Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quotable: NYT report on defectors from the Islamic State

Friday, September 25th 2015
 “A small but growing number of defectors from the Islamic State are risking reprisals and imprisonment to speak out about their disillusionment with the extremist group, according to a research organization that tracks former and current militants.”  Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura provided details in an article, “ISIS Defectors Reveal Disillusionment,” in the September 20, 2015 issue of The New York Times.  She noted that the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications “was one of the first to recognize the value of such narratives.”

 “The defectors provide unique insight into life in the Islamic State,” the report says. “But their stories can also be used as a potentially powerful tool in the fight against it. The defectors’ very existence shatters the image of unity and determination that I.S. seeks to convey.”

Some of the Islamic State’s “shininess is wearing off, and it’s starting to look less impressive,” said Peter Neumann, director of the center and professor of security studies at King’s College. “So a lot of people are becoming more confident in coming out,” he said. * * * The testimonies, he said, could be used to counter the Islamic State’s slick recruiting methods, and he urged governments to “remove legal disincentives” that deter defectors from going public and to try to resettle rather than imprison them.

In the last two years, an estimated 20,000 foreigners, about a quarter of them European, have joined jihadist groups in the Middle East, the majority of them filling the ranks of the Islamic State, Dr. Neumann said. Between 25 percent and 40 percent have already returned to Europe, he said. British officials estimate that more than 300 have returned.

Defectors have said that life under the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, was far from the utopia they had been promised. * * * * *

In another case, a Western fighter named Ibrahim said he had initially joined the group because he wanted to give humanitarian assistance to Syrians and to have a chance to live in a caliphate under strict Islamic law. But he eventually left, he told CBS. “A lot of people when they come, they have a lot of enthusiasm about what they’ve seen online or what they’ve seen on YouTube,” he said. “It’s not all military parades, or it’s not all victories.”

The fighter said he saw a couple being stoned to death for adultery, and considered that just, but he did not approve of aid workers, journalists and other noncombatants being beheaded.

“My main reason for leaving was that I felt that I wasn’t doing what I had initially come for and that’s to help in a humanitarian sense the people of Syria,” he said. “It had become something else — so, therefore, no longer justified me being away from my family.” * * * * *

One of the first to recognize the value of such narratives was the United States’ Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, Dr. Neumann said. One of its successes included a YouTube video released last year that “welcomed” recruits to the Islamic State by showing images of the group’s atrocities. The video has been seen 865,000 times. The unit also runs a similar campaign on Twitter under the handle @ThinkAgain_DOS.

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