Swearing my Bayat to the Islamic State in a Time of Sectarianism features twenty-eight-year-old Iraqi ISIS member, Abu Omar, who was interviewed in June 2018 in Baghdad, Iraq by Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci. It was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team. This counter narrative video highlights the ways in which ISIS and al Qaeda wrongly convinced Iraqis to use terrorism to try to defend Sunni rights and how it ended only in destruction and suffering.
In Swearing my Bayat to the Islamic State in a Time of Sectarianism, Abu Omar speaks about the sectarian killings in 2006 during which some Sunnis were convinced by al Qaeda to take up arms and engage in terrorism as a type of self-defense. The al Qaeda leaders told their recruits that as others kill them, they should kill the others. While the violence was cast as self-defense, Abu Omar recalls being horrified by the explosions that al Qaeda organized among civilian populations. Although he also states that at the time, he and his fellow cadres were “brainwashed.”
Abu Omar discusses how al Qaeda, and later ISIS recruiters, convinced Iraqis to become involved in terrorism and warns the viewer to stay away from them, as they are very persuasive. Now, after seeing the failure of the Islamic State and massive destruction they caused, Abu Omar states that ISIS was not following Islam and that they turned everything to ashes. He no longer believes that trying to apply an Islamic State in the region will end in anything good.
Abu Omar suffers extreme guilt as well, stating, “[When I pray, I admit that I am] guilty, and [I know] Allah will punish me and hold me accountable for this.” Facing a death sentence, he expresses sorrow for his wife who is blind and his children who will never see their father again. Indeed, his son was only born after Abu Omar’s imprisonment and he never got to hold him. Abu Omar tells his family that he is a shame and a disgrace for having engaged in terrorism, and to forget him.
To his own children, and to other youth, Abu Omar advises, “Be careful. Don’t take the path that I have taken, and stay as far away as possible from it.”
What do you feel watching this video?
Do you believe Abu Omar is who he says he is and is telling the truth about his experiences inside ISIS and al Qaeda?
What responsibility does the government have to police and ensure that there is justice?
When the government is failing in its responsibilities, are militias and terror groups a good answer?
When Shia and Sunni people are slaughtering each other is it appropriate to engage in terrorist acts to try to defend one’s area?
Would it ever be correct in Islam to explode a bomb among civilians?
Do you believe Abu Omar will be punished by Allah for engaging in such acts?
What gains did the Islamic State give Iraqi people? What destruction did it cause?
What did Abu Omar lose from joining al Qaeda and ISIS?
Timed transcript of Swearing my Bayat to the Islamic State in a Time of Sectarianismvideo:
Swearing my Bayat to the Islamic State in a Time of Sectarianism
0:01 [Our leaders] said [we carry out our jihad of bombings and other attacks] as a defense,
0:03 that just like how they kill our people, we kill their people.
0:07 If you remember in the time of sectarianism,
0:11 [there were] unknown dead bodies every day.
0:14 So they said that just like how they defend their cities [we defend ours].
0:20 That time was a time of sectarianism [Sunni and Shia killings and atrocities].
0:24 Abu Omar joined al Qaeda in 2006, then swore allegiance to ISIS while he was in prison
in 2015 in Baghdad.
0:32 The [al Qaeda leaders] said [that jihad] is so you can defend your cities.
0:35 At the beginning when they [al Qaeda] first used us, it was to defend our cities.
0:39 We didn’t go to [fight in] other cities.
0:41 I heard about the bombings,
0:44 the bombings that are done by them [al Qaeda].
0:47 Something inside me is moved [horrified],
0:49 but we were brainwashed.
0:51 The way [the recruiter] talked [convinced me to join al Qaeda, and later ISIS],
0:55 and how [he explained] that we [Sunnis] are oppressed.
1:00 [I was convinced by] the way he talked. They brainwash people very well.
1:05 [The Iraqi forces captured me] from my house.
1:07 [Now I know,] if ISIS were really following Islam, they wouldn’t burn everything
1:12 ISIS destroyed everything.
1:17 ISIS completely destroyed what is called Islam,
1:21 ruined families.
1:22 [Applying their Islamic State to our region] will reduce it to ashes.
1:25 I don’t advise [you] to join [ISIS or groups like them].
1:27 It’s nothing but destruction.
1:28 But if you meet with one, or two, of them [they are so persuasive, you may join them].
1:32 Now, after being arrested again,
watching the Islamic State fail
to reach its goals, and facing a death
sentence, Abu Omar sees
the futility of terrorism.
1:39 [When I pray I admit that I am] guilty,
1:40 and [I know] Allah will punish me and hold me accountable for this.
1:42 I am sorry about it because I [already] spent a long time in prison,
1:48 and by no means did I benefit from it.
1:50 [There was] nothing but harm [in al Qaeda].
1:51 Then I got out and then,
1:54 according to the Arab proverb [I only made things worse—by joining ISIS].
1:58 [I am married and have] a son and a daughter.
2:02 [I advise my son] not to walk on the same path we walked.
2:05 I speak to my son and [other] youth—I tell them that I’m a shame and a disgrace.
2:11 Be careful. Don’t take the path that I have taken,
2:15 and stay as far away as possible from it.
2:17 I didn’t get to hold my son.
2:19 I was arrested and he was born a month later.
2:22 [I want my son] to finish school.
2:24 I only went to primary school.
2:26 My advice to [my daughter] is that she also finishes school,
2:29 and to see what will be her destiny
2:32 and to not think about her father,
2:33 because I won’t see her anymore, nor will she see me.
2:36 My wife is blind.
2:38 I tell her to take care of herself,
2:40 and I tell my kids to look after your mom because she can’t see,
2:43 and not to ask about me.
2:46 [To my wife] I only tell her to take care of herself
2:49 and to look after the kids,
2:51 and to never ask about me anymore.
2:54 The Truth Behind the Islamic State
2:58 Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism
3:03 See more at
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