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Surviving in the Islamic State Caliphate

Surviving in the Islamic State Caliphate 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 ways in which ISIS made it very difficult for anyone living under the ISIS Caliphate to survive without joining them.

In Surviving in the Islamic State Caliphate, Abu Said talks about how ISIS took over all the industries in the areas they controlled so that jobs disappeared.  He details how ISIS paid high local salaries in addition to provided fuel and other supplies to their own cadres while charging high prices to those who didn’t join.

Abu Said discusses how ISIS took over wheat silos and began selling grain to Bashar al Assad’s regime while ostensibly fighting them.  Meanwhile prices for bread rose while salaries for locals disappeared or dropped.

Abu Said comments that locals began to notice that ISIS cadres lived in luxury while locals lived in hell.  While he makes no warnings in this video in others he warns viewers not to join and clearly depicts ISIS in this video as unIslamic and corrupt.

Discussion Questions:

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 ISIS taking control of all the resources of areas it controlled?

How hard would it be to resist joining if one couldn’t work or afford food and fuel?

Is it Islamic to only privilege ISIS members while locals suffered?

Do you believe ISIS could make a fair and legitimate state? 

Timed transcript of Surviving in the Islamic State Caliphate video:

Surviving in the Islamic State Caliphate

0:04     On the subject of joining ISIS, they had a lot of recruiting techniques.

0:09     One of them was money. They monopolized all the jobs.

0:15     For example, the oil industry. If you work in oil, you can’t make any profits.

0:23     ABU SAID

Former ISIS Commander

They squeezed the industry so there was nothing left—no profits.

0:29     A lot of Syrians considered joining [ISIS] to get a salary and two food rations per


0:39     They’ll pay US $100 to $150 [per month].

0:44     That’s about 50,000 Syrian [lira]. That’s a large amount of money in Syria.

0:51     And food boxes and clothing and other essentials [are provided for joining ISIS].

0:57     About 30 percent of recruits join for psychological reasons

1:03     and the rest of the local recruits, not the foreign fighters, joined for financial reasons.

1:14     As for ISIS taking over an area, they confiscate everything.

1:23     For example—wheat. ISIS found silos full of wheat and took them over.

1:38     Every day, the price of bread would rise.

1:43     Why? Because they’d sell wheat to the [Syrian] regime,

1:46    while telling the people that more will come and that more is being stored for the next year.

1:49     But the next year, ISIS is not going to be ableto provide seeds.

1:54     If you want to farm and harvest, you must have a plan.

2:00     You have to provide farmers with seeds, salaries, and fertilizers,

2:05     but ISIS is notproviding these things and still expecting farmers to have crops.

2:10     That’s impossible.

2:13     When they’d take control of an area, they would take everything. See logo at 2:17 left corner

2:19     They would take wheat and block the area until there were no more jobs.

2:25     Even if the bread was cheap, if you can’t find work then you can’t buy any bread.

2:32     A tank of cooking fuel is U.S. $35for an ordinary citizen.

2:37     Where would you get U.S. $35?

2:40     A kerosene tank is usually [provided] for ISIS members,

2:44     but once a year they would sell them to the locals for 1000 [Syrian] lira.

2:49     Meanwhile, ISIS members would get two tanks every month.

2:50     Because of that, locals started noticing that ISIS members are living inluxury

3:05     while the locals are living in hell.

3:11     The Truth Behind the Islamic State

3:14     Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

3:20     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: and on the ICSVE website  Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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