training.
After that, we did light and heavy weapons training.
We couldn’t comment on the first lesson we were taught.
We asked, ‘What comes first? Fighting Muslims or fighting Jews and Christians?’[They said], ‘Fighting Muslims comes first.’
The foreign Muslims came [to Syria] and then ISIS invaded [the al Sheitat tribe].
Whenever you see a dead body, it’s either an old man, a woman or a child who were killed.
So, I decided to [defect],but I didn’t get the chance to do it.
TEXT: Abu Qadir say American soldiers attacked his ISIS base, killing his younger brother
and the ISIS commander.
I can’t describe the situation, how I felt the moment he died.
Imagine that your brother, who you used to sleep next to in the same bed, is now just a dead body.
How would you feel?
When my brother died, I hated [ISIS] and I felt like we were not Muslims.
I felt like I wasn’t a Muslim after my brother died.
My brother died in the name of Islam.
The shariah men told me, ‘Be happy. Your brother died a martyr.’
‘Allah will send him to Paradise.’
So, the next morning, we brought my brother from the house to the cemetery. We buried him.
Then, I took leave. They granted me leave of seven days to stay at home.
During this period, I broke down whenever I entered my brother’s bedroom.
TEXT: Abu Qadir stayed with ISIS for another three months.
After that, whenever I remembered my brother, I got angry and wanted to quit.
But I didn’t get the chance to do so.
TEXT: Abu Qadir eventually escaped to Turkey.
Listen, my brother. [Even today,] when I enter my house, I imagine my brother is with me, walking right by my side.
As for the dreams, once or twice or even three times each week, I see him in my dreams.
At least once or twice.
Four months after he died, I didn’t see him at all in my dreams.
But afterwards, I started seeing him everywhere, especially at home.
And when I came close to him, there was nothing.
I started working. Now I can’t even work properly, because I’m tired emotionally and psychologically. I can’t work at all.
For the young Syrian men, one percent of them joined ISIS because they are a little extremist.
The rest of them joined because they were hungry.
If you are with them, you will get a salary and live good.
If you’re not with them, you will die because of hunger.
And to be honest, they do not represent Islam. They didn’t do anything that benefited Islam.
Everything they have done so far has harmed Islam.
To be honest, my brotherly advice to you is to stay away from them. That’s all I have to say to you.
About the authors:
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=101) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhard and on the ICSVE website https://www.icsve.org Follow @AnneSpeckhard
Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). He has been collecting interviews with ISIS defectors and studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism as well as training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally. He has also been studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and how to rehabilitate them. He has conducted fieldwork in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, mostly recently in Jordan and Iraq. He has presented at professional conferences and published on the topic of radicalization and terrorism. He holds a doctorate in Public Policy and Administration, with a focus on Homeland Security Policy, from Walden University. He obtained his M.A. degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University and a B.A. degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Dominican University. He is also an adjunct professor teaching counterterrorism and CVE courses at Nichols College.