Alexis the Belgian Jihadist features 25-year-old Alexis M, a Belgian ISIS supporter. Alexis was interviewed in June 2018 in Liege, Belgium by Anne Speckhard, Ardian Shajkovci and Hamid Sebaly. The video was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and ICSVE staff.
Alexis’s father is Algerian and his mother is Belgian and he was raised in an atheist family. In his teens he converted to Islam and enthusiastically embraced his new religion. His parents were not pleased when he grew a large beard and began dressing in clothes emulating the Prophet and his Companions, nor was his school pleased when he started telling other students about Islam. Ultimately, Alexis was suspended from high school for proselytizing and he responded by dropping out. Speaking to Alexis its obvious he is smart, but he began working in jobs below his intellect and couldn’t enroll in university due to his lack of a high school degree.
As a new Muslim, Alexis was confronted with the Syrian conflicts and the violence he was seeing on videos uploaded on YouTube and else where portraying Assad’s atrocities against his own people. He states that when Jabhat al Nusra began producing propaganda videos and inviting travelers to Syria, he and his friends decided to act. “I thought we have to go and help them,” Alexis explains. “The plan was to collect money to go there [to Turkey].”
Indeed, he and his friend managed to board a plane for Turkey intent on traveling into Syria, following the route of most European jihadists. Alexis confesses that he was ready to give his life to help his Syrian brothers—to become a “martyr” for the cause. Their trip was cut short however, when the father of Alexis’s friend caught up to them in Istanbul and forced them to return home.
That however, did not end Alexis’s support to jihadist groups. Excited by ISIS, he began sharing videos from the groups on Facebook and according to the charges ultimately leveled against him by the state, inciting hatred.
Prosecuted and sentenced to a suspended sentence, Alexis has not been mandated into any psychological treatment or Islamic challenge programming as a condition of his release, yet he holds seriously dangerous beliefs. For instance, he continues to believe the terrorist claims that the West intentionally targets innocent civilians in its airstrikes against terrorist targets. He therefore believes that ISIS’s intentional targeting of civilians in France and Belgium for instance are justified retaliation.
On the positive side, he’s had time to reflect on how terrorist videos manipulated his emotions and he ends his video with this advice to youth, “[So] I am against watching [extremist] videos because they play on your emotions. Don’t watch these kind of videos.”
What do you feel watching this video?
Do you believe the Alexis is telling the truth about his experiences trying to join the jihad in Syria?
What do you think of Alexis’s motivations for traveling to Syria?
Do you think it was a good decision to fly to Turkey?
What do you think of Alexis’s belief that ISIS is justified in retaliating for civilian “collateral damage” from Western coalition strikes against groups like ISIS?
Is it ever right to intentionally target civilians with violence for any cause?
Timed transcript of Alexis the Belgian Jihadist video:
Alexis the Belgian Jihadist
0:01 When I was child, I felt the presence of a creator over me.
0:06 That’s certain
0:07 I felt something in Islam that you couldn’t find in the other religions.
0:13 I grew up here in Liege, in Belgium.
0:16 My father is Algerian. My mother is Belgian.
0:19 ALEXIS THE BELGIAN
Former ISIS Supporter
My father is atheist. My mom, too.
0:22 The whole family does not believe in God.
0:26 I had a lot of Muslim friends.
0:29 [My path to jihad] wasn’t deliberate. It came [bit by bit].
0:30 I’m self-taught
0:32 [and I took] religious courses at the mosque.
0:35 I was bored at school
0:36 I couldn’t stay in the same place, sitting and listening.
0:39 I wasn’t captivated by the classes.
0:43 [In high school] I was accused of proselytizing.
0:45 Alexis was suspended.
0:48 It wasn’t my fault if I talk to one person, and 20 others come to listen to me.
0:49 Alexis dropped out of high school after converting to Islam.
0:53 I decided to quit [school],
0:58 because I knew that if I stayed in that establishment or another,
1:03 things would get worse.
1:05 It wasn’t possible for me, so I decided to study by myself.
1:11 I was [also] in conflict with my parents due to my conversion.
1:15 Alexis found that his commitment to living a conservative Islamic lifestyle created many problems for him in Belgium.
1:20 We were wearing clothes as Allah was ordering and as the Prophet taught us.
1:28 I had a bigger beard than right now.
1:30 People fear the unknown.
1:32 When there is ‘radical’ change, it raises questions and we are.
1:37 Alexis also became concerned when the uprisings in Syria occurred and most of the Muslims he knew began discussing what to do about it.
1:43 [My path toward jihad] started when we were watching videos on the Internet shared
1:53 of the massacres, the injustices committed by Bashar al Assad against his people.
2:00 I watched them with friends and talked about what’s going on there.
2;05 We were sad. We were sad about what was happening.
2:07 When Jabhat al Nusra, when this movement started making little ‘propaganda’ videos, 2:14 we started looking to do something.
2:18 I thought we have to go and help them.
2:21 The plan was to collect money to go there [to Turkey].
2:28 Alexis flew to Turkey, to cross to Syria and was ready to die for his beliefs.
2:34 People quickly think that it’s about the 73 virgins in Paradise.
2:41 That is not at all our aim.
2:44 We were searching for the satisfaction of our creator. Nothing else.
2:51 Alexis and his friend didn’t make it to Syria.
2:54 We had no choice but to return [to Belgium],
2:59 because my friend’s father came to bring us [back home].
3:05 I have no hate against anyone, except the regime of Bashar el Assad.
3:11 There was an investigation for two years.
3:15 For two years, I was tracked on Facebook, in fact because I shared the videos, etc.
3:24 But, in fact, they have no charge against me, no proof like that.
3:29 All that they got me for was incitement to hatred, because of my Facebook [account].
3:34 As a result, I was condemned to two years [in prison]
3:37 with a suspended sentence and a probation period of five years.
3:40 On my certificate of good conduct, terrorism is marked in big letters.
3:45 Looking back now, with experience
3:48 and also seeing what happened with the huge discord between the [militant] groups there,
3:54 it became impossible [for me].
3:55 ISIS ‘profited’ from the situation to take power.
3:59 As a result, the fitna (discord in Islam) started.
4:02 Before, I thought they are very, very good.
4:06 They rejected all anti-Islamic alliances.
4:09 They just wanted to impose Islam.
4:12 Now the conflict is political.
4:15 I wish everyone could practice his religion as he wants, like it’s been done for a long time.
4:18 Not only for Muslims, but also for Christians and Jews.
4:20 [But, here in Belgium] I cannot pray at work like I want.
4:24 If I wear a beard, there’s prejudices.
4:27 If my wife wants to wear the hijab, she’ll face discrimination.
4:31 [At my job], I asked to do my prayers.
4:35 Everybody goes out to smoke cigarettes.
4:37 Why can’t I go out to do my prayer that doesn’t take more than five minutes?
4:44 I am not in an Islamic land, but in a so-called ‘democratic’ country.
4:49 [Here] there is no trust in the other.
4:52 Of course, racism and discrimination are everywhere and always present.
4:56 Alexis has accepted terrorist claims that the West is intentionally bombing innocents during its attacks on ISIS and other terrorist groups.
5:03 He therefore still supports ISIS terror attacks—even in Europe—which he sees as justified retaliation.
5:09 When the [Western] coalition started, they were were delighted to bomb innocent Syrians.
5:17 ISIS, what did they do? They warned them to stop bombing.
5:23 ‘If not, you’ll face repercussions.’ It’s normal.
5:27 and so that’s what happened.
5:28 We call it ‘the law of retaliation.’
5:30 It’s understandable.
5:30 [But,] it’s sad in the end.
5:34 Alexis still does not see the difference between terrorist attacks on civilians and military battles between armed forces.
5:39 However, he does understand that terrorist videos manipulated his emotions and propelled him toward dangerous actions.
5:44 [So] I am against watching [extremist] videos because they play on your emotions.
5:51 Don’t watch these kind of videos.
5:54 The Truth Behind the Islamic State
Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, www.ICSVE.org
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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=81) 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 experts 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 Follow @AnneSpeckhard