Islamic State Live-Streaming in Kosovo

60 – Islamic Sstate Live Streaming In Kosovo

Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci

Islamic State Live-Streaming in Kosovo is the 60th counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand series. This video features 29-year-old Kosovar, Albert Berisha, who was interviewed by Anne Speckhard in June 2017 in Pristina, Kosovo The video clip was video edited and produced by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team.

This video starts with Albert recalling how events in Syria were being witnessed the world over via the Internet. “We saw images of people who were constantly being tortured [by the Syrian regime],” he recounts. “We saw images of killed children. We saw the images of massacred children. We saw inhumane behavior towards women. We saw people being burnt alive. We saw people being buried alive. We saw bombings, where entire families were killed at once.

We saw events as they were unfolding. We had a live stream of the events [on YouTube], so to speak,” Albert recounts the list of atrocities that Kosovars, among others, witnessed via the Internet. 

Albert was emotionally affected by the videos of the Syrian conflict he saw at the onset of the conflict in Syria.  He had also been affected by his own experiences of war in Kosovo. “We experienced almost the same scope and nature of events in the [1999] Kosovo [war] as well,” he recalls. “We were also the victims of an unjust regime,” he explains.

“But, during the war in Kosovo, I was a child,” Albert explains. “Then, I couldn’t join the war to fight alongside the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). I was only 12 or 13 years old. Now, at [my] age, you can’t just cross your arms and do nothing if you see that the same injustice is happening to someone else.” Indeed, many of the 40,000 foreign fighters who ended up in Syria and Iraq, many of them joining ISIS, felt the same—concerned about Assad’s abuses toward other Muslims and responsibility to do something to come to their assistance. 

At the early onset of the Syrian conflict, in October 2013, at age 26, Albert traveled to Syria using savings and money donated from friends. “[I went to Syria], because the people who were getting killed were fellow Muslims,” Albert explains, adding, “They were adherents of the same religion as me. I felt it was an obligation to go there.”

Albert recalls his fear over entering a conflict zone to go and fight there: “I prayed when I was on the plane. I knew I could be killed there. I prayed to Allah that should I be killed, I be accepted as a martyr.”

Like many who joined the conflicts early on, they were confronted with chaos and shifting alliances on the ground. Albert recalls, “I wanted to join the Syrian opposition forces to help the Syrian people against the Syrian regime.” Yet, he admits, “I have no background in the military. [But,] I was there to fight. It’s not like I dreamt of going and becoming a hero, saving all the Syrian people or bringing an end to the regime. I simply wanted to contribute.” About going to fight, Albert explained, adding further, “I needed to do this necessary evil to protect innocent people.”

Albert flew from Kosovo to Turkey and then paid a smuggler to cross from Turkey into Syria. Albert recounts, “We traveled to a place near Aleppo. We entered a very large and well-maintained house. [The commander] asked me [in English] why I had come and where I wanted to go. I told him that I came to help the Syrian people and that I wanted to join the Albanians there. I told them I did not want to get in touch or be part of al Qaeda.”

Albert’s story of travel to Syria at times turns comic in the midst of possible danger and tragedy. He continues, “Half the men looked at me awkwardly and half of the men started laughing. Then the commander told me, “We are al Qaeda.”

Albert left the al Nusra militants, and then mistakenly ended up at an ISIS military camp. They told him the Arabic name of their group, which Albert couldn’t understand. As he recalls it, “When I asked them who they were, they said, ‘We are Dawlah [the Islamic State].’ And that’s it. I didn’t know what this word meant.” At an internet café, he managed to figure out his error of coming to an ISIS camp.

Albert was advised to meet with a local commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

He didn’t know ISIS and the FSA were fighting each other. Albert claims he never meant to join a terrorist group: “In no way did I want to join groups that were blacklisted as terrorist organizations.”   

He claimed that ISIS allowed him to leave. Albert recalls, “[When I left ISIS, their commander] told me I could go to any group I wanted, provided that I don’t turn my back on jihad. [He said] anyone who does so is cursed by Allah.”

Albert claims he then joined Ahrar al Sham – a local militia – and waited for training. On Eid [one of the most important Muslim holidays], Albert called his mother and lied to her about his whereabouts. “I didn’t tell my parents, and this is the part I feel most guilty about to this day,” he explains. Like many young men who traveled to ISIS, he kept in touch with his mother and she had the power to pull him back home. Albert explains, “After hearing her voice, I realized the foolishness of my act. I realized it was impossible to achieve anything positive there. On the contrary, I could only face harm in that place.”

With tensions between the militia he ended up joining and ISIS rising, Albert returned to Kosovo. Albert reflects upon his good fortune in having been allowed to freely leave Syria. “Nowadays, it is a totally different situation [in Syria],” he explains. “[ISIS] created a so-called state, and anyone trying to escape the state is being executed, unlike when I was there.”

For his decision to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA) instead, Albert later heard that ISIS had declared him a kafir [non-believer]. He was also arrested after returning home to Kosovo in August of 2014.

Albert was charged with terrorist recruitment and for engaging with a terrorist organization. He was also charged with inciting  hate speech against other ethnicities and religions. He was sentenced to 3.5 years for membership in a terrorist organization. Albert was free when ICSVE interviewed him, but he had spent a short time in prison. Albert appealed the court’s decision but his sentence was recently reinstated. He was ordered to prison to fully serve his sentence.

“Perhaps the best way to help the Syrians would be to help Syrian refugees,” Albert states, as he reflects upon his choice that landed him in prison and what might have been better. “And [another] way is to apply political pressure to resolve the conflict there, ” he states.  

Giving advice to viewers, Albert states, “Under no circumstances should you join ISIS or any other dangerous group, because that only makes matters worse for Syrians.” With the wisdom of hindsight, he explains, “It’s not like we’re helping anyone. It’s not like we’re doing someone a favor. Simply we can harm our own conscience by causing harm to innocent people.”

Likewise, he reflects upon the “fog of war,” explaining, “Once there, you won’t be afforded the opportunity to think critically. You won’t be as lucky as me [to escape alive].”

He goes on to advise, “It is important to dedicate time to yourself and your family and to be a contributing member of your society.”

Discussion Questions: 

What do you feel watching this video?

Do you believe that Albert’s motivations for traveling to Syria were humanitarian in nature ?

Given that at the onset of the Syrian conflict, leading to the outpouring of many Kosovars to the conflict zones in Syria, there were no laws that sanctioned travel to Syria for the purpose of joining a foreign conflict, do you believe that Albert should have been prosecuted upon his return?

Do you believe Albert when he says  it’s hard to understand and think critically in a war zone?

What do you think of Albert’s inability to understand which groups he was joining? 

Islamic Scriptures Related to this Video

Groups like al Qaeda and ISIS argue that it’s every Muslims individual duty to fight jihad in behalf of other Muslims and to further Islam, yet most Islamic scholars do not agree. The Islamic State is not a name that just anyone can allege to hold, as is the case with al Qaeda, ISIS and other similar groups. Rather, it is a matter of practicing the real commandments of Allah and his Prophet (PBUH). ISIS’s atrocities are too obvious, to an extent that if a man denies them he would be ridiculed. In Islam, if you allege something and you practice its contradiction then you would be regarded as a hypocrite, as Allah says in the Quran: “They conceal in themselves what they do not disclose to you [O Muhammed].” Surah Al Imran (The family of Imran), Ayah No. 154.

In Islam these atrocities carried out by ISIS are regarded as great sins and they have to be punished because they harm innocents. About perpetrators of crimes such as ISIS has carried out upon the people, Allah says: “The recompense of those who make war against Allah and His Messenger and spread corruption in the land is that they are to be killed or crucified, or have their hand and a foot cut off on opposite sides, or be expelled from the land. For them is shame in this world and a great punishment in the Everlasting Life.” Surah al-Maeda (the food table), Ayah No. 33. Unfortunately ISIS claims this verse in their own behalf when they call everyone who is not with them as unbelievers (i.e. claim Takfir for them), but in truth only Allah judges the hearts of those who believe or fail to believe in him and he is the ultimate judge of who has harmed the people and the religion of Islam, which surely ISIS has done.

Transcript of Islamic State Live-Streaming in Kosovo

ALBERT BERISHA

29-year-old Kosovar

We saw images of people who were constantly being tortured [by the Syrian regime]. 

We saw images of killed children. 

 We saw the images of massacred children. 

 We saw inhumane behavior towards women. 

 We saw people being burnt alive. 

 We saw people being buried alive. 

We saw bombings where entire families were killed at once.

We saw events as they were unfolding. We had a live stream of the events [on YouTube], so to speak.  

TEXT: Albert was strongly emotionally affected by the videos of the Syrian conflict

TEXT: He had also been affected by his own experiences of war in Kosovo.

We experienced almost the same scope and nature of events in the [1999] Kosovo [war] as well.

We were also the victims of an unjust regime.

 But, during the war in Kosovo, I was a child.

Then, I couldn’t join the war to fight alongside the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

I was only 12 or 13 years old.

Now, at [my] age, you can’t just cross your arms and do nothing if you see that the same injustice is happening to someone else. 

TEXT: In October 2013, at age 26, Albert traveled to Syria using savings and money donated from friends. 

[I went to Syria], because the people who were getting killed were fellow Muslims. 

They were adherents of the same religion as me. 

I felt it was an obligation to go there.

I prayed when I was on the plane. I knew I could be killed there. 

I prayed to Allah that should I be killed, I be accepted as a martyr.

I wanted to join the Syrian opposition forces to help the Syrian people against the Syrian regime. 

I have no background in the military.

I was there to fight. 

It’s not like I dreamt of going and becoming a hero,

saving all the Syrian people or bringing an end to the regime.

I simply wanted to contribute.

 I needed to do this necessary evil to protect innocent people.

TEXT: Albert flew from Kosovo to Turkey then paid a smuggler to cross from Turkey into Syria.

We traveled to a place near Aleppo.

We entered a very large and well-maintained house.

[The commander] asked me [in English] why I had come and where I wanted to go.

I told him that I came to help the Syrian people and that I wanted to join the Albanians there.

I told them I did not want to get in touch or be part of al Qaeda.

Half the men looked at me awkwardly and half of the men started laughing.

Then the commander told me, “We are al Qaeda.”

TEXT: Albert left the al Nusra militants and ended up mistakenly at a military camp of ISIS.

TEXT: They told him the Arabic name of their group.

When I asked them who they were, they said, ‘We are Dawlah [the Islamic State].’

And that’s it. I didn’t know what this word meant.

TEXT: At an internet café, he managed to figure out his error of coming to an ISIS camp.

TEXT: Albert was advised to meet with a local commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

He didn’t know ISIS and the FSA were fighting each other.

In no way did I want to join groups that were blacklisted as terrorist organizations. 

[When I left ISIS, their commander] told me I could go to any group I wanted,

provided that I don’t turn my back on jihad.

[He said] anyone who does so is cursed by Allah.

TEXT: Albert claims he then joined Ahrar al Sham – a local militia – and waited for training.

TEXT: On Eid, Albert called his mother and lied to her about his whereabouts.

I didn’t tell my parents, and this is the part I feel most guilty about to this day.

After hearing her voice, I realized the foolishness of my act.  

I realized it was impossible to achieve anything positive there. 

On the contrary, I could only face harm in that place.

TEXT: With tensions between his militia and ISIS rising, Albert returned to Kosovo.

Nowadays, it is a totally different situation [in Syria]. 

[ISIS] created a so-called state, and anyone trying to escape the state is being executed, unlike when I was there. 

TEXT: Albert later heard that ISIS declared him a kafir [non-believer],because he left them for the Free Syrian Army.

In August 2014, I was arrested.

TEXT: Albert was charged with engaging with a terrorist organization, hate speech against ethnicities and religions, and terrorist recruitment. 

TEXT:  He was sentenced to 3.5 years for membership in a terrorist organization.

TEXT: Albert was free when ICSVE interviewed him, but he had spent a short time in prison and was later returned to prison to fully serve his sentence.

Perhaps the best way to help the Syrians would be to help Syrian refugees. 

And [another] way is to apply political pressure to resolve the conflict there.  

Under no circumstances should you join ISIS or any other dangerous group,  

because that only makes matters worse for Syrians.

It’s not like we’re helping anyone.

It’s not like we’re doing someone a favor.

Simply we can harm our own conscience by causing harm to innocent people.

Once there, you won’t be afforded the opportunity to think critically.

You won’t be as lucky as me [to escape alive].

It is important to dedicate time to yourself and your family and to be a contributing member of your society.

The Truth Behind the Islamic State

Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism   www.ICSVE.org

See more at www.TheRealJihad.org

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 http://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. 

Anne Speckhard

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine and has also taught the Psychology of Terrorism for the Security Studies Department in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. Dr. Speckhard has been working in the field of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the 1980’s and has extensive experience working in Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.