November 21, 2015


Confessions of an ISIS Spy : He joined the self-proclaimed Islamic State, trained jihadist infantry, and groomed foreign operatives--including a pair of Frenchmen. And now, Abu Khaled says he is ready to talk. (Michael Weiss, 11/15/15, Daily Beast)

Abu Khaled had worked with hundreds of foreign recruits to the ISIS banner, some of whom had already traveled back to their home countries as part of the group's effort to sow clandestine agents among its enemies.

But Abu Khaled didn't want to leave his wife and an apartment he'd just acquired in the suburbs of embattled Aleppo. He didn't want to risk the long journey to this Turkish port city. Since he'd bailed out of ISIS, he said, he'd been busy building his own 78-man katiba, or battalion, to fight his former jihadist comrades.

All very interesting, I answered, but still we would have to meet face to face, even if that meant both of us taking calculated risks.

The worst terrorist bombing in modern Turkish history had just been carried out by ISIS operatives in the streets of Ankara, killing over 100 people in a NATO country, reinforcing yet again one of the core ideological conceits of the putative caliphate: Borders are obsolete, and ISIS can get to you anywhere, as it wants everyone to know. There was at least a possibility Abu Khaled was still a spy for ISIS, and that he was part of an operation to collect new hostages.

For Abu Khaled, assuming he was telling me the truth, the risks were much greater. ISIS might track him all the way into the "Land of Unbelief" and deal with him there. Indeed, it did just that with two Syrian activists from Raqqa, who were beheaded in Sanliurfa at the end of October. And there were agents Abu Khaled had trained himself who had left Syria and Iraq for work "behind enemy lines."

"When you're in the secret service, everything is controlled," he told me. "You can't just leave Islamic State territory." It would be especially hard for him because all the border was controlled by the state security apparatus he had served. "I trained these guys! Most of them knew me."

"I can't go, Mike," he said more than once as we spoke for hours, long-distance. "I'm kafir now," an infidel, a non-believer in the view of the caliphate. "I was Muslim and now I'm kafir. You can't go back, from Muslim to kafir, back to Muslim again." The price you pay is death.

Given the circumstances, it seemed possible, even preferable, that he leave Syria for good, and bring his wife to Istanbul, so they could make their way eventually to Europe. But he refused even to consider such a thing. Abu Khaled told me he was prepared to die in Syria. "You have to die somewhere," he said. "People die in bed more than people who die in wars. What if something like this happened to your country? Are you willing to die for your country, the next generation, or do you run away?"

All this sounded persuasive, but to get at what Abu Khaled knew with any confidence, I had to have the chance to question him again and again. He had to be asked about any contradictions in his account. I had to see his body language, his twitches, his tells. And that could only be done in person.

Abu Khaled eventually relented. He borrowed about $1,000 to make the long, 750-mile journey by car and bus from Aleppo to Istanbul, and then back again. We met at the end of October. And so for three long days, in the caf├ęs, restaurants, and boulevards of a cosmopolis, on the fault line between Europe and the Middle East, I watched him through the haze of smoke as he lit one cigarette after another, and sipped his bitter Turkish coffee, and looked me in the eye. And Abu Khaled sang.

"All my life, OK, I'm Muslim, but I'm not into Sharia or very religious," he said early in our conversation. "One day, I looked in the mirror at my face. I had a long beard. I didn't recognize myself. It was like Pink Floyd. 'There's somebody in my head but it's not me.'"

Not many recovering jihadists have a word-perfect recall for "Brain Damage." But Abu Khaled is not a fresh young fanatic anxious for martyrdom, he is a well-educated multilingual Syrian national of middle age whose talents, including his past military training, the ISIS leadership had found useful. [...]

Abu Khaled felt compelled to sign up because he believed America was an accomplice to global conspiracy, led by Iran and Russia, to keep the tyrant Bashar al-Assad in power. How else could it be explained that the U.S. was waging war only against Sunnis, and leaving an Alawite-run regime guilty of mass murder by almost every means and its Iranian Shia armies untouched?

Posted by at November 21, 2015 7:28 AM