We sat around the living room of Sheikh Husam Atrash, commander of the Jaish al-Mujahideen brigade of the Free Syrian Army, interviewing him by the light provided by some LEDs powered by a car battery. The power was off in the Western countryside of Aleppo, as is usually the case since the start of the revolution. “Do you have any ISIS prisoners right now?” I asked. The Sheikh nodded. “Can I interview one?” The Sheikh nodded again.
“Yes. I give my hearty consent. We have nothing to hide.”
The next morning, we were ushered into one of the brigades bases–a grand vacation mansion abandoned by it’s wealthy inhabitants at the start of the revolution. An FSA fighter sporting a mullet and an AK-47 led in the prisoner–a young man who looked more like a Williamsburg hipster than a murderous jihadi. He was sheepish, fidgeting as he waited for us to set up.
The fighters wouldn’t let us roll camera until the prisoner’s face was covered and would give us only an alias for him–“Abu Abdullah.” We were told he was from Saudi Arabia (and when an Arabic expert reviewed our footage, he confirmed that the man was speaking in a Saudi dialect.)
Abu told us his story. He landed in Antakya, Turkey at night. An ISIS member met him and smuggled him across the border into Syria. He spent 30 days in a training camp, and then spent time in Raqqah, ISIS’ main stronghold in Syria.
He talked about all the foreigners in ISIS. Lots of Saudis, Tunisians, Libyans. Lots of Europeans. Lots of Americans…and shockingly, there were twice the number of American women as men. Lured by the lofty goals of the Islamic State, they come to marry the fighters.
The Saudis, Europeans, and Americans have money, Abu told us. ISIS would pay $100 a month to each fighter; Abu would spend five times that.
Abu’s final stop with IS was in the western countryside of Aleppo. In a battle against Jaish al-Mujahideen, Abu was captured. When the FSA talked to him, he realized that he’d essentially been sent by ISIS on a suicide mission. “I was a victim,” he said.
“How do you feel about America now?” I asked.
“I have a lot of relatives who study in America…some have lived there 8 years. I have no problem with the American people. My problem is with American politics…because they have made some mistakes.”
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