ICSVE’s new Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Video
by Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.
Today, ICSVE releases Rewards of the Islamic State, the 18th counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand series, videos which can be found both on the ICSVE website and on the ICSVE YouTube Channel.
The ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand counter narrative videos feature the 78 ISIS defectors, returnees and ISIS cadres prisoners which ICSVE researchers have interviewed around the world over the past two years. These videos are subtitled in English, as well as in many of the languages in which ISIS recruits.
This video featuring thirty-three-year-old Abu Ghazwan, an Iraqi interviewed December 11th, 2017 in Baghdad by Anne Speckhard and edited by our ICSVE video editors, highlights the case of a long-term attraction of a Sunni Iraqi to violent extremism—hoping that violent uprising and terrorist acts can restore rights and dominance to Iraqi Sunnis.
Abu Ghazwan’s story also highlights the dangers of prison recruitment and perceptions and realities of suffering under sectarian discrimination. Briefly imprisoned for a tribal killing, Abu Ghazwan claims his Shia friends, who were also involved, were not held for as long, but because he was Sunni he believes he spent more time in prison and his family had to pay a lawyer to get him released. An IS recruiter reached him in prison, taking full advantage of his anger. Inside prison, after convincing him of the Islamic State’s project, Abu Ghazwan’s IS recruiter arranged for those operating on the outside to contact him during the vulnerable period upon his release, to engage him into terrorist violence—a common pattern seen in Europe as well.
Abu Ghazwan worked for ISIS, placing bombs inside the cars and outside the doors of Iraqi police, neighborhood informers and others named as enemies of the group. Despite his moral qualms and anxieties about killing others, Abu Ghazwan didn’t hesitate to place his bombs. Instead of listening to his inner doubts, he acted out of anger, hope for a Sunni state, and the feeling that he was avenging himself—until one of his bombs killed a small child.
Immediately he was racked with guilt and posttraumatic stress. Unable to sleep, waking up in a panic and terrified of Allah’s judgment, he had no peace. Finally, arrested by the Iraqi police and imprisoned for crimes he freely admits, he felt immediately that he was being punished for this child’s death. He endured hearing his mother’s screaming that he was innocent as he was dragged from his family home—knowing deep in his heart that he was not innocent and was getting what he deserved.
Now, facing a death sentence, Abu Ghazwan fears Allah’s judgment more than death. He fears the family as well as Allah cannot forgive him for killing an innocent child. Separated from his family and not knowing how to contact them, he suffers alone in prison. He states that his life is ruined and all he hoped for did not come to pass—instead he landed in prison and his life is ended. He finishes by telling the viewer that he got no gains from ISIS and that violence accomplished nothing but only leads to a worse outcome.
The timed transcript of Rewards of the Islamic State video is below:
0:01 Abu Ghazwan
Former ISIS Member
33 years old
0:03 We joined ISIS because we are Sunnis,
0:06 so that we, Sunnis, become one hand
0:08 and take over the country,
0:10 so that it will become a Sunni country
0:12 and everyone takes what is his.
0:13 You take your rights back from those who hurt you.
0:15 [I believed that Iraq] will become a Sunni country
0:17 and I will take my revenge from those who imprisoned and hurt me.
0:20 In 2013, I was detained in prison [by the Iraqi government],
0:22 in Diyala – Baladrooz.
0:23 I was detained because there was a problem,
0:26 a family matter, a tribal matter.
0:29 Somebody got killed and they arrested me.
0:32 So, through this thing, there was a guy [in prison] named Ziad.
0:35 I joined [ISIS] through him.
0:36 When I got released, he asked for my phone number.
0:39 He was with ISIS.
0:41 I gave him my number
0:42 [and] he gave my number to the organization outside,
0:44 and they called me to join them.
0:46 [I was] avenging myself
0:48 [for] that they arrested me, even though I was innocent
0:50 and I have nothing to do with this.
0:52 I was hurt and so was my family
0:54 because they had to pay a lawyer.
0:56 My friends were with me in this.
0:58 They dropped the charges for all of them except for me,
1:00 because I was Sunni,
1:03 and they were Shia.
1:04 They withdrew the case for all of them and they got out except for me.
1:07 I worked with them, [placing] 5 explosive devices.
1:10 [I set the first bomb] on Sayed Ahmed in Baladrooz.
1:13 And one was on Arkan Saud Al Joza.
1:16 They said he was a source for the security forces
1:18 and that I have to set him a bomb, at his house.
1:20 There was a person named Omar.
1:21 They said he worked with the Asa’ib [Shia militia].
1:23 I set it in his car.
1:25 A guy named Abu Salam.
1:27 He was affiliated with the security forces,
1:29 in the area inside our area.
1:30 [I set it at] his door.
1:34 The 5th one [to place] in al Asri neighborhood
1:36 in Baladrooz, Diyala.
1:37 They said that it was an officer’s house.
1:39 [I set it] at his door.
1:44 You hide it [the IED] in the bag,
1:46 you place it and then retreat,
1:48 and you call this number.
1:50 All of my thoughts were concerning them.
1:51 What happened to them?
1:53 The next morning, I learned that none of them were killed.
1:56 [I suffered from] the fear of, what if somebody was killed?
1:58 How will I be judged?
1:59 What will happen to him?
2:01 What will my destiny be
2:02 now that I have killed this human being?
2:04 I was afraid of Allah, not the law, but of Allah Almighty.
2:07 I’ve exploded 5 bombs.
2:10 A child was killed in it, the 5th one.
2:14 He comes straight to my mind.
2:16 It’s like I think, where has this baby gone to?
2:18 What is his state?
2:19 And what will happen to me?
2:20 They told me a kid was killed.
2:21 It’s a boy.
2:22 I only cry.
2:23 I feel sad about him.
2:24 I beg him [Allah] to forgive me
2:26 and [I’m afraid] because I don’t think [Allah] will forgive me.
2:32 This kid was innocent and had nothing to do with this.
2:34 I feel that I’ve gone to prison because this child was killed.
2:38 I suffer with sleeplesness.
2:39 I suffer a lot with it.
2:40 I suffer until I fall asleep.
2:42 Sometimes I choke and wake up sweaty.
2:45 I thought right away that I got arrested
2:48 because it was unfair to the child [who was killed].
2:50 They arrested me in the house.
2:52 My mother knew I was arrested.
2:54 I only heard her voice. I couldn’t see her.
2:57 She was screaming, ‘What for? He didn’t do anything!’
3:00 ‘What did he do?’
3:02 I miss [my family] a lot.
3:03 I haven’t seen them in 2 years.
3:05 I don’t have a phone number to call them,
3:09 so that they can visit me.
3:11 I didn’t get anything [from ISIS].
3:12 I joined ISIS so that [Iraq] would become a Sunni country,
3:14 and [so that I could] avenge myself.
3:16 I joined the organization
3:17 and the opposite happened to me.
3:18 They arrested me and I went to prison.
3:20 My situation is terrible
3:21 and my life was done. It was ruined.
3:22 I killed a child
3:24 and am now going to hell.
3:25 I only ask Allah to forgive me for my sin.
3:30 Violence didn’t accomplish anything.
3:32 Rather, it leads to a worse outcome.
3:37 The Truth Behind the Islamic State.
3:44 Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism www.icsve.org
About the Author:
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). 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 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 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 https://www.icsve.org Follow @AnneSpeckhard
Reference for this article: Speckhard, Anne (March 15, 2018) Rewards of the Islamic State – ICSVE’s New Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Video. ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Videos, https://www.icsve.org/isis-defectors-speak-internet-memes/rewards-of-joining-the-islamic-state/