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The Real Jihad

The Real Jihad  features 25-year-old Abu Hamza, a Syrian from Deir ez-Zor interviewed in 2016 in Turkey by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet S. Yayla. The video was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and ICSVE staff.

Abu Hamza originally joined the uprising against Syrian Bashar al Assad and fought for the Free Syrian Army, but later joined ISIS when they emerged in 2013, believing they would set up a true Islamic State.

Abu Hamza was deeply disappointed however. In this video clip, Abu Hamza tells how ISIS indiscriminately slaughtered, even mass murdered, other Sunni Muslims and also sold the belongings of those they captured and killed.

According to Abu Hamza, captives of battle were beheaded. Abu Hamza shares his distress having to assist when a Sunni Muslim from his village with a reputation as a true believer was accused of being with the Free Syrian Army. When ISIS set out to behead him, it seems he would not die no matter what was done to him.

Abu Hamza tells how his conscience was affected by these things and he reminds the viewer, that Islam teaches that “one should teach ten Muslims to read and write, then let them go.” He also warns that “ISIS will brainwash you with houri[virgins in Paradise], Islam, Paradise,” but then “want to behead a Sunni or someone else in front of you.” 

Timed transcript of The Real Jihad video:

00:00  When [ISIS] first appeared, it looked like they followed Allah’s laws [and] Islam.

00.07  It was a real jihad, a real fight.

00:10  I wanted to fight in battles for ISIS and I did. I participated in battles.

00:17  Then I started seeing the negative side of it.

00:18  ABU HAMZA

Former ISIS Soldier

00:25  The number [of killed] was huge. Many people died during the battle [against Sunni al-Sheitaat].

00:31  They were lying all over the streets.

00:31  We captured the younger people.

00:37 First, [ISIS] told us that those people are murtadeen [apostates].

00:41  Personally, I wasn’t convinced, but I can’t say anything.

0:45    We raided the area and took the murtadeen.

0:49    [There were] about 25-30 people.

0:51    [ISIS] took them to court. They judged them.

0:54    They beheaded them.

0:55    The ones who were beheaded, [ISIS] took their belongings

1:00    and sold it in an auction.

1:05    The ones who left, they took their homes, their cows and their lands.

1:10    Everything.

1:12    For the battle of Tadmor, we went to Tadmor. The [Syrian] regime was there, of course.

1:17    We raided, but no one was there.

1:20    There were a few soldiers there.

1:23    When we were about to shoot them, they told us that they were civilians

1:27    and that they had nothing to do with [the war].

1:31    They took them directly to behead them and to spray them with bullets.

1:38    ISIS leaders called Abu Hamza to punish someone who he knew from his village.

1:45    I knew him from before the revolution.

1:47    He is very religious. He prays and fasts

1:54    and he lectures at the mosque.

1:57    He is honest, trustworthy. He fasts. He is a Sunni.

2:02    We got informationthat he was [alleged to be] a secret agent working for theFree Syrian Army.

2:14    If someone says anything [against ISIS], they would behead him.

2:18    They brought him.

2:21    We formed a circle and blocked people from getting close.

2:26    We closed the whole street. They brought a piece of wood to cut his head.

2:34    [The executioner] took out the sword to behead him.

2:40    [But] the guy turned his head away, one time and then again.

2:44    Then another ISIS guy took him by the hair and kept it secure.

2:50    He took his sword and hit him with his sword. The sword’s handle broke.

3:03    [Finally] the guy dropped.

3:05    He fell on the floor and started to flail around.

3:08    A guy with us came forward.

3:13    He loaded his gun to shoot him and kill him completely because he was suffering.

3:19    The executioner said, ‘No.’

3:20    He took his sword again and tried to cut they guy’s head off, but it didn’t work.

3:27    He then went to his car. In front of everyone, he got a knife and beheaded him

3:35    I was affected by this.

3:41    [When I saw beheadings], my conscience [said] ‘This is not Islamic.’

3:45    The Messenger (Peace be upon Him) says about prisoners that

3:49    one should teach ten Muslims to read and write, then let them go.

3:56    ISIS will brainwash you with houri[virgins in Paradise], Islam, Paradise.

4:04    Then they want to behead a Sunni or someone else in front of you.

4:14    The Truth Behind the Islamic State

4:17    Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

4:23    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=78) 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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