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You Must Join the Islamic State

You Must Join the Islamic State features 31-year-old Iraqi Abu Latif. He was interviewed in 2017 in an Iraqi prison in Baghdad, Iraq, by Anne Speckhard. The video clip was video edited and produced by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team.

We often hear how recruitment into terrorism can be a highly social phenomenon, with brothers or siblings often joining the forces to enlist into a terrorist group. They often do so to express solidarity or a sense of shared purpose and identity. Fraternal ties, or familial connection to jihad, are common in Iraq, where militant jihadist groups have been active for decades. Abu Latif’s story follows the same pattern. His brothers have been involved in violence since the emergence of al-Qaeda in Iraq, with one of them ending up killed in 2007.

Prior to joining ISIS, Abu Latif worked as a construction worker. Influenced by a co-worker, he based his decision to join ISIS on religious justifications. “It’s a matter of heaven or hell,” he was told. He was also led by promises of good payment, though he claimed he never received anything from ISIS.

Like many Iraqis and Syrian, Abu Latif was pleased with ISIS in its first moments as they were standing up for Sunni rights. Arrested soon after joining he claims he was unaware of ISIS’ violence against local populations at the time he joined which may be true given ISIS was restrained in their atrocities until after they become well established..In prison, Abu Latif cites bombings and indiscriminate violence against women and children as being wrong and un-Islamic.

His message is important in light of ISIS having increasingly turned to indiscriminate terror attacks, primarily against women and children—as in their recent attack against the Druze in Syria, as a means of gaining attention, trading territories and personnel, and attracting new recruits. This trend is likely to continue as the group loses more territory and members.

In prison, Abu Latif warns not to join the Islamic State. He further states, “But if you join ISIS, your destiny is either death of prison.” Since landing in prison, he is worried about the well-being of his wife and two children.

Discussion Questions:

What do you feel watching this video?

Do you believe Abu Latif is who he says he is?

Do you believe that having a close family member already involved in terrorism, such as in Abu Latif’s case, can serve as a predictor of an individual becoming involved in violence or violent extremism? If so, why?

ISIS only began its extreme atrocities against local populations after establishing itself. If not arrested do you think Abu Latif would have stayed in given the violence ISIS carried out against locals?

How powerful is Abu Latif’s message in countering ISIS’ propaganda effort to justify the slaughter of women and children (e.g. Coptic Church attack in the Nile Delta City of Tanta, against Druze in Sweida) as it struggles to retain territory and power?

Timed transcript of You Must Join the Islamic State video:

You Must Join the Islamic State

0:01 There was a guy who used to work with me.

0:04 His name was Hamid.

0:05 He kept talking with me.

0:07 You must join [ISIS].

0:08 It’s a matter of heaven and hell.

0:10 I joined them out of the creed.

0:13 [I joined] in Ramadi.

0:14 I already have brothers who were in the

organization [al Qaeda].

0:17 One [of my brothers] was killed in 2007.

0:19 He was killed by al-Anbar rebels.

0:21 I have 3 brothers.

0:24 One is in prison and one was killed,

0:25 and the last one is still out there. I don’t know

whether he’s dead or alive.

0:28 [Back then] nobody called them Qaeda. They were

just called jihadists.

0:31 [That] was in Zarqawi’s time [2004-2006].

0:32 [In regard to the Islamic State, Hamid was saying]

that people must join them, so they invite people.

0:38 When I joined ISIS, I was in an area controlled by

the organization.

0:43 [I became] a military fighter.


Iraqi – Age 31

Former ISIS Fighter

I was born in 1987.

0:49 I dropped out of school after the 4th grade.

0:51 [I can read and write] but I’m not good at it.

0:53 Before ISIS came, I was a construction worker,

working with concrete.

0:57 [When I joined] they said they were going to give

everyone two or three hundred dollars,

1:01 but I didn’t get anything [from them].

1:04 [I gave my bayat, or pledge of allegiance] in

Ramadi to a guy named Abu Khadija.

1:06 He told me that in order to stay here in this area,

1:09 neither the security forces nor anything can get in


1:12 You must remain in control [of the area].

1:13 [I was provided with] a machine gun.

1:14 We didn’t participate in any battles,

1:18 [but] we shot rockets at al-Anbar province


1:22 [We fired] mortars, and we set some booby-traps

in the [area].

1:26 At the beginning, she [my wife] didn’t [know I had

joined ISIS].

1:28 As you know, she’s a woman, and when you tell

her, it’s difficult.

1:32 Not every wife accepts this. Some do, some


1:35 Our area was full of Ablu Mahal [an Iraqi tribe],

1:38 so there were old feuds.

1:40 It was like I wanted to take revenge on them.

1:43 In the beginning, Abu Latif liked that ISIS was

standing up for Sunni rights and didn’t yet witness

their violence against local populations.

1:56 I was captured in Ramadi.

1:58 I was captured in the beginning.

2:01 I wasn’t that long with ISIS.

2:05 At the time of arrest, I knew nothing [about ISIS’s


2:09 Abu Latif admits that some of ISIS’s actions are


2:15 He who sets [a bomb] is held accountable for it [by Allah].

2:20 Surely, he who sets it is held accountable.

2:22 Of course they are wrong [when they kill women

and children].

2:25 [ISIS] are Muslims, but as I have told you,

2:27 some do kill children.

2:28 Children have no business with this.

2:30 He who kills children is held accountable for it.

2:32 A child is innocent.

2:34 He who rapes women—in Islam, there’s no rape.

2:38 There are people who claim to be Muslims, yet do


2:41 That is not right.

2:46 Since landing in prison, Abu Latif remains

concerned about the well-being of his wife and


2:58 I pray that Allah sets me free.

3:00 I have 2 [children], a boy and a girl, 6 and 7 years


3:05 I don’t know, when I was captured, they were in

Heet [a city in Anbar].

3:09 Abu Latif says that families in Iraq have been

divided by the rise of groups like ISIS and that

once you join ISIS, you cannot leave.

3:20 In Iraq there are brothers,

3:24 one is a policeman,

3:25 and the other is with ISIS.

3:28 [If a person in ISIS tries to quit] they would kill


3:30 When you give them your bayat [pledge of fealty]

it’s done. You’re one of them.

3:34 They think, if he [an ISIS member] escapes, he

knows us [we’ll be identified].

3:37 He will [help the authorities] capture this one and

that one.

3:39 As the Egyptian proverb goes:

3:42 Every man has a brain in his head. Thus he knows

his salvation.

3:43 [Yet] there are those who keep nagging you to


3:48 and others who are like, it’s up to you if you want

to join.

3:52 It is up to you.

3:54 [But, if you join ISIS] your destiny is either death

or prison.

3:57 The Truth Behind the Islamic State

4:01 Sponsored by the International Center for the

Study of Violent Extremism

4:06 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=94) 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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