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The People Live in Darkness

Anne Speckhard

The People Live in Darknessis the 66th counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brandseries. This video features 22-year-old Abu Valid, a Syrian defected ISIS fighter. Abu Valid was interviewed in December of 2015, in Southern Turkey by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet Yayla. The video was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and ICSVE staff. 

When the Syrian uprising occurred, Abu Valid, like many other Sunni Syrians, joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA). He was later captured and tortured by ISIS, and, as he claims, forced under the threat of death to join and serve them. 

In this video, Abu Valid details how ISIS would send captured fighters, such as himself, to the frontlines in Iraq to either prove themselves as loyal to ISIS or die. He explains, “Those who fight them or know anything [bad] about them, they deport them to Iraq [to fight for ISIS and to almost certain death].”Once in Iraq, ISIS would also move the fighters around from place to place, to minimize the possibility of making contact with any enemies of ISIS or create a following against ISIS. 

Abu Valid recounts, as other defectors have told ICSVE researchers, how ISIS would also pressure those they didn’t trust to act as suicide bombers. According to Abu Valid, they would tell those selected for suicide missions, “Allah chose you.”  Similarly, they tried to motivate those sent to die fighting in Iraq by telling them that the Shia were butchering their Sunni Iraqi brothers with knives and that their brothers in Ramadi were seeking ISIS help.

Abu Valid states that he was unaware of how abusive ISIS really was until he was taken to Raqqa, at which point he saw with his own eyes how both foreign fighters and locals were being mistreated by ISIS leaders. He notes that the local Syrians were treated the worst.

Abu Valid managed to defect from ISIS and escape into Turkey. He now warns and advises youth in Europe in particular not to join.  “Why would people, Syrians or Iraqis, flee [from ISIS] to Europe?” he wonders.  He sums up his answer by saying, “They should ask themselves those questions and they will find out that it is better for them not to join [ISIS].”

Discussion Questions:

What do you feel watching this video?

Do you believe that Abu Valid is telling the truth about his experiences in ISIS?

What do you think of ISIS sending those who they don’t trust or want to get rid of to the front lines?

What do you think of ISIS telling those they chose for “martyrdom” missions that “Allah chose you.”

Do you believe that the flow of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing ISIS areas is indicative of whether ISIS rule was good or not?

Islamic Scriptures Related to this Video:

Alleging that you or your government implements shariahlaw does not make it so unless this same governance is also viewed and experienced as legitimate by the people who are living under it. Ali bi Abi Talib, the Prophet’s (PBUH) cousin and son-in-law, said: “Right is not recognized by men, know the right then you would know who its bearers are”. By this he meant that Allah has revealed his law and what he commanded is recorded in the Quran and Sunna of the Prophet (PBUH) for all to read and see.  It’s is not men, but Allah who decrees right from wrong.

The Prophet (PBUH) likewise told his followers: “”I have left two matters with you. As long as you hold to them, you will not go the wrong way. They are the Book of Allah and the Sunna of His Prophet.” This means that when in doubt, we should compare what is going on in the here-and-now to what is in the Quran and Sunna to decide if what is occurring now is either right or wrong. 

While ISIS, and groups like them, often hark back to the practices of the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions and they, in outward form at least try to emulate them—such as requiring hijab for women, short pants and beards for men, they miss completely the main messages of the Prophet which were about love of Allah for his creation, correct guidance to mankind to be able to flourish, and the administration of punishments that should only be meted out in a merciful manner to correct the wayward. ISIS, and groups like them, are by contrast, totalitarian in the way they govern and their leaders are power-hungry and abusive to the populations who fall under their rule. It is obvious that most ISIS practices are against Islam in general, otherwise people would never try to escape from them, as what Muslim would want to escape a true Islamic State governed with mercy and love?

In Iraq, we watched innocent people in Mosul who were imprisoned in their own homes and left to death, parents too afraid to send their children to ISIS schools, and women fearing rape and forced marriage to ISIS strangers. There, with no food, nor basic needs being met, and when anyone tries to escape they would be under ISIS’s snipers bullets or caught and imprisoned, tortured and executed! Not even a fool could claim that this is Islam as the Prophet (PBUH) revealed it to mankind.

Timed transcript of The People Live in Darkness video:

0:01     In Iraq, [ISIS soldiers] would not be able to stay for more than 15 days in the same place.

0:05     It’s not that the person can’t handle it, but the organization [ISIS] will not let him stay.

0:09     ABU VALID 

Former ISIS Soldier

0:09     Every 15 days they would transfer [the fighters] 

0:10     so they wouldn’t meet any guys from sleeper cells [working against ISIS] 

0:14     or preach to guys who are ignorant of [ISIS’s] wrongfulness. 

0:19     [They send him] from one place to another, until he gets killed. 

0:23     They would tell him, ‘Allah chose you,’ and try to make him carry out a martyrdom operation. 

0:28     So we knew how they sent [ISIS] fighters from Syria to the frontlines in Iraq [to fight and die]. 

0:35     There were battles in Iraq. 

0:39     They told us that we should go help our brothers in Ramadi. ‘They seek your help.’ 

0:47     The Shia are slaughtering Sunni with knives.’ That was their perspective. 

0:52     Abu Valid is a Syrian who was captured by ISIS from the Free Syrian Army. He claims he was tortured and threatened with death unless he joined ISIS.

0:58     At that point, when I was in Syria, I didn’t know about the things [done by ISIS]. 

1:01     I didn’t know those things about ISIS, until I was taken to Raqqa. 

1:06     It appeared to me that those people [under ISIS control] live in complete darkness,

1:11     and they treat the [foreign fighters] the same way. 

1:12     But the [local Syrian ISIS members] are treated worse than the foreigners.

1:18     As a fighter who ISIS was willing to sacrifice, Abu Valid got sent by ISIS leadership to the front lines in Iraq.

1:24 [ISIS leader] Abdulrahman had asked us to prepare ourselves to leave to Iraq.

1:28     I was going towards the garage [where I worked] and I accepted my fate, to be sent to Iraq.

1:31     They take us. They exile us. They take us to the most dangerous frontlines. 

1:38     They wanted to deport us to Iraq. They sent us to those people. 

1:42     It was like what happened to the people 

1:45     of Deir ez-Zor and Sheil and Sheitat [who were forced to fight in Iraq]. 

1:47     Those who fight them or know anything [bad] about them, 

1:49     they deport them to Iraq [to fight for ISIS and to almost certain death]. 

1:51     I address the young Muslim men in Europe. My message for them is:

1:58     If any person would like to migrate to the so-called ‘Caliphate’ of the Islamic State, 

2:05     they should ask themselves first, 

2:11     ‘Why would people, Syrians or Iraqis, flee [from ISIS] to Europe?’ 

2:19     They should ask themselves those questions

2:21     and they will find out that it is better for them not to join [ISIS].

2:29     The Truth Behind the Islamic State

2:32     Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

2:37     See more at   

About the authors:

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=101) 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 expert 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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