The Call to Jihad video features thirty-one year old Abu Naim, a Kosovar interviewed in Kosovo in June 2016 by Anne Speckhard with Haris Fazilu translating. Zack Baddorf and ICSVE staff produced this counter narrative video. It highlights the empathy felt by many in the Balkans, like Abu Naim, who suffered war for those suffering in Syria under Assad’s atrocities and the mess his life became after traveling to and fighting in Syria.
Abu Naim states that he was drawn into the Syrian conflict by viewing amateur videos of Syrian civilians falling prey to bombings and killings by the Assad regime and that he traveled to Syria to help them. However, like the eight hundred and fifty, or more, who traveled from the Balkans, he arrived without really understanding where he had arrived to, who he was aligning himself with, and what were the purposes of the group he was serving. Abu Naim claims he took militant training and carried out humanitarian missions for the Free Syrian Army. He became disillusioned when he saw the various factions forming in Syria begin to fight amongst themselves for power and influence, forgetting their original purpose to oppose the Assad regime.
Abu Naim claims he told his FSA leaders he wanted to leave and was allowed to return home to Kosovo where he lived peacefully. However, according to court documents, he traveled multiple times to Syria and was sentenced for organizing, recruiting for and participating in a terrorist organization.
Abu Naim tells the viewer that ISIS just appears as a Caliphate, but really Syria is just a war. He states, “I wanted to do something noble but I suffered as a result.” Abu Naim recommends that the best thing to do is to peacefully live in your homeland with your family, saying, “I would not recommend that anyone go [there]. As long as they have a peaceful place to live, why go to war?”
Timed transcript of The Call to Jihad video:
0:01 In 2013 Abu Naim, traveled to Syria from his native Kosovo after watching —The images that I saw on the Internet, I knew I was about to face some things I had seen before my departure [to Syria] on the Internet.
0:09 ABU NAIM
Former Free Syrian Army Soldier
Therefore, I felt some fear.
0:11 I had no idea what to expect, who I was about to meet, and other things.
0:17 [I was] wondering if I would return alive or not.
0:21 [I saw them] mostly on YouTube.
0:24 Images of daily life in Syria and what was happening over there.
0:27 Meaning bombings, massacres, etc., perpetrated by the Assad regime.
0:33 I mainly saw images of what was happening to the civilians, to the population.
0:40 [It was] amateur footage.
0:44 It forced me to make that step to perhaps sacrifice my own life for someone else [in Syria] to live.
0:56 Basically, this was my main motivation for joining.
0:58 They were similar, considering I myself have experienced the war here in Kosovo
1:03 [when I was] about 12-13 years old.
1:09 Abu Naim got in touch with some Syrians over the Internet and made arrangements to come to join them.
1:14 I left my family behind. This is what worried me the most.
1:21 But sometimes, when you make a decision right then,
1:27 you can’t really analyze what the future will hold.
1:36 But that was my intention—to offer help [in Syria].
1:40 It is rooted [in religion], if you offer help to a suffering population.
1:45 Obviously, offering help to get the population out of such a situation is righteous.
1:53 Burim joined an affiliate of the Free Syria Army for foreigners.
1:59 For almost a month, I had no idea about my whereabouts.
2:02 We had no way of communicating,
2:06 and I had no way of knowing which group I belonged to.
2:11 During my second month there, we underwent some training.
2:13 Well, I guess we can kind of call it training, considering we carried improvised Kalashnikovs made from wood.
2:18 During the last week of this second month, they took us to a shooting range.
2:25 The training was basically nothing.
2:30 Then, I mainly did rescue missions [after] bombings took place.
2:37 [The victims] were mainly civilians. A few of them were soldiers.
2:41 [The were hit by] Assad’s airplanes.
2:45 After three months with the FSA, Abu Naim saw things that made him regret his decision to come to Syria.
2:52 There were too many groups involved.
2:54 It’s as though they had forgotten about the regime.
2:58 They started positioning [for power] amongst themselves.
3:02 I spoke to [my commander] and told him I wanted to return [home].
3:04 After returning home in 2014, Abu Naim was arrested in Albania.
3:10 They didn’t tell me the reason for my arrest. They just told me I was being arrested.
3:19 It turned out that I was being followed all that time, since the day I returned to Kosovo.
3:28 They knew that I was in Syria.
3:32 After his trial, Abu Naim was sentenced for 4.5 years for organization of, participation in and recruitment for terrorist groups including multiple travels to Syria– not just fighting for the Free Syrian Army, as he claims.
3:40 I wouldn’t recommend going [to Syria] as it is in a state of war.
3:43 [ISIS] just appears as a Caliphate, but really Syria is just war.
3:49 There is a discrepancy between what the media portrays and the reality on the ground.
3:55 The best thing is to peacefully live in your homeland with your family.
4:04 I wanted to do something noble but I suffered as a result, for almost a year and a half, about two years, now.
4:11 This has ruined me.
4:13 I would not recommend that anyone go [there].
4:15 As long as they have a peaceful place to live, why go to war?
4:20 The Truth Behind the Islamic State
4:24 Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism www.ICSVE.org
4:29 See more at TheRealJihad.org
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=78) 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/AnneSpeckhardWebsite: and on the ICSVE website.