ISIS Operative Salah Abdeslam: A Not so True-Believer Terrorist

 

salah-abdeslam-composite copy

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. & Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.

A key member of the ISIS cell and only survivor of nine cadres who are believed to have been directly involved in the Paris attacks was caught alive this past week through a police operation in Molenbeek, Belgium.

When we look at the past of Abdeslam, we can see that his traits fit closely to other terrorist profiles with the exception of the ideological part of the pattern. Terrorist are usually made from four main elements, one which is a group of dedicated people, second the social support they enjoy; third their ideology; and fourth the individual motivations and vulnerabilities that resonate to the first three. Although in actual practice not all of these elements are always present. From time to time we see a lone actor who creates his own ideology and manages to equip and carry out his terrorist act(s) independent of any group. Similarly ideology is not always adopted by everyone in a terrorist group—members may be more motivated on the individual level by physical and monetary gains similar to members of an organized crime group or by other ties and loyalties that for him are stronger than the ideology and bind him in other ways to the actions of the group. Salah Abdeslam appears to us to be one of these.

From the point of view of the terrorist group’s goals, the first and most important factor of recruiting new members to become terrorists is having them become true believers of the terrorist ideology—convinced in the justification for and willing to carry out violence to help win the political goals the group is aiming for. Hence, almost all terrorist organizations have their new members go through a serious ideological training processes, although with the advent of suicide terrorism this ideological training is not always necessary. If a future cadre can be motivated in a short time to carry out a suicide mission the depth of commitment need not be to the group, but to the act itself, since if organized well and carried out to completion it will end in the terrorist’s death and result in maintaining the group’s security while scoring one more for their side. In groups where members will continue to live and interact with one another ideological commitment ensures loyalty, security and longevity for the group.

In terrorist organizations using highjacked and distorted Islamic scriptures to justify their causes, this process is usually called shariah training and lasts around a month of dedicated training and continues as the newly recruited member start to serve as a member of that terrorist group. We confirmed this process through our ISIS Defectors Interview Project, with the exception of one experienced and senior former Al-Qaeda-related terrorist (from Jabhat al-Nusra), all of the ISIS members we interviewed went through such ideological training processes. Furthermore, ideological training alone is not enough for ISIS, as the participants are harshly expected to apply and practice what they are taught in their daily lives and other members and sheiks closely observe if the members of the groups are practicing the teachings of that terrorist organization. This is also true for the leftist terrorist organizations. For example, the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) members went through ideological trainings using different books and indoctrinations. Similarly, the DHKP/C (a Turkish leftist terrorist organization recognized in the list of the U.S. State Department Foreign Terrorist Organizations) requires its members to read at least four hundred pages of its Marxist-Leninist literature a day and take notes and make summaries to ensure that the members are well indoctrinated and become true and practicing believers of its ideology during their training process. Indeed they do, and in this latter case we, in Turkey, have found the DHKP/C members extremely loyal to their groups and difficult to break down during interrogation.

Abdeslam’s case, reflects a different trend we begin to see with groups organizing suicide terrorism, and may reflect also a rising phenomenon we will start to see with ISIS, especially with its Western operatives. Abdeslam was a drug user, and along with his brother, was running a bar. First viewing his picture, it did not seem that he could not be a true ISIS operative, as his face and expressions did not quite reflect a true ideological believer. Later after studying his life, we realized that he was not fully indoctrinated and had not became a true practicing believer of the ISIS ideology which requires he practice at the most basic, a form of conservative Salafi Islam, which he was not living.

Most probably Abdeslam rather joined ISIS through his brother who killed himself as a suicide bomber during the Paris attacks, or through the some of the other members of his Belgian cell simply because he was very close friends with them, emotionally tied, angry at local grievances in Belgium and geopolitics and was drawn in by their invitations. In this case, trust issues become an all important factor. We can easily assume that the cell trusted Abdeslam most likely through his brother, although he too was not living a conservative Salafi Islamic life. The two brothers may however have truly hated the West, if they—like many Belgians of Moroccan descent have felt blocked from their true potentials; underemployed and sequestered in Molenbeek—versus accepted into mainstream society. If the brothers were not true believers in the Salafi lifestyle, but vehemently hated, it might have been enough to trust them—especially given that the plan was for them to die anyway, resulting in none of them later being able to speak out about the others (Salah’s suicide vest, it appears was found later on, and he did not ignite his vest—and is now admitting this was by choice).

We can make a few assumptions in this situation. First of all, as a rule of thumb, the Belgian cell of ISIS acted at utmost security and applied the rules of clandestine cell operations. Therefore, they should have been very careful in recruiting members for the attack and approached only the people they knew very closely and whom they could trust, even if they were not ideologically committed to Salafi Islam and as ISIS takes it—even Takfiri Islamic practices. Secondly, they were out of options in terms of finding new recruits and they had to settle with someone like Abdeslam who was not a practicing Salafist.

This second option is highly unlikely because it is a well-known fact that there is no shortage of Salafists in Europe, especially in Molenbeek. Therefore, this cell appears to have not wanted to find new recruits, maybe for two reasons. The first is they did not want to risk their operations simply because any new member might mean a security breach—with moles planted everywhere, there is always a risk. Also, recruiting a new member takes too much time. The second is most probably Abdeslam’s case. He was already around the people in the Belgian cell and they knew him from the past and had close friendship and even family ties with him. Presumably, they offered him to become a “martyr” and cleanse his past sins through the Paris attacks and to become a hero for ISIS while guaranteeing his life here after—based on the ISIS ideology. And they also must have played also upon any hatred and anger he had at the West for any discrimination and marginalization he felt while living in Molenbeek and for Western interventions and lack thereof (i.e. Palestinians) in Islamic countries of recent years.

This kind of recruitment has been experienced with ISIS several times. During our ISIS Defectors Interview Project, several of the interviewees mentioned about ISIS fighters whose past lives were not clean and who became ISIS members to cleanse themselves. The same appears to be true in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers—the elder may have carried out a murder of his drug-dealing friends and wanted to cleanse himself, while—similar to this case—taking his less ideologically committed brother along with him. Actually, it is a tactic of ISIS recruiters, and al-Qaeda before them, to persuade people to join the terrorist organization and commit to “martyrdom” as a way to cleanse themselves and ensure their eternal life in paradise. However, in the ideal scenario (from the terrorist group’s perspective) those members also go through extensive shariah training ensuring they leave their past lives behind. Indeed a lawyer in Belgium told me today that his Salafi clients sometimes even refuse to discuss their pasts saying they are no longer that person. In any case, when an act is going to end in suicide terrorism, the group may be willing to take less ideologically committed individuals who are fired up with hate and who will die anyway. We certainly saw this in the second intifada among Palestinians who routinely volunteered themselves for suicide missions and were at times activated within a matter of weeks with little to no ideological training.

In Abdeslam’s case, the Belgian cell members were both wrong and right. Due to their emotional ties, with this brother and the other members of the Belgian cell, Abdeslam most probably accepted their offer to take part in the Paris attacks—perhaps reveling in the euphoria of a group contemplating going out in a “blaze of glory.” Indeed some research has shown that a “high”—likely endorphin mediated—occurs upon contemplating suicide terrorism and can actually deliver a feeling of blissful peace and empowerment. We know Abdeslam liked to self-medicate so this too would likely appeal. However, since he was not well enough indoctrinated, he did not fully and ultimately commit his life for the cause of the terrorist organization and explode his suicide vest as plans called for, leaving him out there alone without the support of members of his Belgian cell. He appears to have chickened out in the face of murder and suicide.

So, what will Abdeslam do in this case? According to this lawyer, he is cooperating with the authorities as expected by the authors of this report. Terrorists have few options after their capture. Many radical terrorist organizations encourage their members to kill themselves so that they do not have to go through an interrogation process, especially in the Middle East and Russia, where they can expect fierce torture sessions. Many ISIS and al-Qaeda members in such milieu wear suicide vests at all times to ensure that they are not captured alive, and in fact try to kill their capturers along with themselves if they realize their options are coming to an end. This option has been witnessed especially with Chechens and Salafist terrorists including those who carried out the Madrid train attacks, and we have also seen them with some others, including leftist terrorist groups like the DHKP/C.

The second option is not talking at all after capture. Being completely silent is expected from ideologically true-believer terrorists, who dedicate themselves one hundred percent to the ideology and the existence of their terrorist organizations. There are many examples of this option from different backgrounds of terrorist organizations. Most of those kind of terrorists, would not answer any questions, including questions even about their names and who they are, much less give any information regarding their terrorist activities or a terrorist attack. Most of the time they would look at the ceiling of the room where they are being interviewed or interrogated, hiding their gazes from the interviewers. And they would initially resist arrest, using firearms and shooting, and if those means are not available, by fighting back through kicking and biting. Some would spit at the officers when asked what their names were and would not cooperate at all. Those kind of hardcore terrorists are very difficult to break and they would likely not talk or cooperate at all—even after a long time under interrogation and incarceration. Hence we see the soft-torture abuses carried out by frustrated interrogators in Abu Ghraib and in Guantanamo Bay.

The third option is talking but trying to mislead the investigators. Some terrorists depending on their positions in the hierarchy and what they know and try to mislead the investigators by giving false information whether it be about people or places of importance, such as cell locations and where the weapons are etc. There might be several reasons for that. The first is usually gaining and buying time by giving opportunities to the rest of the cell members to flee or clean up the evidence related with a terrorist organization or simply to make the rest of the team aware of the fact that person is taken into custody. The second option in misleading involves traps. The person in question basically misleads the authorities to a secluded area where there are booby traps in the hopes to kill more people. The third reason for misleading is to tell untrue narratives pretending to be cooperating.

The fourth option is giving away small bits of pieces of true information alongside false bits of information basically trying to draw a picture of a cooperating suspect in the eyes of the authorities but at the same time thinking ahead and getting ready for the future in prison where there is good chance he or she has to confess to other members of the terrorist organizations about what was admitted to during his or her police interviews. These types of subjects try to balance their situation by not giving up important information but rather giving already known information so that they do not risk their lives at the hands of their terrorist organizations inside of prison due to any accusations to them of betrayal and treachery. These are not imaginations by any means on the part of terrorists. In Camp Bucca in Iraq, for instance, those who were seen as traitors by the extremists had their arms or legs broken while inside the prison. Likewise with ISIS we find that cadres who get imprisoned in Syria and Iraq fear that reprisals for talking can also be carried out upon their family members who still reside in ISIS territory. Similarly Belgians of Moroccan descent living in Belgian Moroccan communities express concern about the repercussions to family that can occur from “snitching.”

The last option upon capture is cooperating with the authorities completely and giving up all the information they have regarding a terrorist organization and its activities. Terrorists opt for this option for a variety of reasons. The first is of course to get lesser sentences. The second option would be because they lost their belief and trust in their organization. The third option would come from the fear of being harmed personally or their families harmed by the terrorist organization in question either inside prison or later and a belief that authorities can and will protect them.

It looks like Abdeslam is choosing to cooperate for all of the reasons listed above. He must be thinking of getting a better sentence through his cooperation. Also, most probably, because he was not indoctrinated well enough initially and has not become a practicing true-believer he does not have any ideological commitment to help him stay the course. Instead, he gave up very easily upon arrest and decided eventually when he was in hiding, or perhaps in the heat of the actual attacks, that what he did was wrong. Of course, in this case, he would be afraid for his life and it is possible that if he is imprisoned in a common prison, ISIS will reach him there to kill him for his betrayal to the organization, or make his family members miserable. It is interesting that he was hiding out nearby to his family and they either knew he was there or he was likely very much longing to make his presence known to them.

When it comes to implications of ISIS’s using members who are not ideologically aligned with and fully committed to the terrorist groups indoctrination, it is difficult to make assumptions for the future because it makes preventing and countering terrorism more difficult for a variety of reasons. As happened with Abdeslam case, if ISIS and al-Qaeda show increasingly a patter to recruit and use members who are not necessarily ideologically committed, instead capitalizing on their anger, frustration and hate that in Europe often results from discrimination and marginalization, its recruitment angle broadens very widely. All of a sudden unexpected, and maybe not so radical youth, become the target of ISIS as new recruits, dramatically cutting the time and efforts to find new members. And if they can be convinced to carry out suicide missions their commitment only needs to be short-lived. In recent years, with the use of suicide terrorism, it appears that this is the new course that terrorists groups are taking, making the law enforcement and intelligence communities’ jobs much more difficult. Although on the down side for terrorists, cadres who they work with are less committed ideologically and may not carry out their ultimate assignment, and may much more easily talk under interrogation when picked up by police in the case of their second thoughts.

In the case of Abdeslam, if this type of recruitment was preferred because this was a one-time opportunity with the Belgian cell of ISIS and because the cell leader thought that Abdeslam would eventually die in the suicide attack anyway and they need not worry about him talking after the attack, they were not correct in their decision. The circumstances along with his family and friendship bonds might have lured Abdeslam to join the Belgian cell, however it was not enough to get the job done completely, and not for him to give up any more information regarding the ISIS structures that may exist in France and Belgium and linked back to ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Therefore, ISIS most probably will take lessons from this case. The implications for the terrorist organization might simply be ordering its foreign cadres, especially in Europe not to work with anyone who is not trustworthy one hundred percent, or simply to kill any person used in any attacks who cannot be trusted completely—to have an enforcer of sorts. Although this does not look good for ISIS in the eyes of its followers, who want to believe that self “martyrdom” is a glorious act. Or groups like ISIS may simply accept working with less ideologically committed cadres who in the short-term will commit to “martyrdom,” as long as most of them carry out their acts—and organize in ways that those who are less trustworthy do not know the actual leaders of the cells.

Furthermore, Abdeslam’s case shows once again, the opportunity for terrorist organizations like ISIS to target the West, including the United States, without moving its members to the U.S. homeland. If they can tap into the frustrations, anger and angst of disaffected youth in the West and galvanize a few close circle friends or relatives without much prior indoctrination and preparation and get them to act quickly and decisively in self-destructive and murderous acts, they have achieved part of their goals. We have seen that repeatedly played out now in Canada and also in Europe and before that in Iraq and the Palestinian second intifada. Simply, an experienced hardcore member can use different cell structures, which are not ideal in terms of required terrorist structures but readied to be used through different and most of the time emotional factors. This is greatly facilitated at present, as now, with the Internet providing the intimacy of visual and vocal communications, the dedicated hardcore member does not even have to be physically present or later discoverable, via those he is motivating into action.

In addition to the people in the Belgian cell, there were obvious mistakes as well, which lead the police to their cells. In an ideal setting of a terrorist cell, cell members should not have left any leads or evidence that would point the police to their hideouts and previous activities. Among the obvious mistakes of the ISIS cadres attacking in Paris was dumping the mobile phones they used before the attacks, very close to the areas they attacked, renting cars in their own names, not changing the plates of the cars they were driving, staying in hotels with their identities known, and not covering their faces while they were driving around, giving lots of opportunities for video recordings in and out of the cars. Abdeslam also failed to disguise himself by not changing his uniquely orange colored shoes, which was also an important factor in revealing his identity. We see in the San Bernardino case, a higher level of operational security in those actors completely destroying, drowning and locking their devices and Internet trail as best they could prior to acting—although they were likely more closely adhering to al-Qaeda Internet based training than ISIS, which has always been much more cautious.

Of course there were also obvious mistakes made by the police as well. The most important one was the fact that Abdeslam managed to flee at the initial raid in Forest. In such serious cases, it is always the rule of the thumb that all operations and investigations must be carried out as if the hardcore and armed terrorists are going to be countered—so the assumption that the house would be empty was a foolhardy one. For this, in all such investigative and operative activities, the house or the place of the subject should have been surrounded by well-armed officers and controlled the parameters of the place in question, to ensure the safety of the other officers and civilians. Every movement towards the place should be planned as if the armed terrorist would strike back as soon as the door is knocked upon. In fact, many terrorist organizations teach their cadres to shoot first if the knock at the door of a terrorist cell is coming from the police and to booby trap and plant secondary explosives which would be activated after the incidents start, or as the police enters the building, as we have seen in Chechen cells and in the Madrid train bombings. Therefore, in such operations there also needs to be precautionary measures including cutting the mobile phone signals though jammers or preventing communications of the terrorists and their triggering of explosive devices. In Abdeslam’s case, based on the news reports, we can assume that the police went to the scene as if the subject in question was a regular criminal and that the site would be empty.

The quick and lethal mobilization of disenchanted and angered youth in the West is a problem that is going to continue to haunt as long as groups like ISIS can pour gasoline upon the smoldering embers of real grievances—including discrimination, marginalization, frustrated aspirations, unemployment, and anger over geopolitics. The solutions are multi-faceted: to work both against the terrorist groups to discredit their acts and their ideologies, to dismantle them, and to address the real social issues which can decrease the level of anger in the vulnerable populations that are currently resonating to their terrorist calls.

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. is Professor and the Chair of Sociology Department at Harran University in south of Turkey by the Syrian border. Dr. Yayla is the Deputy Director of ICSVE. Dr. Yayla served as Chief of Counter-terrorism and Operations Division at the Turkish National Police. He has earned his masters and Ph.D. degrees on the subject of terrorism and radicalization at the University of North Texas. Dr. Yayla’s research mainly focuses on terrorism, sociology, dealing with terrorism without use of force, terrorist recruitment and propaganda, radicalization (including ISIS and Al Qaeda) and violence. He has mostly authored several works on the subject of terrorism. He has also been advisor to the United States Department of Homeland Security (December 2005 to April 2006) on issues of terrorism and interacting with Muslim Communities in the United States. Dr. Yayla also witnessed at the United States Congress and Senate, Homeland Security Committee and Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attacks (October 21st, 2006) on the subject of “Local Law Enforcement Preparedness for countering the threats of terrorism”.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and a nonresident Fellow of Trends. She is also the author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. Her newly released book, inspired by the true story of an American girl seduced over the Internet into ISIS is Bride of ISIS. Dr. Speckhard has interviewed nearly five hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Turkey Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com

Reference for this paper: Yayla, Ahmet S. & Speckhard, Anne (March 21, 2016) ISIS Operative Salah Abdeslam: A Not so True-Believer Terrorist. ICSVE Brief Report http://www.icsve.org/isis-operative-salah-abdeslam–a-not-so-true-believer-terrorist.html

American ISIS Defector – Mohamad Jamal Khweis & the Threat Posed by “Clean Skin” Terrorists: Unanswered Questions and Confirmations

By: Anne Speckhard & Ahmet S. Yayla

Mideast Iraq Islamic State

This image made from video posted on Twitter by a Kurdish fighter shows a man that the Kurdish military says is an American member of the Islamic State group shortly after he turned himself in to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, Monday, March 14, 2016. The circumstances of the surrender were not fully disclosed but it marked a rare instance in which an IS fighter voluntarily gave himself up to Iraqi or Kurdish forces in Iraq. (Kurdish fighter via AP)

The case of twenty-six-year-old Mohamad Jamal Khweis—the American-born son of Palestinian immigrants living in Alexandria, Virginia—found by Kurdish Peshmerga forces escaping ISIS-controlled territory near Sinjar, Iraq this past week raises many questions, as well as confirms what we have been learning in our ISIS Defectors Interviews Project over the past six months—Interviewing dozens of recently defected ISIS fighters.

That Khweis traveled to Istanbul, and was facilitated to enter Syria via the Turkish border by someone he met in Turkey, follows a common pattern according to our research. Most foreign fighters still travel to Istanbul to join ISIS and are met either in Istanbul or along the Syrian border with a facilitator. Khweis arrived in Istanbul as almost all other Westerners who joined ISIS have done.—although we do not know his precise intentions upon arrival.

We still await learning exactly what motivated him the in the first place. Khweis admitted on Kurdish television that he left the United States in December, travelled first to London, then Amsterdam and ended up in Istanbul, Turkey—where he met either an ISIS seductress or pre-arranged facilitator—or someone acting in both roles—who took him into ISIS controlled territory.

What we still need to learn: Was Mohamed Khweis’ original intent upon departing the United States, to join jihad and become an ISIS cadre—or was he seduced by this mystery woman who took him into ISIS?

In a television interview, Khweis explained that he met this young Iraqi woman, whose sister was married to an ISIS fighter, in Turkey and she invited him to travel home with her to the ISIS-controlled Iraqi city of Mosul. “We spent some time in Turkey, got to know each other. She knows somebody who could take us from Turkey to Syria, then from Syria to Mosul. I decided to go with her.” When we analyze his statements, which were made public by the Peshmerga, we can easily understand that he is clearly trying to cast doubt upon his acts and diminish his position with ISIS and basically trying to portray his story of travel to ISIS-controlled territory as a simple act of love.

That ISIS would use its female members to seduce potential members, or enticing men with the promise of marriage or sex is nothing new although using them to seduce in a face-to face interaction would be. Our ISIS defectors tell us a group of Western women go daily to a house in Raqqa to try to seduce others, via the Internet, into joining. According to news sources, over five hundred women on Twitter claim to be residents of ISIS and the ratio of men to women in the group is estimated at ten to one.

The woman Khweis met in Istanbul had most likely been promised to him as his ISIS wife and meeting him after an Internet pledge would have solidified his recruitment—particularly if they then married and consummated their union. Khweis gives no evidence that they were ever married and instead says the two were separated upon arrival to ISIS. It’s possible they met by chance—although unlikely given her brother-in-law was already fighting for ISIS and once traveling in ISIS territory together they would also have had to show a valid marriage certificate or suffer severe repercussions. Thus circumstantial evidence points to an ISIS marriage. If they had married, they still would have been separated as he claims—she going to the safety and shelter of a sisters’ house while he went for his shariah and military training. The most likely thing is their marriage was prearranged and this is why she met him in Istanbul.

Certainly the promise of being set up with a wife, and possibly even being granted a sex slave, is a powerful motivator for some young male foreign fighters to come and join ISIS. We are told the Tunisian foreign fighters and some Turkish males in particular resonate to this promise of what I like to refer to as “sex now” versus the claim of virgins in paradise that await those who “martyr” themselves.

The woman Mohamad Jamal Khweis met certainly seems to have known how to cross into Syria and may have even used an ISIS-controlled smuggler to cross. According to Khweis they traveled from Istanbul to Gaziantep (a Turkish town on the border of Syria) and then on to Mosul by bus and private vehicle. That she met him in Istanbul and they then ended up in ISIS’ self-declared caliphate, makes it appear prearranged and likely to have involved a marriage.

To join ISIS, a foreign fighter would normally have arranged ahead of time to be met by someone on the Turkish side who either takes or who arranges for an ISIS controlled smuggler to take him into ISIS controlled territory. In his case the young female “recruiter” accompanied Khweis and we are not told if he legally crossed the Turkish border—but it’s highly unlikely he did.

Turkish officials claim to have recently tightened security protocols along the border. However, our ISIS defectors tell us its still entirely possible—and even easy—to smuggle oneself across the Turkish border into ISIS controlled areas, and vice versa. Certainly the November 2015 Paris attackers acting in behalf of ISIS found it possible to leave Syria and reenter Europe via Turkey.

In the case of joining ISIS, a foreign fighter should not arrive unannounced, but should arrive with a personal recommendation—someone on the inside who knows and can vouch for him as a true “believer.” Those who arrive without such a voucher are suspected as spies. They may also be accepted over time—ISIS needs all the foreign fighters it can get—but they are, according to our Syrian ISIS defectors reports, held and investigated for some time, or separated from their female family members and sent directly to the front to see if they are sincere in their willingness to join ISIS, fight valiantly or even survive. A Belgian ISIS joiner who I interviewed last month, who had returned from Syria, arrived to Turkey without recommendations. He was still smuggled from Turkey into Syria, but once there was held for some time to be investigated and observed.

Khweis who is currently under investigation by the FBI and American authorities who suspect he plotted to join ISIS, claims he “made a bad decision” and was trying to return to the United States when he was captured by Kurdish forces this week. However, his story seems to indicate that he not only wanted to, but did actually, join ISIS. For instance he appears to have willingly travelled to Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’ self-declared caliphate where he was then put into a house with up to seventy other foreign fighters all also joining ISIS. There, according to Khweis, they were ordered to hand over their IDs and passports and take a bayat, or oath of allegiance to ISIS as happened with all of our interviewees.

This would have been the first of many bayats that Khweis would have been asked to make. He was then given his Arabic kunya or fighting name, Abu Omar, and put into shariah training. This is the normal progression of ISIS indoctrination—according to our ISIS defector reports. And these are the steps by which ISIS begins to take over the identities and minds of those who join—freeing them from past affiliations and loyalties; creating new family ties via arranged marriages; and renaming them while also introducing them into to the ISIS militant Takfiri ideology and mindset to which they must now display absolute loyalty. “Hear and obey,” is the ISIS tenant that all fighters are taught in their training and they are expected to demonstrate complete and total obedience to any ISIS declared order. Sometimes—our defectors tell us—young inexperienced teens are even temporarily put in charge of older battle hardened recruits in order to test them in this principle of absolute obedience.

Khweis was most definitely on the conveyer belt into ISIS foreign fighter or mujahid (holy warrior) status. After making his first bayat, he was put into the ISIS shariah training, but according to him did not complete it. Perhaps he realized late, that upon graduation from shariah training his new trainers would bring to him an ISIS prisoner that he would have to behead as a sign of his complete and total indoctrination and loyalty to the terrorist group.

Khweis claims he fled ISIS control before that occurred. Indeed, just like gangs indoctrinate their young members by demanding they commit a crime, ISIS puts a knife in their new members’ hands and demands they bloody them them early on—behead their prisoner in order to graduate shariah training. And all the while, the video cameras are recording. It’s not a crime one can later easily escape from and evidence of it may appear broadcast over the Internet. ISIS trainers are no fools and know well how to manipulate and control their new recruits.

Khweis also claims he didn’t see or interact with any Americans although two hundred fifty Americans are there according to security estimates. Our Syrian ISIS defectors routinely mention running across American ISIS cadres although language barriers prevent them telling us much about them other than what can be observed. Khweis also recounts being mixed in with a mélange of foreign fighters—many from central and south Asia. There are currently estimated to be twenty-seven thousand foreign fighters from eight-six countries in ISIS with the terrorist organization continuing to draw over one thousand per month into the battle—seducing them from around the world via social media.

The unanswered questions are: Was Mohamad Jamal Khweis one of these? Had he left the United States in quest of joining ISIS? Did he already have a recruiter working with him via the Internet before he departed the U.S. and a prearranged marriage with a young woman who met him in Istanbul and facilitated him into the group? And if he had been fully trained and indoctrinated could he have been turned back to attack inside the United States or sent to attack some other Western target?

It should be extremely chilling for law enforcement officials that Khweis is a “clean skin” jihadi—that is he had no extremism-linked past, nor were law enforcement officials even aware that he had departed the United States much less was being trained inside ISIS. They only learned of his ISIS affiliation after his defection and capture from the group. According to officials his family had not shared any concerns, if they had any, with law enforcement after he left the United States in mid-December 2015. After his arrest, his parents told journalists they thought he was in Canada but the were also aware that he’d travelled to Turkey. By January 16, 2016—only a month after his departure—he was already inside ISIS controlled territory and may have been there as early as December. Khweis had been studying criminal justice in Virginia and only occasionally attended mosques and there is no evidence of him having given any outward signs of radicalization to violent extremism.

Given the fact that as soon as ISIS starts indoctrinating and recruiting someone they have learned now to put extreme emphasis on secrecy and operating clandestinely. Thus it is very viable and expectable that Khweis was told by his recruiters not to change his daily routines and not to let anyone sense that he was flirting with the terrorist group. In fact, his criminal justice education in Virginia may also have provided him some tactics as well to stay out of the radar of the American intelligence. Therefore, he was very successful in hiding his recruitment to the people around him. Often, ISIS operatives are taught to use encrypted means of alternative social media communication methods which makes the job of the law enforcement agencies even more difficult. Furthermore, there is a clear sign that he was instructed how to stay out of the radar of the intel as when we look at his travel arrangements, he did not fly to Istanbul directly, rather changing places and airplanes twice before his arrival in Istanbul.

In terms of the law, Khweis, was not completely “clean.” He did have a record of run-ins with the law for numerous alcohol-related and driving offenses. For instance, he had been cited in Virginia for driving a car with tinted windows, speeding, and driving without a safety belt and in 2010 he was arrested for driving while intoxicated—an incident in which he refused blood and breath tests. He had also been arrested a year earlier for appearing drunk in public. None of these are arrests that one would normally link to an Islamic extremist, although groups like ISIS often appeal to Muslims who are trying to clean up their acts and use an extremist Islamic mindset to do so. The Chattanooga sniper Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, Boston bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as well as plenty of European jihadis share a similar profile in this regard—they were drug and alcohol abusers up to the time they found extremist Islamic literature or a group that offered them the opportunity to reform and possibly even become “martyrs” thereby ensuring their past “sins” would, according to terrorist ideology, all be forgiven.

Had Khweis been fully trained and indoctrinated by ISIS, as many foreigners are—to “hear and obey”—he could very easily have had his “clean” American passport handed back to him and been sent back to the United States by ISIS with orders to attack, without anyone realizing beforehand. Given the easy availability of assault rifles inside the United States, someone like Khweis, after spending time with ISIS and taking on—or already secretly harboring a militant ideology and hatred for Americans—could very easily have mounted a horrific terror attack right here, back home, among us. Furthermore, with the training he received in the ISIS military camps, he could very easily lead a home grown ISIS terrorist cell formed of already established extremist youth here in the United States, which would give ISIS to possibility to carry out a massive, 9-11 type, attack without moving any operatives except him and using Khweis as the commander of a cell here in the United States. Thankfully Khweis did not like what he saw on the inside of ISIS and quickly defected.

As an ISIS insider, and now defector, he joins a chorus of voices that we also have been collecting—of discouraging words for other potential joiners, “Life in Mosul is really very bad. The people who control Mosul don’t represent a religion. Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] does not represent a religion. I don’t see them as good Muslims.”

His case however highlights how we are currently losing the battle—at least in social media space—with Islamic State’s ability to reach out to young men and women all over the world to convince them to travel to Syria and Iraq, believing ISIS has anything good to offer them, or to the world in general. We need to totally discredit both the group and its ideology—something we are working very hard on at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) in our ISIS Defectors Interviews Project.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and a nonresident Fellow of Trends. She is also the author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. Her newly released book, inspired by the true story of an American girl seduced over the Internet into ISIS is Bride of ISIS. Dr. Speckhard has interviewed nearly five hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Turkey Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. is Professor and the Chair of Sociology Department at Harran University in south of Turkey by the Syrian border. Dr. Yayla is the Deputy Director of ICSVE. Dr. Yayla served as Chief of Counter-terrorism and Operations Division at the Turkish National Police. He has earned his masters and Ph.D. degrees on the subject of terrorism and radicalization at the University of North Texas. Dr. Yayla’s research mainly focuses on terrorism, sociology, dealing with terrorism without use of force, terrorist recruitment and propaganda, radicalization (including ISIS and Al Qaeda) and violence. He has mostly authored several works on the subject of terrorism. He has also been advisor to the United States Department of Homeland Security (December 2005 to April 2006) on issues of terrorism and interacting with Muslim Communities in the United States. Dr. Yayla also witnessed at the United States Congress and Senate, Homeland Security Committee and Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attacks (October 21st, 2006) on the subject of “Local Law Enforcement Preparedness for countering the threats of terrorism”.

Reference for this paper: Speckhard, Anne & Yayla, Ahmet S. (March 20, 2016) American ISIS Defector – Mohamad Jamal Khweis & the Threat Posed by “Clean-Skin” Terrorists: Unanswered Questions and Confirmations. ICSVE Brief Report 

 

 

The Lethal Cocktail of Terrorism: The Four Necessary Ingredients that Go into Making a Terrorist & Fifty Individual Vulnerabilities/Motivations that May also Play a Role

briandemulder

I recently returned from an interview trip in Belgium, the European country with the highest per capita rate of foreign fighters going to Syria, young men and women who travel there sometimes for good, but mainly to join groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (the Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda). With over five hundred Belgians having gone to fight “jihad” and over one hundred foreign fighters now having returned (half of them put in prison, half returned into society) authorities there are struggling with the staggering numbers of Belgians that have been attracted into militant jihadi groups. They are wondering why and how that comes to be as well as what can be done to prevent and turn back those already entered onto the terrorist trajectory.

After interviewing almost five hundred militant jihadi terrorists, their family members, close associates, and even their hostages, from places ranging from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Russia, Chechnya, Israel, Canada and Western Europe I think I have a pretty good idea of how and why some people get onto the terrorist trajectory. This is my explanation of the necessary ingredients for the lethal cocktail of making a terrorist along with an explanation of the individual vulnerabilities/motivations that may also play a role—depending on the context and the individuals involved.

  • First there is nearly always a group. Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) and Chris Dorner (the former LA policeman and shooter) each formed their own manifestos and attacked on their own, but these types of true lone wolves are rare indeed. There is usually a group purporting to represent some faction of society and offering terrorism as an answer.
  • Second the group offers an ideology—one that always wrongly attempts to justify terrorism and the attacking of innocent civilians for the cause.
  • Third there is some level of social support that can vary widely by context. A youth thinking about joining a terrorist group in Gaza for instance is likely to have many friends who are also part of Hamas or Fatah and may chose his group the way other youth in other countries chose a football team. Whereas a youth growing up in Boston, as Tamerlan Tsarnaev did, will have to dig deeper in his community to find other like-minded individuals. Although these days with the Internet, having a phone or computer handy, means that one can quickly and easily tap into social networks supportive to terrorist groups. ISIS currently maintains a 24/7 presence on the Internet; and produces thousands of videos, posters, and memes for individuals to interact with on all the social media sites. When someone shows interest in their activities, they quickly swarm in, providing them with one-on-one attention, care and nurture that is often lacking in their own lives—to recruit them further into the group.
  • Lastly there is some individual vulnerability that resonates with the first three factors—the group, its ideology and the social support provided by the group. This paper identifies fifty such factors that have to do with individual motivations and vulnerability (see Table One). And we can break these into two cases: by whether or not the person lives inside or outside a conflict zone.

According to my research, those who reside in conflict zones are most often primarily motivated by trauma and revenge as well as frustrated aspirations. They most often have family members who have been killed, raped, tortured, imprisoned or otherwise unfairly treated. They may have lost their home, territory, jobs and resources and may be living under occupation. Often there are checkpoints and conflicts that keep them from engaging in their studies or block them from steady employment.

They are angry, hurt and easily resonate to a group that offers to equip them to strike back. They often want their enemy to feel the same pain they do and even if they know their terrorist act may be futile in every other way, they may be willing to even engage in a suicide attack in order to express their outrage, make the enemy suffer similarly, and sometimes even to end their own pain. If they are highly traumatized a suicide mission may offer them psychological first aid of a short-term nature—they can honorably exit a life overtaken by psychological trauma, painful arousal states, flashbacks, horror, anger, powerlessness, survival guilt and traumatic bereavement. If the group is good at selling suicide they may even believe that they immediately go to Paradise, also earn Paradise for their family members, and that they will reunite with lost loved ones by taking their own lives in a suicide attack.

But what about those residing in non-conflict zones like Belgium? What are the individual vulnerabilities that may contribute to their entering the terrorist trajectory? There are many.

In places like Belgium where the Moroccan second and third-generation still lives uneasily segregated from their white neighbors and find themselves easily able to gain an education but less easily hired and allowed into the mainstream middleclass there can be anger over marginalization and discrimination. Unemployment, underemployment and frustrated aspirations can all lead to feelings of alienation and a longing for personal significance that a terrorist group may offer. In Belgium I found long before ISIS arose, that youth of Moroccan immigrant descent would tell me things like what Jamal said about being told at the nightclubs “Go home Moroccan” and at job interviews that his prospective employer could never hire a Moroccan for the front office, “If this country doesn’t want me I can find one that does,” he told me—referring to joining a militant jihadi movement.

Now with ISIS having declared its “caliphate” this draw is even more powerful to the socially alienated, the person falling off his tracks or unable to succeed in the society in which he lives. In the city of Brussels where the commune of Molenbeek has been labeled a hotbed of terrorism, unemployment levels for Belgian citizens of Moroccan descent hover around thirty percent. Yet, ISIS currently offers any Muslim who is finding it hard to make his life in Europe or elsewhere—a job, a wife, a sex slave, a house, perhaps even a car, and the promise of being a significant part of building the so-called “Caliphate”.

Anger over geopolitics, particularly if it is mirrored on the micro-level in one’s own life can also play a very important part in providing a fertile ground for terrorist recruitment. Hamid in Antwerp, Belgium told me that he answered the call to al Qaeda terrorist recruitment after the recruiter brought the conflict back home to local politics for him—asking if he didn’t live uneasily with his “white” Belgian neighbors and fear what might happen if things rapidly fell apart in Belgium someday as they had in the Balkans when Muslim women became mass rape victims. Terrorist groups today use video, images and the Internet to portray extreme traumas and perceived, as well as actual, injustices in conflict zones such as in Syria, Iraq, Kashmir, Palestine, and Chechnya that they argue are caused by an enemy other that the terrorist group then calls the viewer to fight against to restore justice and defend the defenseless. Al Qaeda for years argued that Islamic people, lands, and even Islam itself, were under attack by the West and therefore people all over the world had a duty to rise up and join a defensive jihad. The same is being argued today by ISIS.

In a sense these groups instill secondary trauma in the viewers of their raw and graphic videos. A Moroccan friend of the Casa Blanca bombers told me, “We all viewed these videos of the war in Iraq and what was happening in Fallujah and we began to shake from the emotions of it all.” He surmised that the terrorist recruiter of his friends referred to what they had all seen on these videos and how they could fight against it. “You see how we have nothing here and will never get jobs or be able to be married. The most we can be is drug addicts as you see us, but their recruiter cleaned them up and showed them another way.” That way was self-sacrifice, attacking in behalf of others, and terrorism. He did clean the youth he recruited of their drug addiction as well as provided purpose and significance and he used the secondary trauma that the video recruiting materials caused to put them on a path that tragically and violently ended their lives and the lives of others.

Empathy and a desire for justice are also real and serious motivators. Many young kids from around the world went to Syria because they felt no one was offering real support to the beleaguered Syrians in their uprising against Bashar Assad. Those who have studied revenge and fairness find that people all over the world will go to great lengths even depriving themselves in order to make things just. Likewise those who study gender differences in the development of values formation find that young females often put a higher value on relationships when evaluating whether or not a specific action is correct or not. When youth are shown pictures and videos that make them believe the world is unjust and they are called into movements that promise to deliver justice, this can be extremely powerful, particularly in the face of boring and insignificant lives. The opportunity to take part in and even fight and sacrifice for something heroic, to help build a utopian state such as the “caliphate,” and the idealism of youth is often preyed upon and captured by such terrorist groups.

We must also remember that for youth, developing a positive identity is one of their developmental tasks. They are in a developmental stage of moving away from their families and into society and they look to peers to give them cues about how to belong and find significance. In many ways we become the company that we keep—and a band of brothers, gang of guys or a sisterhood can be factors to pull one into a terrorist group and its ideology, simply because one wants to belong and find significance and meaning in the personal relationships offered. ISIS is particularly adept at using relationships—offered in person where they are able to use recruiters, such as in certain neighborhoods in Europe—and by offering the same over the Internet via text, chat, phone, Skype and other social media in areas where they cannot reach in person. Belonging is a powerful motivator particularly for youth who are struggling with issues of identity conflicts and perhaps for some—particularly young converts and “reverts” (i.e. those born Muslim but finding new meaning in their religion)—with what it means to be a Muslim.

For youth, the promise and allure of adventure may also beckon them powerfully as does romance and for some even the raw excitement of sex. While many claim that the allure of the virgins in Paradise are a powerful motivator, in truth I’ve never in my years of interviewing any terrorist found the virgins to be such a powerful motivator. Belief in a better afterlife certainly conveys the courage to push the button that releases them into that state of being (or nonbeing), but stronger motivators, I’ve found, are those listed above alongside the very real motivator of what I like to call, “sex now”. When young girls offer themselves as sexual partners in illicit marriages as a reward for becoming a mujahid (holy warrior) as a group of girls in the Netherlands did, and when joining the jihad makes one more attractive to the opposite sex, these sexual rewards become powerful motivators as well. I call this “sex now” and am sure it’s a whole lot more motivating than just the promise of the virgins in Paradise. Likewise don’t forget that ISIS currently offers jobs alongside the offer of wives, and sex slaves, to young men facing high unemployment in their own countries. A young man who is jobless is likely to have trouble getting girlfriends and married and may therefore be blocked from sex. With ISIS all their sexual needs are suddenly going to be satisfied. This is no small thing. And this applies both to third world countries like Tunisia, as well as European countries like Belgium, in areas where youth of Moroccan descent face up to thirty percent unemployment rates in some of their neighborhoods.

We must also remember that conflict zones also exist in microcosms in neighborhoods and even inside individual homes where family and community trauma and PTSD happening on a smaller scale can lead to a desire to escape a painful life, just like inside any other larger conflict zone. When I interviewed in London a youth worker who was pulling gang youth out of an al Qaeda cell he told me that the youth attracted into terrorism were lacking involved parents, were often themselves victims of violence, and heavily involved in drugs and criminality. They were lost, and easily fell prey to an adult who took time to take them camping where he also taught them the al Qaeda ideology. The girls found safety in the hijab, particularly when their male counterparts were told to honor them for wearing it, and both genders found comfort in the promise of Paradise if they were killed in their criminal lives. Their recruiter became a role model to them, a leader, and infused them with purpose, belonging to a greater good, meaning, significance and redirected them onto the path of militant jihad while continuing to justify their criminality against the “kafir” (unbelievers) as works in behalf of the militant group. Only someone who offered similar feelings of care and purpose to their lives could draw these kids back out, as the youth worker had.

Material incentives can also be motivators. To a young girl who does not expect to live in more than a small apartment, pictures of a grand house in Raqqa, or a luxury car, can be alluring—as can the promise of a paycheck. The ability to eat can be powerful motivators to a impoverished Syrian whose area is overtaken by ISIS as we are hearing in our ISIS Defectors Interviews Project. One thirteen-year-old girl who had been shown pictures of mansions with swimming pools during her online recruitment to ISIS said she thought she would be going to ISIS Disney land.

Any Muslim who struggles with feelings of shame or guilt over past sins—or things that were done to him or her such as rape or sexual abuse for which their culture may blame them in whole or part, engaging in militant jihad can also be motivating in that one can express anger and outrage at an enemy thereby directing their inner rage at a real target. Likewise the possibility of being “martyred” can be a means of purifying oneself as the militant jihadi ideology teaches that such an act leads to automatically gaining Paradise for themselves and their family members. For a young person who may have done drugs, engaged in illicit sexual relations, homosexuality, had an abortion, etc. the possibility to cleanse oneself totally, attain purity and be sure of the afterlife may be highly motivating.

Youth often also struggle with consolidating their gender identity. Militant jihad for young men can shore up feelings of insecurity over their manhood. There is nothing like being issued a Kalashnikov or AK-47 to instill a warrior identity and thereby increase one’s sense of manhood. Likewise for Western girls inundated with confusing and conflicting messages about how to express their sexuality, a simple traditional life style can be attractive—where everything is clearly defined and marriage, a traditional family lifestyle, and sexual safety is promised (perhaps not delivered, but promised).

Mental health issues can also contribute as motivators. In one ISIS film, a young medical student from Cardiff argues that “jihad is the cure for depression” stating that he too was depressed before he joined ISIS. Indeed action can lighten the load of a heavy depression, even action that is totally wrong-minded. A psychopathic personality may also be thrilled to join ISIS where he or she can give free rein to a desire for brutality.

All, some, or just one of these individual vulnerabilities can be active in a person along with the powerful draw of a group, its ideology and the social support that is offered by the group—either in person, or these days via the Internet. Understanding the factors making up the lethal cocktail of terrorism does not excuse those who chose to engage in abhorrent violence, but it can lead us to thoughtful solutions where we begin to see the value in engaging in and supporting nonviolent civil rights movements for beleaguered communities in Europe for instance, or stimulating employment for areas of high unemployment while also trying to diminish exposure to terrorist groups, their ideologies and whatever support they may offer in person or via the Internet. Many of us spent the last decades studying terrorists to learn to identify and understand how these factors interact to make up the lethal cocktail of terrorism. Now it’s time to engage in action to prevent and deter individuals from ever entering the terrorist trajectory, and if on it, to help change their course to get back off.

Speckhard 2016 The Lethal Cocktail of Terrorism Fifty Individual Vulnerabilities MotivationsAnne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She also has interviewed nearly five hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters from various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Russia, Canada and many countries in Europe. Her newly released book is Bride of ISIS. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com

Reference for this paper: Speckhard, Anne (2016) The Lethal Cocktail of Terrorism: The Four Necessary Ingredients that Go into Making a Terrorist & Fifty Individual Vulnerabilities/Motivations that May also Play a Role. ICSVE: Brief Report, http://www.icsve.org/the-lethal-cocktail-of-terrorism–the-four-necessary-ingredients.html

ISIS Defector Reports on the Sale of Organs Harvested from ISIS held “Slaves”

prisoner

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D.

In February of 2015 Iraqi Ambassador, Mohamed Alhakim requested the UN Security Council to investigate the deaths of twelve doctors in Mosul, Iraq who he claimed had been killed by ISIS after refusing to remove organs from dead bodies. He also claimed that some of the bodies found were mutilated with opening in the back where the kidneys are located. “This is clearly something bigger than we think,” Ambassador Alhakim stated.[1]

“Organ theft during wars, civil wars, dirty wars, wars involving undisciplined armies is not uncommon,” Nancy Scheper-Hughes, chair of Berkeley’s doctoral program in medical anthropology and director of Organs Watch, a California based documentation and research project told CNN in response to the February claim. She also told CNN that the market in human organs is brisk commenting that, “The demand for fresh organs and tissues … is insatiable.” Scheper-Hughes added fresh kidneys from “the brain dead or from those executed with the assistance of trained organ harvesters are the blood diamonds of illicit and criminal trafficking.”[2]

U.S. State Department responded to the February 2015 claims with the following statement: “We also have no reason to doubt them given other similar atrocities that have been documented and other heinous crimes for which ISIL has proudly taken credit.” [3]

In September of 2015, former ISIS prisoner Abo Rida was reported stating that surgeons for the terror group removed kidneys and corneas from prisoners. Rida reported ISIS informing their captives that “the fate of these prisoners (was) inevitable death” and the jihadists were “more deserving” of the organs. Rida said he escaped from ISIS after a counter-terrorism raid damaged their prison, but that he was fired upon trying to escape and was only one of four who made it out alive. [4]

In December of 2015 the U.S. government revealed that it had obtained in May, via a Special Forces raid in eastern Syria, a document dated January 31, 2015 (among many others) giving the Islamic justification for harvesting organs from “infidels.” The ruling according to Reuters, states that taking organs from a living captive to save a Muslim’s life, even if it is fatal for the captive, is permissible. “The apostate’s life and organs don’t have to be respected and may be taken with impunity,” the fatwa from the Islamic State’s Research and Fatwa Committee reads. It goes on to say, “Organs that end the captive’s life if removed: The removal of that type is also not prohibited.” The Islamic State’s ruling on organ harvesting cites Islamic texts, principles and laws lending support for what the group argues, “the notion that transplanting healthy organs into a Muslim person’s body in order to save the latter’s life or replace a damaged organ with it is permissible.”[5] A U.S. government translation of the fatwa can be found here.

While the newly discovered fatwa does not offer any proof that Islamic State actually engages in organ harvesting or organ trafficking, that ISIS could be reaping financial benefits by trafficking in stolen body parts is not inconceivable. Given the numerous reports leaking about the justification for and actual activity of organ harvesting and given that it has faced set-backs in its illicit oil trade of late due to airstrikes on it, the group may need to recoup the money.

In our ISIS Defector Interview Project at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism we were also informed by an ISIS defector in December of 2015 who maintains ties with other Islamic State cadres, both still in and out of the group that, “There is a statement now from Daesh: ‘From this point you do not kill the slaves. We need to use their bodies to make money [for organ trade].’ Basically, they are saying that the slaves are already ‘dead’. We need to make money off their bodies by selling body parts.”

While we hope it’s not true, given all the heinous acts the Islamic State cadres have already carried out, this is just one more sickening example of how un-Islamic ISIS really is.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She is author of Talking to Terrorists and Bride of ISIS and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. In 2007, Dr. Speckhard was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and many countries in Europe. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. is Professor and the Chair of Sociology Department at Harran University in south of Turkey by the Syrian border. Dr. Yayla is a Research Fellow at ICSVE. Dr. Yayla served as Chief of Anti-terrorism Division at the Turkish National Police. He has earned his masters and Ph.D. degrees on the subject of terrorism and radicalization at the University of North Texas. Dr. Yayla’s research mainly focuses on terrorism, sociology, dealing with terrorism without use of force, terrorist recruitment and propaganda, radicalization (including ISIS and Al Qaeda) and violence. He has mostly authored several works on the subject of terrorism. He has also been advisor to the United States Ohio Department of Homeland Security (December 2005 to April 2006) on issues of terrorism and interacting with Muslim Communities in the United States. Dr. Yayla also witnessed at the United States Congress and Senate, Homeland Security Committee and Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attacks (October 21st, 2006) on the subject of “Local Law Enforcement Preparedness for Countering the Threats of Terrorism.”

References:

[1] Sanchez, R. (February 19, 2015). United Nations investigates claims of ISIS organ theft. CNNhttp://www.cnn.com/2015/02/18/middleeast/isis-organ-harvesting-claim/ Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/18/middleeast/isis-organ-harvesting-claim/

[2] Sanchez, R. (February 19, 2015). United Nations investigates claims of ISIS organ theft. CNNhttp://www.cnn.com/2015/02/18/middleeast/isis-organ-harvesting-claim/ Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/18/middleeast/isis-organ-harvesting-claim/

[3] Sanchez, R. (February 19, 2015). United Nations investigates claims of ISIS organ theft. CNNhttp://www.cnn.com/2015/02/18/middleeast/isis-organ-harvesting-claim/ Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/18/middleeast/isis-organ-harvesting-claim/

[4] Burman, J. (October 1, 2015). ISIS ‘doctors’ harvesting healthy prisoners’ ORGANS and using them as living bloodbank. Expresshttp://www.express.co.uk/news/world/609158/ISIS-harvest-organs-Doctors-Escape-Abo-Rida-Syria-Terrorism-Surgeons Retrieved from http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/609158/ISIS-harvest-organs-Doctors-Escape-Abo-Rida-Syria-Terrorism-Surgeons and

Catholic Online. (September 30, 2015). Islamic State cutting out organs from ‘healthy’ captives to strengthen injured jihadists. http://www.catholic.org/news/international/middle_east/story.php?id=64383 Retrieved from http://www.catholic.org/news/international/middle_east/story.php?id=64383

[5] Strobel, W., Landay, J., & Stewart, P. (December 25, 2015). Exclusive: Islamic State sanctioned organ harvesting in document taken in U.S. raid. Reuters Newshttp://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-islamic-state-documents-idUSKBN0U805R20151225 Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-islamic-state-documents-idUSKBN0U805R20151225

This report is a publication of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and can be found here.

Eyewitness Accounts from Recent Defectors from Islamic State: Why they Joined, What they Saw, Why they Quit

ISISby Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D.

The Islamic State (IS) is the most powerful, ruthless, horrific and well-funded terrorist group in recent history. Not only has ISIS managed to take and control a significant swathe of territory, it has become a de-facto state. Since their 2014 claim of establishing a Caliphate, ISIS has also unleashed an unprecedented and prolific social media recruiting drive that has enabled them to attract up to 30,000 foreign fighters from more than one hundred countries. A steady stream of fighters continues to enter Syria and Iraq on a daily basis—with some estimates placing their number at over one thousand new recruits per month.[[i]] In addition, ISIS has created a “brand” that has been exported to over twenty hotspots around the globe. As ISIS has arisen—seemingly out of nowhere—to become a powerful foe, the West has struggled to comprehend and understand how to effectively counter it.

While a political solution in the war-torn area of Syria and Iraq is a necessary precondition to the total defeat of ISIS, discrediting the group’s ideology is also essential. Defectors from ISIS, who alongside the refugees pour out of ISIS-controlled territory, are among the most powerful first-hand voices to speak out against the group. Indeed a disillusioned cadre who can speak from experience and tell their authentic stories about life inside ISIS may be the most influential tool for preventing and dissuading others from joining ISIS.

The fight against Islamic State must take place on many fronts, including finding political solutions to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.  Islamic State is currently winning on many fronts—social media being the most powerful in terms of involving Westerners in homegrown terrorist attacks. At present the Internet serves as a nerve center to connect ISIS activists and propagandists who have proved themselves extremely savvy, active and successful on social media in recruiting Westerners to their cause—to plot terror activity, travel to Syria and Iraq, fundraise, as well as carry out concrete action in behalf of the terrorist group’s goals. That front can be won back by discrediting their ideology and one of the most powerful ways to do that is to use voices of insiders—ISIS defectors to do so.

While it is difficult to reach ISIS defectors and also persuade them to speak out against the group, it is possible. Turkey is a country through which thousands of Westerners have funneled themselves to join ISIS and other militant groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.  Recently, disaffected cadres—ISIS defectors—are crossing in the opposite direction, back into Turkey and hiding out there hoping the long arm of ISIS does not catch them.

In recent months, Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. and Ahmet Yayla, Ph.D. of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE)have begun an interview project and thus far interviewed seventeen such cadres and plan to interview more.

The project has begun to assemble a sample of ISIS defectors that can inform on the following:

1.     Motivations for joining

2.     Military and Ideological training

3.     Actual First Person Accounts of Life inside ISIS

4.     Reports on the Treatment of Women

5.     Reports on the Foreign Fighter involvement

6.     Reports on the ISIS Slave Trade

7.     Reports on the Brutality and Killing

8.     Reports on ISIS Financing

9.     Reasons for and Process of Defecting

10.  Mental Health Consequences of ISIS involvement

11.  Pictures and video that cadres have of actual events they took part in.

12.  Statements by former ISIS cadres of why they defected and why others should not join.

Thus far, all of the informants have risked their lives and undertook a gravely dangerous journey to defect from ISIS.  Some were ideological supporters right from the beginning—others less so—being more interested in money, survival, women etc., but all of our informants now despise ISIS.  All have willingly given us cautionary statements to Westerners and others who might be considering joining ISIS that along side of their first-person accounts of their lives inside ISIS will be used to discredit the terrorist group.

These interviews are now taking place in secret and recorded on tv-grade video.  Once edited and packaged for such Internet outlets as YouTube and other social media sites, they will be invaluable tools to place back on the Internet to use for prevention and dissuasion.  We can’t wait to publish these stories from the inside that we know will directly and powerfully confront the so-called “caliphate.”

Read the full report here.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She served with her husband, U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Daniel Speckhard from 2007-2010 during which time a large influx of refugees made their way from Turkey to Greece. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. Her newly released book is Bride of ISIS.

Dr. Speckhard was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She also has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. is Professor and the Chair of Sociology Department at Harran University in south of Turkey by the Syrian border. Dr. Yayla is Research Fellow at ICSVE. Dr. Yayla served as Chief of Anti-terrorism Division at the Turkish National Police. He has earned his masters and Ph.D. degrees on the subject of terrorism and radicalization at the University of North Texas.

Dr. Yayla’s research mainly focuses on terrorism, sociology, dealing with terrorism without use of force, terrorist recruitment and propaganda, radicalization (including ISIS and Al Qaeda) and violence. He has mostly authored several works on the subject of terrorism. He has also been advisor to the United States Ohio Department of Homeland Security (December 2005 to April 2006) on issues of terrorism and interacting with Muslim Communities in the United States. Dr. Yayla also witnessed at the United States Congress and Senate, Homeland Security Committee and Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attacks (October 21st, 2006) on the subject of “Local Law Enforcement Preparedness for countering the threats of terrorism”.

References: [[i]] See: Tim Mak, & Youssef, N. (March 3, 2015). IS ranks grow as fast as U.S. bombs can wipe them out. The Daily Beast. URL: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/03/isis-recruits-thousands-of-new-fighters-despite-u-s-bombs.html; Kirk, A. (August 12, 2015). Iraq and Syria: How many foreign fighters are fighting for Isil. The Telegraph. URL: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11770816/Iraq-and-Syria-How-many-foreign-fighters-are-fighting-for-Isil.html; Neumann, P. (January 26, 2015). Foreign fighter total in Syria/Iraq now exceeds 20,000; surpasses Afghanistan conflict in the 1980s. ISCR. URL: http://icsr.info/2015/01/foreign-fighter-total-syriairaq-now-exceeds-20000-surpasses-afghanistan-conflict-1980s/ ; Schmid, Alex P.. Foreign (Terrorist) Fighter Estimates: Conceptual and Data Issues.  The Hague: ICCT, 2015, p. 11.

Terror – Whom to Fear

Abdelhamid Abaaoud ISIS photoI have interviewed hundreds of terrorists and their close associates in places as far-flung as Russia, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, France, Belgium and recently, I’ve been given unique access to Syrian ISIS defectors. These Syrian defectors repeatedly say that the foreign fighters—the Europeans in particular—are the “true believers” in the ISIS dream and its fantasized Caliphate that resonates more than European claims of liberté, égalité and fraternité for all.

Frustrated, bored, under-employed and enduring daily assaults on their dignity, some young European citizens are enticed by calls to build an alternative world order—one that they mistakenly believe will be ruled (at some point peacefully) by an idealized version of Islamic law.  The fantasy is powerful. According to the FBI, ISIS at present is drawing a thousand foreign fighters per month into its ranks—many from Western Europe.
When we see educated young European citizens (among them medical students, internet savvy technicians, and scientists) flowing in a steady stream to ISIS—youth who believe their future is aligned with a brutal and ruthless organization rather than with the Union of European nations – we need to reflect on why these citizens leave a peaceful country for a war zone.  Not to engender sympathy for those who embark on brutality, but to understand whom to fear.

Alienation isn’t new. I interviewed first and second-generation Moroccans and Tunisians during the widespread 2005 Paris car burnings and found young men deeply angry due to the discrimination and marginalization they felt they faced.  They didn’t see a meaningful future alongside their white French counterparts. I lived in Belgium for nearly eight years and found similar discontent and frustration, among first and second-generation Muslims with Belgian passports and good educations, who experienced discrimination in work and elsewhere due to their being North African immigrant and Muslim descent. But, back then, terrorist organizations were not using social discontent to recruit.

Disenfranchisement does not justify killing innocents, but it explains why some youth are enticed to join a revolution that promises a new world order where skin color, ethnicity and being Muslim are not an impediment to success. We label this as violent extremism (rightly so,) but they are sold an entirely different philosophy that promises they are soldiers in a war that at some point, will end with a just world order.

It also tells us a lot about whom to fear.

ISIS has vowed that they are sending thousands of their cadres into Europe, embedded among the refugees, but a thoughtful person needs to realize no ISIS cadre need spend time going through the lengthy registration and vetting procedures that refugees endure to legally remain in Europe, much less make it into the United States.  ISIS cadres have no need to register with the UNHRC as refugees because thousands of ISIS cadres are Europeans, and as such most have easy entry in and out of Europe and visa waivers that allow them entry into our country without the need to falsify refugee status. They are the Richard Reids, European citizens who have full rights to board a U.S. bound airplane and sit beside you or me on a transcontinental flight.

The terror attacks in Paris have rightly made us fearful and the San Bernardino shooting, which is now suspected to be an act of terrorism, brings that fear home. Many are saying these recent attacks underscore the fear we should have of Syrian refugees. That is wrong thinking. If we fear at all—it is the radicalized citizens in the West who believe that the Caliphate offers them a better future.

In the meantime the Syrians amassing at Europe’s borders are running away from a violent, heartless totalitarianism that rapes its women, forces them into sexual slavery and beheads their men. Their children are terrorized. They are desperately waiting for our compassion.

We should not nor can we afford to turn them away; doing so plays into al Qaeda and ISIS propaganda that claims Islam, Muslims and Islamic lands are under attack by the West and only they can save the day. We cannot afford that version of history to continue to be successfully sold.

Speckhard is adjunct associate professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism and author of Talking to TerroristsBride of ISIS, and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She also has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe.

This report was first published under the same title in The Hill.

Mothers as Terrorists: When Mothers Kill and Die to Attain So-Called “Martyrdom” Status

Tashfeen MalikTwenty-seven-year old Tashfeen Malik, the wife of Syed Farook, and the female half of the California mass murder spree, is reported to have pledged her bay’ah–or oath of loyalty–to ISIS just before donning black military-style attire, taking up arms, an IED, and heading off with her husband, Syed Farook to kill fourteen people and wound seventeen others in cold blood. What would drive a woman to violate the most basic of maternal instincts–that is to protect her own child above all else, and to protect her relationship to her child, and in doing so to become a killer and die herself?

The answer lies in the sick ideologies circulating today and embraced by terrorism groups, including ISIS, who endorse a “martyrdom” ideology. Other examples of mothers who left their children to kill themselves (while murdering others), include Palestinian Reem Riyashi–mother of two children: three-year-old son Obedia and eighteen-month-old daughter Duha. Riyashi was preceded by Chechen female bombers–also mothers, who went on so-called “martyrdom” missions also leaving their children behind.

In January of 2004, during the Second Intifada, Riyash approached the Erez checkpoint leading out of Gaza while wearing a suicide bomb. According to the IDF, she thwarted security procedures there by pretending to be crippled–claiming to have plates in her legs that would set off the metal detectors, she requested a body search instead.

As with most women, she was not suspected of being a cold-blooded killer. But when taken to the private area for her check, Riyashi defied most expectations of women and mothers. She detonated her two-kilogram bomb–killing four Israelis (two soldiers, a policeman and a civilian security worker) and wounded an additional seven Israelis and four Palestinians. Riyashi and her Hamas senders took full advantage of the trust most of us put in the female gender, as well as in this instance, of Israeli decency to a purported handicapped individual–to kill as many as possible.

Riyashi’s suicide attack shocked the world, particularly as she had posed with her small children in photos taken before her attack. The appalling photos of a mother brandishing an automatic rifle with a rocket-propelled grenade in the foreground standing alongside her young children defied all understandings of normal motherhood. In one of the photos her son is clutching what looks like a mortar shell. At the time, Hamas replying to criticism for their hard-hearted and cynical use of a mother to kill and die, protested that the pictures revealed the depth of despair among Palestinian women and their strong desire to defeat the Israeli occupation.

Riyashi was the eighth Palestinian female suicide bomber. Following the attack of Darine Abu Aisha (the second Palestinian female suicide bomber), Sheikh Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, withdrew his objection to using women in such actions and switched instead to lavish praise of their involvement. He applauded Riyashi’s attack, urged other women to volunteer, and warned the Israelis to expect even more female bombers.

In many ways the Chechens and Palestinian female suicide bombers, and their supporters around the world endorsements of female involvement in terrorism, opened the doors for other female terrorists acting in behalf of conservative Islamic-related terrorists groups to join in. Following them, Al Qaeda sent white European Belgian Muriel Degaque–a wife, but not a mother–to bomb herself in Iraq, and al-Qaeda in Iraq also sent a rash of female bombers from inside Iraq to detonate themselves at various targets inside Iraq. 

ISIS, thus far, has not sent females out to “martyr” themselves but has made signs of considering it. And it is now looking as if Tashfeen Malik may have been their first ISIS inspired volunteer for that dubious “honor”.

Horrifically, three years after Riyashi bombed herself, Al-Aqsa TV, the official station of the Palestinian unity government (led by Hamas), began airing a fictionalized dramatization of Reem’s four-year-old daughter following in her mother’s footsteps. In it Duha Riyashi (played by a child actress) sings as her mother readies herself for a suicide bombing while asking in the sick lyrics of her song, “Mommy, what are you carrying in your arms instead of me?” Mourning her mother’s death in the video, the young girl finds a leftover stick of dynamite near her mother’s bedside table and picks it up as she vows to carry on, “My love will not be words. I will follow Mummy in her steps.”

Clearly to these kinds of groups, fixated on winning at all costs, and engaging in terrorism to do it–mothers and children, and the bonds between them–mean nothing, compared to carrying out acts in behalf of the “cause”.

It should also be noted, that Chechen suicide bombers–male and female–were encouraged by their ideologues to marry and have children before going on suicide missions. The logic was that they should fulfill all their “life duties,” including having children before engaging on their fantasized and final trip to Paradise.

Chechens who are fighting in Syria (who according to our ISIS defector informants in our ISIS Defectors Interviews Project) head the battles as the elite ISIS forces–the Navy SEALs, if you will–of ISIS. They follow the slogan of “Victory or Paradise,” meaning that death holds no sting and “martyrdom” is victory for them.

Indeed, if Tashfeen Malik and her husband Syed Farook were inspired by the plethora of sick, ISIS ideology that is presently on the Internet, or radicalized from more personal contact–their mindset would be the same. Death holds no sting and killing innocents is glorified.

We see evidence that the couple were preparing for what appears to be a series of attacks and were likely planning to carry them out much like the Tsarnaev’s did–starting with one target and carrying on to a bloody fight at the end–ending in death for at least the elder “true believer.”

However, it seems a workplace spat somehow triggered Syed Farook to decide to jump the gun and prematurely set into motion their series of attacks. That Syed went to work alone, got into an altercation, and then returned in battle gear with his wife to carry out his massacre–but that the couple “forgot” to bring their other bombs along to carry on as the Tsarnaev’s did from one bomb site to the next ultimately ending in the elder Tsarnaev’s death OR that they thought they could return for the other bombs seems to indicate they went off half cocked–perhaps out of nerves and anger.

Nevertheless, the couple was clearly not willing to surrender. When faced with overwhelming force–just like the Madrid train bombers, the Paris attackers and now them–they fought to the death and would likely have exploded themselves and others around them had they had their other devices along with them.

What this couple’s story underlines is that despite our wish to see females as the gentler gender, females can be lethal terrorists, that terrorist groups and now even ISIS are more than willing to make use of them, and that mothers are not an exception. Sadly, we must face that for those that have drunk the poison Kool-Aid of the “martyrdom” ideology put out by such groups as al Qaeda and ISIS–that killing and dying for the “cause” overrides every other normal instinct–including that of self-preservation and maternal love.

That is the enemy we face today. We must do everything we can to discredit and destroy this ideology and the groups that espouse it.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. Her newly released book is Bride of ISIS. She has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com