The Long Arm of the Islamic State features thirty-three-year-old Syrian, ISIS commander Abu Said who was interviewed in November 2015 in southern Turkey by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet S. Yayla.It was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team. This counter narrative video highlights the difficulty and dangers of trying to leave ISIS and the suffering that results for those who join them.
In The Long Arm ofthe Islamic State, Abu Said talks about how after becoming disillusioned with ISIS and deciding to escape by fleeing from Syria into Turkey, he and his family were starving and near death. He recalls watching children in the streams of refugees fleeing the conflicts in Syria who died of starvation and exhaustion on the trek into Turkey. Abu Said remarks that his daughter, who was starving for three days, still has psychological issues to this day.
Abu Said narrates that although he and his family found relative safety in Turkey, he still lives in constant fear of ISIS surveillance and is well aware that ISIS leaders pay killers and spies to hunt for their defected cadres. Indeed a series of murders in Turkey by ISIS have been well documented. He tells the story of a Syrian defector who was criticizing ISIS on Facebook and Twitter only to have an ISIS spy secretly photograph him in Urfa, Turkey. After ISIS sent him the photo, with a threat saying they knew where he lives and works.
Abu Said tells of having nightmares of ISIS capturing him or his family, or demanding he turn himself into them. He states that he lives in constant fear and is terrified when people notice him or ask simple questions, fearing they are collecting information on him. He states that his life is spoiled by terror and traumatic memories of what he lived through while serving ISIS. While he doesn’t explicitly warn others not to join in this video, the implication is clear—that they will suffer and find it hard to leave, should they wish to.
What do you feel watching this video?
Do you believe Abu Said is who he says he is and is telling the truth about his experiences inside ISIS?
What do you think of the suffering Abu Said narrates, given he served the group?
Do you think it’s possible to serve ISIS and live without guilt and terror?
Is it possible to leave ISIS without paying a high price?
Timed transcript of The Long Arm of the Islamic Statevideo:
The Long Arm of the Islamic State
0:04 When the attack on Tell Abyad happened, we tried to cross the border.
0:13 It took us three days to cross the border because it was really hard.
0:23 There were thousands of people trying to cross the border.
0:30 ABU SAID
Former ISIS Commander
During these three days, we couldn’t get any food.
0:35 My young daughter kept saying ‘I’m hungry, Baba, I’m hungry, Baba!’
0:41 and all I could get her was a little piece of bread—just to keep her alive.
0:48 We thought my niece died for a second.
0:52 There were three or four children who died of starvation and heat exhaustion.
1:00 Abu Said defected from ISIS after realizing the militants were un-Islamic, corrupt and
1:04 Risking their lives, Abu Said and his family fled from Syria into Turkey.
1:10 So we crossed the border, found a place to live, got our things in order.
1:14 Still today, my daughter has some sort of psychological issue. She’s always hungry.
1:20 I tell her to stop eating and she says, ‘I’m not full yet.’
1:26 Even after five or six months, she’s still thinking about those when she was so hungry.
1:39 She throws up [from overeating] and still says she’s hungry.
1:51 In Akçakale[in Turkey] and Urfa [across the border in Syria],
1:57 people really began to hate ISIS,
2:00 because there are a lot of family connections between the two areas.
2:06 Both areas [Akçakaleand Urfa] are Arab.
2;10 ISIS began to hand areas to the PKK [a Kurdish militant group].
2:16 So people really hated [ISIS].
2:22 One time a Syrian man [in Turkey] talked negatively about [ISIS] on Facebook and
2:35 He’d talk about them, so ISIS had someone [secretly] take a picture of him.
2:41 They sent it to him [as a threat].
2:44 They told him they knew who he was and where he lived.
2:47 [They told him] not to feel protected because he was in Turkey.
2:51 Here in Turkey I’m afraid of dark places, or walking alone in the streets.
3:05 I’m afraid of them [ISIS]—truly.
3:12 A lot of times I dream that they capture me, or my family, or demand that I turn myself
in [to them].
3:21 At that moment, I’m terrified. There’s fear in my heart.
3:26 I’m very frightened for my family.
3:34 They can recruit people with money and do as they please.
3:38 Even here in Turkey, I’m scared of them, because those people are disgusting.
3:47 They will stop at nothing.
3:51 I’m suspicious of everyone.
3:54 If someone even looks at me, I’m suspicious of them.
3:59 I think he’s one of them [ISIS]. Truthfully I’m living a bad life.
4:09 Bad—for me, and a lot of my friends that left Syria.
4:14 It’s come to the point where if I’m in a cafeteria, I’m suspicious of people looking at me,
4:23 even when they aren’t looking at me.
4:25 And if somebody asks me a question, I think they are one of them.
4:29 Maybe he wants to find information about me—where I work, where I live. I’m scared.
4:36 Indeed, ISIS has taken credit for a series of murders within Turkey of activists and
opponents of their rule.
4;43 I try not to tell people anything. I live in fear. When I walk, I’m always looking over my
4:48 I really live in fear. It’s difficult to forget them.
After what people saw and the horrible situations—as a human—it’s very hard to bear.
4:53 After what we saw and the horrible situations, it’s very hard to bear as a human being.
5:06 The Truth Behind the Islamic State
5:09 Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism
5:14 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