Almost 60 Islamic State defectors have spoken out against the caliphate and Western governments should do more to incentivise former fighters to speak out, according to a new report by the International Center for the Study for Radicalization.
According to the New York Times, about 20,000 foreigners have joined jihadist groups in the Middle East over the last two years. About a quarter of those are Europeans, and it is estimated that between 25% and 40% have gone back to Europe.
The new report says that most of the defectors have gone into hiding to escape reprisal from ISIS but also to avoid imprisonment in the countries to which they are returning. According to the report, 58 defectors from Europe and Australia have now publicly spoken about their experience.
In the reasons listed as to why they became disenchanted with the jihadist group, most defectors mention the violence toward other Muslims. Two defectors who left after finding out they had been selected to be suicide bombers told the BBC that the “brutality of IS terrifies everyone,” referring to ISIS (aka Islamic State, IS, ISIL, and Daesh).
A Syrian man who had initially joined a rebel group fighting the Assad regime joined ISIS when his whole tribe pledged allegiance. He told the BBC that the first stage of the ISIS indoctrination was a course on the Sharia.
“Not the principles of Islam, the principles of the Islamic State,” the man said. “So they teach you the Islam they want.”
He said ISIS tactics boiled down to this: “If you’re against me, then you’ll be killed. If you’re with me, you work with me. You submit to my will and obey me, under my power in all matters.”
Another Western man, Abu Ibrahim, travelled to Syria to join ISIS after converting to Islam. He claims he went there to give humanitarian assistance to Syrians and because he wanted to live under strict Islamic law. He spent six months living in the caliphate.
Ibrahim says he saw crucifixions and the stoning to death of a couple convicted of adultery, he told CBS news.
“There were many hundreds of people there who observed. While seeing someone die is not something anyone would probably want to see, having the actual Sharia established is what many Muslims look forward to.”
He also told CBS news that he did not find the methods medieval.
“It’s harsh, it’s real but it’s the Sharia,” he said.
Eventually though he grew disillusioned with the group because he did not approve of the killing of non-combatants such as aid workers and journalists. But he also said that his main reason for leaving was that he was not doing what he had come to do: give Syrians humanitarian help.
“It had become something else — so, therefore, no longer justified me being away from my family,” Ibrahim told CBS news.
Many defectors just got bored with what they saw as favoritism by commanders toward some fighters, and felt that the life of a jihadi was less exciting than what they had seen in the propaganda videos. Others, who joined because of the promise of luxury items, cars or having their debt paid off, came back as it got clearer that those were empty promises, the AFP reports.
The reports also lists the reasons why people joined the group in the first place, the most common one being the horrors committed by Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
The reports also urges governments to protect ISIS defectors in a bid to incentive them to speak out as reports of their experience could be used as a “potentially powerful tool in the fight against it. The defectors’ very existence shatters the image of unity and determination that ISIS seeks to convey,” the report says.
According the Peter Neumann, the director of the center and professor of security studies at King’s College,a lot of people are becoming more confident in speaking out against the caliphate as ISIS’ “shininess is wearing off, and it’s starting to look less impressive.”
The report acknowledges that many of the defectors may have committed crimes but it also said that governments should “remove legal disincentives” that deter defectors from going public and should try to resettle them rather than imprison them.
The full study is expected to be published on Monday.
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