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Walking the Path of the Islamic State Caliphate

Walking the Path of the Islamic State Caliphate is the 162nd counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand series. This video features 18-year-old Iraqi Abu Nasser, who was interviewed by Anne Speckhard in April of 2019. The video clip was video edited and produced by our ICSVE team.

In this video, Iraqi Abu Nasser describes how ISIS came into his area in Fallujah and he was displaced repeatedly as a result, interrupting his schooling and causing economic disaster to his family. Abu Nasser ultimately joined the ISIS Cubs of the Caliphate training camp out of hunger and desperation but stayed only 40 days with them. He expresses his dismay at hurting his family emotionally and financially, first to join ISIS and then again when he was arrested.

Abu Nasser grew up as one of seven children in Fallujah. Although his family was poor and farmed on rented land, he recalls that they were happy until 2014, when they were displaced due to the invasion of ISIS and Iraqi military bombings. As a result of this displacement, the family had to abandon their livestock and Abu Nasser dropped out of school in sixth grade.

Abu Nasser’s first exposure to ISIS left a negative impression: “They were wearing black, [driving their] pickups [and] they were carrying flags. I was 13-years-old, and I was afraid.” This fear was amplified when ISIS arrested Abu Nasser’s father for selling cigarettes. They viciously beat him and demanded ransom for his release, money that Abu Nasser’s family collected from various relatives. Abu Nasser’s father was released in bad shape with marks of abuse evident on his body.

Nevertheless, Abu Nasser eventually joined the Cubs of the Caliphate. “There was no food [when we were] under siege. Everyone was thinking about living,” he explains. Abu Nasser’s friend told him that if they went to train with the Islamic State, ISIS would give him money. For 30 days, Abu Nasser’s training consisted of running, pushups, crawling, learning how to use an AK47, and learning the ISIS version of shariah. During this shariah training, Abu Nasser was taught that “he who dies in Allah’s way [goes to Paradise] and that this is the path of jihad.” After training, due to his age, Abu Nasser claims that he was placed in a guesthouse to work as a cleaner versus being sent out to fight, or like many youth—trained to be a suicide bomber.

Like many Iraqis living under ISIS, Abu Nasser liked them at first, but things changed as he got to know their ways. “In the beginning, [I considered them good Muslims], but after that, I can’t say that this is Islam, because they prohibited most things as they wished. Cigarettes for example, they forced you to quit [smoking]. They forced you to pray, [whereas there is no compulsion in Islam].”

Abu Nasser returned home after 40 days with ISIS to bring his family the money he had earned. His family was upset and afraid for him, so he escaped the area with the help of his father. The harrowing escape consisted of crossing a river with thousands of other Iraqis fleeing in canoes at 3:30 in the morning as ISIS members shot at them. He recalls that “A lot of families drowned.”

Three years later, Abu Nasser was arrested. He describes the emotional toll his arrest took on his mother: “She was just crying, and holding me. She kept holding my hand to prevent them [from taking me].” Abu Nasser’s brother was arrested as well, and because his father is in such poor condition, his family is destitute with no one to work.

Abu Nasser was still in processing at the time of his interview. He hopes that he will be sentenced as a juvenile but could also receive a death sentence, which is common for Iraqi ISIS cadres. Abu Nasser offers words of caution to those who might go down the same path he did. He is languishing in prison and cannot see his family. He warns other youth that they are “still in the beginning of [their] lives” and that even if they are simply trying to help their families they will get hurt. He states that ISIS does not truly practice Islam because of their arbitrary rules and urges other youth to heed his words: “Those who walk this path will end up just like me.”

Discussion Questions:

How did you feel watching this video?

What do you think about Abu Nasser’s father’s punishment for selling cigarettes? Do you think it was just?

How do you feel about Abu Nasser’s family being so desperate for food that he felt the need to join ISIS?

Do you believe Abu Nasser’s depiction of training in the Cubs of the Caliphate?

What do you think about the shariah training that Abu Nasser was given?

Why do you think that ISIS was teaching children about “dying in Allah’s way”?

How do you think Abu Nasser’s parents felt when they learned he had joined ISIS?

How do you think Abu Nasser felt when he was arrested three years after escaping?

How do you think Abu Nasser’s family feels now that he is in prison?

What are some of the lessons that other children and teenagers can take away from Abu Nasser’s experience?

Islamic Scriptures Related to this Video

Poverty is not a good justification to join terrorist groups like ISIS. The Quran says: “If you fear poverty, Allah, if He wills, will enrich you through His bounty. He is Knowing, Wise.” Surah al-Tawba (repentance), Ayah No. 28. Terrorist groups are hijacking true Islamic principles and manipulate them for their benefits, like brainwashing new recruits in their false and brutalized version of Islam, enticing youth with monetary benefits, taking advantage of poverty and hunger, and taking ransom money to release innocent civilians, which is not different from what a gang of thugs would do. The Quran says clearly: “Do not consume your wealth between you in falsehood; neither propose it to judges, in order that you sinfully consume a portion of the people’s wealth, while you know.” Surah al-Baqarah (the cow), Ayah No. 188. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Avoid jealousy between yourselves, do not outbid one another (with a view to raising the price), do not harbor hatred against one another, do not bear enmity against one another, one of you should not enter into a transaction when the other has already entered into it; and be fellow brothers and slaves of Allah. A Muslim is a Muslim’s brother. He does not wrong, desert or despise him. Piety is found here (pointing three times to his chest), despising his Muslim brother is enough evil for any man to do. Every Muslim’s blood, property and honor are unlawful to be violated by another Muslim.” Sahih Muslim, Hadith No. 2564. If ISIS were a true Islamic State they would not need to manipulate youth to join them—their virtues would speak for themselves. Likewise, truly good Muslims would offer to feed hungry youth without subjecting them to violent ideologies and requiring them to become fighters just to be fed.

Transcript of Walking the Path of the Islamic State Caliphate

Walking the Path of the Islamic State Caliphate

I got out of the mosque [and my friend] asked me if I wanted to go train with him.

He just came and told me let’s go. He wasn’t with the Islamic State.

He told me that they will give you money. He said that they will give you 100K IQD [about $80].

I was excited to bring money to my family.

[So,] I said yes I would go.

I don’t know where it was, somewhere in Fallujah.

We kept training for about 30 days.

We did running, pushups and crawling.

They also trained us on how to use the

AK47, but they didn’t let us fire it.

[In shariah training] we mostly read verses from

the Quran and they gave us things to memorize.

They told me that he who dies in Allah’s way

[goes to Paradise] and that this is the path of jihad.

After we finished that month, they

distributed us to work in their guesthouses.

Because I was young, they put me in a guesthouse,

just to clean it and wash it, and

they gave me 100K IQD [about $80].

Abu Nasser

18 years-old Iraqi

ISIS Cub of the Caliphate

[In our family,] we are 3 boys

and 4 girls. I’m the middle one.

[My father] planted potatoes, tomatoes,

watermelons and melons [on rented land].

Our income wasn’t good

[and we were hungry sometimes.] [My mother] used to work with us. We had

cows, and she used to bring grass for them.

I used to work with my father. [We] were a

happy family before the events [with ISIS].

We lived near the Japanese bridge [in Fallujah].

[In 2014 we ran away], because there

was bombardment from both sides.

We abandoned our livestock,

12 big cows, and 5 small cows.

[I was in the] 6th grade when we were displaced.

We kept getting displaced from one area

to another, so I didn’t study [anymore].

[I first saw ISIS soldiers] when we moved to Zawba’.

They were wearing black, [driving their]

pickups [and] they were carrying flags.

I was 13-years-old, and I was

afraid. My father hated them.

They took my father [in 2015]

because he was selling cigarettes.

We didn’t know where he was.

After a while, they told us that you have

to pay 500K IQD fine for us to let him out.

They said that if you don’t have

[the money] he will stay in prison.

Then, they brought him in the

afternoon near the mosque.

They said that if you pay 500K IQD we will rebuke

him [beat him with a stick] and let him go.

We borrowed the money from my

uncles and relatives and gave it to them.

They flogged him near the mosque

and then they let him go.

[After this, my father] was sick and in bad shape.

[He had] red and blue marks on his body.

[When he came home, he] said they beat and

kicked him and that this went on for 8 days.

There was no food [when we were] under

siege. Everyone was thinking about living.

TEXT: Abu Nasser joined the Cubs of the Caliphate training camp because his family needed money to live.

When I returned home [from working at the ISIS

guesthouse, my father] was very upset with me.

because I went and didn’t tell him.

He told me not to walk this path. ‘You

don’t know where this path might lead you.’

My mother started crying and told me

not to return. She was afraid for me.

I stayed with ISIS for 40 days, and then I quit.

In the beginning, [I considered them good Muslims],

but after that, I can’t say that this is Islam, because

they prohibited most things as they wished.

Cigarettes for example, they

forced you to quit [smoking].

They forced you to pray, [whereas

there is no compulsion in Islam].

My father helped me escape. By the help of the

police commander of Al Faris [police station].

We sneaked [out of the camp]

and crossed the river at 3:30am.

There were a lot of families, thousands,

who crossed [the river] using canoes.

ISIS started shooting the canoes

and making holes in them.

A lot of families drowned.

[I was arrested three years later]

in Al Amiriyah camp [in 2018].

[When they arrested me, my mother] started

crying, [but] she couldn’t do anything.

She was just crying, and holding me. She kept

holding my hand to prevent them [from taking me].

Me, and my brother, who is also here

[in prison], we used to work for the family.

When they arrested us, there was no one else

to work as [my father] is in poor condition.

I’m not sentenced yet.

[I know that] I have to be punished for this

[but] I expect to get the verdict of a juvenile.

You get bored,

sometimes some people start having

psychological issues because of boredom.

You can’t go walking, or do [anything], just sitting.

You can’t live in prison. One must have his freedom.

I fear that I might get sentenced and stay here longer.

[My advice to others is:] it’s best to stay away

from this. I was involved and I feel regret.

Even if others want to help their families

[by walking] this path, they will be hurt.

The government doesn’t differentiate whether

this was to help their families or not.

This [prison,] is its retribution, because

they were fighting the government.

A lot of guys died because they

were against the government.

I don’t want others to get involved in this path

like I did. I can’t see my parents nor my brothers.

I was denied to see my family.

I advise everyone not to get involved in this path.

We are still 13 and 14-years-old. We’re still in the

beginning of our lives and we are denied everything.

Those who walk this path will end up just like me.

This path leads to this. [This is] its punishment.

About the author:

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=169) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the 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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