[Published here on February 26, 2015]
In interviews I conducted with ISIS fighters and supporters, I tried to bring it back to basics: why did you join, what’s it like, where’s your family? These brief yet illuminating conversations gave me a glimpse inside their heads.
We are friendly! Unless you are an enemy, of course, I mean, just because people are in ISIS doesn’t mean that they go around on a killing rampage. They are humans, they laugh they joke, they goof with each other. The beheading, execution in public are messages to ISIS enemies, but also part of Sharia law and shows that they implement it fully. — Abu Bakr al-Janabi
Mainly my main inspiration to come to Syria was George Bush, Tony Blair, and the presidents of the West and their foreign policy towards Islam — Egypt, Kashmir, Sinai, Yemen, Afghanistan. Guantanamo Bay. Abu Ghraib. —Abu Sumayyah
ISIS was a state, not a group — it was an actual state. It runs the affairs of people, like any other state — American, British, French — ISIS is running as a state. It provides food for the poor — like shelter, clothing, charity, clean roads. It does everything a normal state does. Postal services. Everything the people need. This is what attracted me about ISIS. No other groups — al-Nusra, El-Aqsa Brigade, is doing that. —Abu Sumayyah
It took time for ISIS until they implemented the law, but after having lectures about it and so on, there is no objection — with exception to those who smoke. It’s a little hard for them to suddenly quit smoking. But ISIS have been very good at helping them quit. —Abu Bakr al-Janabi
Something is always going on — always bombings. By the time it gets to midday, you are in the midst of the fighting. Or totally peaceful day, shower, play some football, play with the lads, football. So many Americans, so many Canadians, so many British guys — guys from all over the place, China, Indonesia. —Abu Sumayyah
My family is back in the UK. They don’t know that I came here — I don’t know if they know now. They never knew, I just picked my stuff up and left. . I had a dream about Syria that I was there and fighting, I took decision that day when I had the dream. —Abu Sumayyah
Abu Bakr al-Janabi is an ISIS supporter who has sent money to the group and republishes their statements online. This conversation was conducted over Twitter DMs, so the answers are his direct, written responses.
Abu Sumayyah is a fighter with ISIS. Maya interviewed him over Skype last June.