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Promises of the Caliphate

by Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.

Promises of the Caliphate  features Abu Fahad, a thirty-five year old Iraqi man whose city was taken by ISIS. Married with children he joined the group, rather than fled, and became a supplier to them.

Now imprisoned, Abu Fahad reflects on his disappointment with the Islamic State. In the beginning, he like others who joined expected ISIS to bring justice and Islamic rule, jobs and prosperity, but overtime he became disillusioned with getting nothing but blood and killing instead. He also recalls distrusting his Emir, being quite sure he was cheating and pocketing money on their accounts.

Abu Fahad recalls their territory being liberated as well, how the ISIS leaders fled with their families during air strikes while leaving others behind to be killed as human shields. He speaks about the Yazidi women bought and sold among the ISIS fighters and how ISIS acted in ways far from his religion. He states that Islam is about saying one’s prayers and doing good deeds, not about killing one’s neighbors.

Facing his sentencing, Abu Fahad claims to regret his actions and worries about his wife and children left without a father to support them. Abu Fahad advises youth in the West, to stay in their own country and abandon this path and he advises locals “not to get on this path.”

The timed transcript of Abu Fahad’s video is included below.

While the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq and soon Syria is already occurring, thousands of Islamic State foreign fighters and family members are reported by U.S. forces in classified American and other Western military and intelligence assessments, to have escaped the American-led military campaign in eastern Syria. Indeed the militant group is still active on the Internet and in contact with those who have fled, meanwhile persuading vulnerable youth and adults to carry out attacks as evidenced by the recent attacks in both New York and throughout Europe.

The digital “Caliphate” still needs to be defeated and the ISIS brand broken–work that ICSVE is pursuing in their Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project in which researchers at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) have over the last two years interviewed 71 ISIS returnees, prisoners and defectors,capturing most of those interviews on video.

In our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narratives Project we edit our video interviews into short video clips containing the most damning content, particularly of these former ISIS cadres denouncing the group. We then construct them to appear as ISIS videos, using ISIS’s own propaganda images to turn back against them, and naming our video clips with pro-ISIS names to entice those already consuming ISIS’s online material to mistakenly view ours and get a very different message. Thus far out of our 71 full-length interviews we have made 17 counter narrative video clips, which can be viewed here.

Our video clips are also being subtitled in all the languages ISIS recruits in: including English, French, German, Dutch, Albanian, Arabic, Malay, Russian, Kyrgyz and Uzbek, among many others and are free for anyone fighting ISIS to use.

We have directed our video clips on Facebook and Telegram to ISIS endorsers and distributors with success as well, sometimes resulting in ISIS cadres actually mistakenly distributing or endorsing our counter narrative clips, and with good reach to not only these endorsers, but to the circles they influence.

The Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative video clips are currently being used across four continents, in prisons, counseling sessions, prevention and educational settings and on mass media and social media to disrupt ISIS’s face-to-face and Internet recruitment. They are being used for both prevention and intervention. ICSVE used two video clips to good effect to confront an ISIS emir in Iraqi prison and we recently learned of a case of a 13-year-old in the UK determined to travel to Raqqa who was dissuaded by viewing one of our video clips. We continue to focus test them around the world in face-to-face encounters and on social media.

Our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative materials are available for anyone to use that fights terrorism or wants to counter violent extremism. We are keen to continue developing these materials and offering our countering and preventing violent extremism trainings around the world. Likewise our team is regularly publishing research reports that can be viewed here.

If you would like to become a donor to ICSVE or volunteer your skills please let us know. All support is much appreciated.

Promises of the Caliphate transcript:

00:23 Abu Fahad

Former ISIS Soldier


0.25 I heard about ISIS in 2014.

0.28 Before they entered [Iraq] with their jihad I heard that they have a government

0:33 that rules people with justice and equality,

0:39 that justice will happen, equality will happen, and we will get jobs.

0:43 That’s what we thought.

0:44 In the beginning we were deceived by them,

0:47 but when we saw their actions, they were considered

0:49 like any other murderer on the street.

0:52 We didn’t think that there will be

0:54 terrorism and killing and blood.

0:56 One of my relatives [who had joined them] came and told me,

1:00 ‘We’ll hire you and give you a good salary

1:02 and you will live as a free man and so on, and you will be with us.’

1:06 He told me, ‘They’ll hurt you if you don’t [join], because the city will be theirs

1:11 and they won’t let you stay here or they

1:13 will take you to an unknown destination.’

1:17 He considered it as advice but I considered it as a threat to me.

1:21 The inside of our city didn’t fall,

1:23 but its borders, the villages and the neighboring countryside all fell [to ISIS].

1:26 At that moment, we were pressured,

1:28 we were trapped,

1:30 the area was surrounded.

1:32 We were forced to this. There was no way to escape.

1:38 Those who didn’t join were forced out of the village.

1:41 They [ISIS] feared that someone might rat them out.

1:45 The ones who joined were allowed to stay

1:47 and those who didn’t join them were deported out of the area.

1:54 [So] I joined them.

1:55 My job was to supply them with mobile balance cards

2:00 and food; rice, sugar and tea.

2:04 My wife didn’t know [that I joined them] until recently, in the beginning of 2016.

2:12 She remained silent, then she said, ‘This path isn’t good for you,

2:15 you will harm us and yourself.’

2:17 I told her that I was forced to this and I can’t get rid of them anymore.

2:20 [Before they came to our area] I watched them on TV

2:23 or the videos that were uploaded

2:25 punishing people, executing them and killing them, yes.

2:30 Abu Yasser (was our Emir).

2:32 He wasn’t good.

2:33 He used to tell me, ‘Don’t make an invoice.

2:35 I will make it for the things you send.

2:38 Don’t make an invoice and send the things to me.

2:39 I will make the invoice myself.’

2:41 So I had my doubts that he was taking more than it costs.

2:43 I doubted him.

2:45 They [ISIS] burned and looted, Sunnis and Shias, there’s no difference.

2:50 Those who don’t escape get killed. If they find him they kill him.

2:54 How they deceive people!

2:56 When they’re trapped they place human shields in front.

2:59 They place, for example, the innocent people in Mosul or any other place.

3:02 They place people as human shields so that they can flee.

3:04 He [ISIS member] gets his family and children out

3:06 and leaves those people as human shields to be killed.

3:09 During the air bombing or battles, those people die.

3:12 That’s the worst thing in them.

3:15 The simple people, children, women and the old people [are killed].

3:18 I have seen Ramadi battles and Albo-Namr, how many they have executed, and in Fallujah!

3:25 [They promised us] each one gets an apartment, a car, a job and a salary.

3:31 But what they said was different from what they have done.

3:34 We benefited nothing from it. All of us were harmed,

3:37 whether we were Sunnis, Shias or Kurds. Everybody was harmed.

3:41 With what they’ve said, between their promises and

3:44 what they have done, there is a huge difference.

3:50 In 2016, Iraqi forces retook Diyala from ISIS control.

3:56 When they said we will be liberated [by Iraqi forces], I had more hope for life.

4:04 I had a hope for this area to be liberated and for us to keep living there.

4:08 And it was liberated and we got back to our jobs and reopened our market.

4:12 I regret what I have done.

4:14 In the beginning we thought that it was right,

4:17 [bringing] development and progress,

4:19 but when we saw those actions,

4:20 they were as criminals.

4:24 It became business.

4:25 We heard about the Yazidi women

4:29 who were forced to marry,

4:30 [they were] selling and buying [female slaves].

4:32 She remains with him for a while,

4:35 and he has the right to sell her to another and so on.

4:38 It’s very far from [our] religion.

4:39 Or like her husband gets killed and she is coerced to remarry.

4:45 I worry [about my wife] because I have put her in a difficult situation.

4:49 It’s hard [for her] to live. She has 5 children.

4:52 I’m away from them [in prison].

4:54 They don’t have anything to live from.

4:55 I advise every youth not to get on this religious path,

5:00 and to stay away completely from terrorism,

5:02 because this is the end result.

5:05 Stay away from Da’ish,

5:07 do your prayers and fasting, that’s your religion.

5:10 [But if] I tell you to fast and pray and kill that guy or burn that guy’s house

5:15 and do this because that’s a Sunni, or a Kurd, or a Shia, that’s not a practice of religion.

5:22 Abandon this. It’s better to stay in your country.

5:26 Because they don’t have good deeds, like something that makes people love them.

5:31 There’s nothing. On the contrary, they made people despise them.

5:34 I for one did give them my allegiance [bayat]. Now they’re my first enemy.

5:43 After two years as an ISIS member, Abu Fahad was arrested and put in an Iraqi prison. He is awaiting his sentencing.

5:49 I ask Allah to forgive me for the sin I have committed, by getting into this.

5:55 I ask Allah to forgive me, and to set me free and bring me back to my children.

5:59 There are a lot of people who are oppressed,

6:04 a lot of people who are hungry,

6:07 people who have died without knowing who killed them.

6:14 The Truth Behind the Islamic State

6:18 Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism www.ICSVE

Abu Fahad was interviewed in December 2017 by Anne Speckhard. Special thanks to the Falcons Intelligence Cell for their support for this project.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) where she heads the Breaking the ISIS Brand—ISIS Defectors Interviews Project. She is the author of: Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS and coauthor of ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate; Undercover Jihadi; and Warrior Princess. Dr. Speckhard has interviewed nearly 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and many countries in Europe. 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. Her publications are found here:

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