"Safari in Syrian Way": A tale of a former militant who escaped from the ISIL*

A native of Dagestan, who was successful in Moscow, tells why he had quitted his job, home, family and went to Syria, where he joined the militants of the terrorist organization "Islamic State" (IS). Unknown earlier career details in the IS of the nephew of the head of Ingushetia Yunus Bek Evkurov; the story of the battles, in which the base of the 17th Division of the Syrian Army was defeated; about how militants organized the "Safari in Syrian Way" by hunting the retreating soldiers of al-Assad in the desert; why those who come to Syria later get disappointed in militants’ ideas, – read about all that in the material of the "Caucasian Knot". The publication doesn’t aim at propaganda or counterpropaganda – the main idea is to make public little-known facts of what happens in Iraq and Syria, and a story of how and why a person starts sharing the ideas of terrorists, but then abandons them.

The "Caucasian Knot" has no proof that the militant Umalat Evkurov is in kinship with the head of the Republic of Ingushetia.

* The website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of Ingushetia, as well as other sources, fails to provide evidence that Umalat Evkurov is in kinship with the head of the Republic of Ingushetia.

Grigory Shvedov
Moscow is always awake
Moscow City, VPh
In Moscow, you had such a consumerist life; you were walking, well, just like an ordinary townsperson: visiting clubs, you could drink and smoke. Could you use any narcotic drugs?
Yes, hangouts, entertainments; in winter I travelled, snowboarded with my local friends at the ‘Snezh.Kom’ (a ski complex in Krasnogorsk, – note of the "Caucasian Knot"), there is a roofed tube there; it was when I was just studying. This fall, in order to avoid traffic jams, I worked outside the Moscow Ring Highway (known as MKAD).
I mean, you had such a little bit of a loose life, didn’t you? Was there any alcohol or something else?
All this was present; in summer, we went in for extreme sports. We are going to play paintball with guys; a big company, someone very drunk, someone gowed-up. That, in fact, was our sport.
Were you also drunk and gowed-up sometimes?
Yes, you can say that.
Did you have a car there, or some other attributes of successful life?
My last work was very successful in financial terms; it brought me quite good money, though it was more seasonal. Since September, an active phase begins, I received 5000 US dollars in September, and 8000 dollars in October. Before that, at my previous jobs, I received some 1.5-2 thousand dollars. For me it was good money. I bought a cheap car, a Honda, in good condition, some 10 years old. I didn’t want to take a loan. I liked driving on the MKAD at night, or in the centre of Moscow, along the embankments, and along the canals. Then, I liked buying expensive branded clothes; actually, as an ordinary person. In this way I lived in Moscow for seven years – from 2005 to 2012.
But the moment of satiety has come, yes? Has it become a burden for you? I'm trying to understand – why? Have you felt that all sorts of stuff – goods, pastime, what you spend money on – was not for you? Or were you just embarrassed by the city as such, and not by your behaviour?
No, not the city; it was that entire way of life. At some point I just realized that this, in fact, was not what I need. This was all empty; this was not the purpose of my life... I was praying in Dagestan, but when I came to Moscow, very quickly I stopped it. At first, I visited the mosque on Fridays; soon, I stopped it; I didn’t pray at all. During the last year, it all began burdening me.
Did you start praying when you felt the burden, or not immediately, or how?
No, I just felt that this was not what a person needs. This was not what I need... I began feeling the burden of that lifestyle. And somehow once I read an article on the ‘Kavkaztsentr’ (a resource supporting militants in Northern Caucasus; according to the judgments of Russian courts, materials of the website are extremist – note of the “Caucasian Knot”) regarding the prayer and regarding the abandonment of a prayer. It was very emotionally written and made a very strong effect on me. I became frightened, and I immediately began praying. I was praying in Dagestan, but when I came to Moscow, I very quickly stopped doing it... At that time I quitted everything: cigarettes, alcohol, and broke up with my girlfriend. I realized why I didn’t like that whole way of life; and I quitted it at once; although I smoked for a very long time, my experience of smoking was very large, for many years. But I quitted it at a click. Although before I tried several times, but couldn’t.
Was it a year before you left, or the same year?
A year before, something like that; during the last year, maybe a year and a half, I was praying. On Fridays, I went to mosques, not one and the same one, but to different.
Did you have close people, with whom you discussed jihad, the events in the Middle East?
No. I then had no jihadi beliefs at all. I just saw the problem of Syrian Muslims from aside. Not that I somehow worried for them, or supported them. I felt, so to say, sad for them. I had no support for them: neither against, nor for them. It was a neutral attitude. I felt a bit of sympathy for them because, I thought, they were being killed, while they were trying to free their land and their territory. But, for myself... I just considered myself a Muslim; I worked and was engaged in business. On Fridays, I visited mosques and prayed. Actually, that's all I did. However, I didn’t like Moscow itself already; I wanted to leave it and go away. I saw that Moscow had corrupted me very much.
Moscow is not for a family man
Car racing in Moscow at night, VPh
That is, you were ready to leave, weren’t you?
Yes, I had a goal – to go away, get married, and live there. This bustle, this Moscow’s everyday life had already strained me and weighed me down; I no longer wanted to live in Moscow; I wanted to get married and live in Makhachkala.
That is, you returned right away to get married, didn’t you? And how did you find your wife?”
I told my parents. It most often happens like that. This is not an obligation; our family didn’t follow that strict custom. I told my parents: I'm ready. They would have long told me, ‘You’re already an adult; it's time for you to get married. How old are you there? About thirty years old. It's time to get married.’ Well, I kept putting it off and brushing it aside. But then I said, ‘Dad, Mom, let's find me a bride, I’m ready to marry.’ They began looking for – this is our custom; they offered me different options: this girl, or that one. I asked who she was. I didn’t like her, I didn’t want to. Then, the last variant.
And did they send you photos?
In the beginning, it was by description. I decided whether the girl fitted me or not. I swept everything off. The last variant: they told me, there’s a girl, nicely brought up, religious. I said, that's interesting, show me her photo. They showed it and I liked it. Then, they made an offer, and they agreed. The parents showed me to their daughter; they said, she had also agreed. Then, they said: bring the groom. I still lived in Moscow at that time. I arrived, we met, came to visit them.
Did the acquaintance happen in the village?
No, it was an urban family, from Makhachkala... We came to visit them with my family, and got acquainted. We both confirmed definitively that we want to get married; and in a few months I got married. A couple of times, I went to Moscow for my business; and that was all; I didn’t go to Moscow anymore since.
But the family life didn’t calm you; and you went on looking for something in religion, didn’t you?
Not that I kept looking for. I lived a family life, everything suited me, I liked it. I compared my family life with that ugly way of life I had in Moscow. At that time, I didn’t think that this was a normal way of life for many people who live like this. And I liked more and more my family life.
New friends, new life, new problems
Mosque in Kotrov Street in Makhachkala, VPh
Despite the fact that you liked family life, at some point you began having ideas that you need to leave, didn’t you?
I got acquainted with different people, talked to them. I saw what was happening in Syria, saw these videos. I didn’t look for them purposefully, just watched. At that time, the war was active, everyone was already discussing this Syrian war; it was a Syrian war. The war was Syrian, not of the ISIL, just a war. I thought that there were Syrians, Muslims, poor and oppressed people.
That is, did Bashar al-Assad play some role in your perception of the situation, that there was such a tyrant?
I saw him right in that way – like a tyrant; and I saw that people there, at some point, got together and decided to fight this regime.
Sorry for this question, but when you already realized that you would leave soon, did you know that your wife was pregnant?
And how did it happen that it didn’t stop you?
It was very hard for me in this regard. It was very hard morally, sadly, sorrowfully and, in fact, difficult. But here, again, I said before, and now I repeat that when I went there, I... I didn’t want to go there; I really had no desire to take a submachine gun and fight. I'm not that kind of person, physically I'm not an athlete, I didn’t go in for sports as such. And I'm such, so to say, a computer man; I've been doing this for 7-8 years. Sedentary lifestyle; in my childhood, I was not a reveller in the streets, not a fighting cock. But I was ready and realized that at that moment, again, I say that, in view of my limited vision of Islam, ignorance of its basics, my next stage, next step was a duty. Not just a wish, but a duty, whether I wanted it or not; but I didn’t want it. But my duty, as it seemed to me at the time, was to do jihad, to protect and liberate Muslims and Islamic lands.
Why didn’t you try to persuade your wife to go with you?
My wife was against these ideas. I didn’t even tell her that I was going there for good. I told her that I would go there and call her to me later. I thought she would come, as it was with others. I told her that I would go for a month, see what and how, help them there, and then return to Turkey. I forced myself, when I realized for myself, at that moment, that it was my duty. Although I didn’t feel like it, but there is no way out, I must go there. Although there were my wife, work, home, family, parents. Nevertheless...
That is, you then believed that as a Muslim you continued carrying out your duties, even if you left her, didn’t you?
Yes, I did.
And now, what do you think?
Now I believe that I still have a lot to learn, to study religion – this is my first duty. The second duty is to spend time with my family; my family, my wife and children should grow in Islam. I must call for this and spread my knowledge among relatives, people around me and beyond. Here are my duties.
Did your wife try to talk you out?
She did, yes. She was very upset. But, again, I reassured her, like, I was going there, but I’d be back in a month.
And was it no longer possible to return, or have you already changed your views?
Returning was no longer an option. Even if I wanted to, they would not let me go. They could declare me an apostate, if I said, ‘Now, I'm leaving, I don’t want it any more’.
And if you didn’t say anything, for instance, some member of the family came to visit you, and you went to see him off, when he was leaving. Was it possible?
Another resident of Dagestan told about the routes to get to Syria; about how illegal border crossing is organized; and how parents are trying to take their sons out of the territory controlled by militants; see the interview to the "Caucasian Knot" "Bring back alive: from Dagestan to ISIL to return the son".
They could be seen off up to the border.
At this moment, when you are at the border, could you suddenly get out of the car and go through with him? What, would the border guard let you pass?
I don’t know, because personally, I, probably, was not ready enough. I was in doubt, whether I was to leave all that. I was not ready for this. Then, when I was ready, it wasn’t even possible to get to the border, to say nothing about crossing it. The issue was never raised that someone would come there; and then someone wanted to leave it. I don’t even remember such cases.
Leave for the "forest" or go fighting to Syria?
Syrians throwing stones at armoured vehicle, Kobani, VPh
The video of Seifulla Shishani was once very popular; can you say that he affected very seriously on someone, who was inwardly ready, but still lacked something to take the last step?
Seifulla Al-Shishani (Ruslan Machalikashvili): according to Russian special services, he arrived in Syria in early 2013 and was killed on February 6, 2014. He became famous for his propaganda video clips, which showed bodies of killed soldiers of the Syrian Army. The Section "Reference Book" of the "Caucasian Knot" contains the material "Natives from the Caucasus in the ranks of the ISIL".
As for me, you can say so.
But how? Can you describe it in your own words, how it happened? Have you watched his videos for several times? How did it happen?
He was also one of the factors, not a weak factor... Such an energetic inner charge, spiritual.
He attracted quite many people. Did you know many people who came there because of him?
Not exactly that he was the reason, but he was such a factor – a kick in the ass. People, in short, suffered and wanted, but when he began already emotionally shaming people, ‘Now, are you not ashamed? Why do you admit this?’ Well, there it was already a kick. There were also other factors. There were people I met in Makhachkala, made friends, got befriended by common interests.
Who also thought like this?
We discussed these topics, militants in the Caucasus. At that time, they were Mujahideens for us. We called them like that.
And now will you call them Mujahideens?
No, they are militants; they just fight for the land, against Russian militaries. They claim that they are fighting for Sharia, but, in fact, nothing close to it.
Can you say that you have Takfir not only towards the ISIL, but also to those who are fighting in the Caucasus?
Absolutely. To al-Qaeda, to ISIL, to those in the Caucasus. All who say that they are fighting for Islam, for Sharia – there is no jihad anywhere. As for the military jihad in particular, today, it is nowhere on the earth. I don’t know such a case. Maybe there are local cases that I don’t know about.
The fact that they close mosques in Makhachkala, in other parts of Dagestan, isn’t it the reason? That people can’t come to the mosque. Azan is one pillar of Islam.
No, I'm not saying that today those people who are at war have no grounds. They want to fight for their land, their historical land, let's say. I simply say that this war is not a jihad, not an Islamic war and not a war of Muslims against non-Muslims. This is a war of non-Muslims against non-Muslims.
So, if we recollect that you already had friends, acquaintances...
I had friends with common interests; we discussed this topic. We first discussed that we should get evicted in the Caucasus. Get evicted in the jargon of ‘forest people’ means to leave for the forest.
Did you have among these friends those who had their friends ‘in the forest’?
I had acquaintances, who were not ‘in the forest’, but lived in cities. People through them tried to find a way to the ‘forest’. But at that time, an active struggle was going on; it was very difficult. They could not find the way. So, we decided that we should go to Syria.
Who, how and why depart to Syria
Makhachkala, Dagestan, VPh
And that circle of your acquaintances and comrades – were there 3 of them, or 20?
Three or four persons, a narrow circle.
Did you trust the phones? Did you communicate through phones or just in person?
We used mobile phones, but we didn’t discuss these topics. We must meet? Let's meet. We often saw each other. I spent some time in Makhachkala working with a new acquaintance. He probably had some reason to come to such convictions. He was a Chechen. His father is from Chechnya, a Chechen. His mother is Russian or Ukrainian. He lived somewhere in Russia, in a province.
That is, he, too, like you, came to the region, came back like, didn’t he?
Yes, when the first Chechen war began, they left for some Russian city, a large one, in some central region, but neither Moscow nor Saint Petersburg. There he lived and was not linked with Islam at all. He grew up there, studied at school, then, as he told me, he went to the army, to special troops there. He was trained as a sniper. He was physically nicely trained, with military skills. Then, his contacts with his father, his historical roots... It's normal that he came to Chechnya; and somehow already there, probably, he got interested in Islam, began practicing namaz.
You got acquainted with him...
In Makhachkala, in 2012 or 2013. I had known him for a year.
So, he moved from Chechnya to Dagestan, didn’t he?
Yes, there he was not left alone. He was taken to police stations and FSB departments.
And why did they start pressing him?
He took no actions and didn’t participate anywhere. Maybe, he was acquainted with someone; or because he came from Russia and was interested in Islam. He was not a Sufi, as Chechens do. If you are not a Sufi, then you are a Salafi, respectively, already a suspicious person. Maybe this was the reason. The fact was that he was beaten up several times at the police station; he was told at the last instance, ‘Either you leave, or next time you won’t get alive out of here.’ They told this in plain text; therefore, he went to Dagestan.
Did he live alone or with someone?
He married a widow. She had a husband, a militant. He was killed in a special operation in Chechnya or Ingushetia.
Did you know his wife?
I saw her couple of times.
Sometimes the widows who get remarried are very radically tuned. But you didn’t communicate with her, did you?
No, male outsiders don’t communicate with alien women, only in extreme cases. Such cases happen when she has nowhere to go, but it’s necessary to help her, to do something. But just to ideologically persuade each other, a man and a woman will never do; only a husband, a wife or close relatives.
Could she influence him?
Probably, he already had same beliefs; that's why he was looking for such a wife. It is unlikely that she persuaded him and prepared for it.
Did you communicate with him much?
I met him, when he was working at a construction site. I also worked from idleness – there was no need for money, but I had to do something, especially I wanted some physical work; therefore, I went to the construction site. A house was built; and we made screed coating there. Well, usual building works, physical works.
Did you long work together?
No, maybe a month or two; we performed a couple of orders. We laid some electricity wires in the walls. In total, a month, or even less. Well, thus, we talked with him, and concluded that we should go to Syria.
And how did it happen, that moment?
We also had a couple of friends with common interests, also from Dagestan.
A couple? Some 3-4 persons?
Yes, 3-4 of them.
Would you call your group a jamaat? Did you meet regularly?
No. It wasn’t a jamaat. There was no Amir; there was no jamaat; we were just acquaintances; we met and had common interests, common beliefs. Apart from me and the Chechen, there were two more, they were older than us – some 40-45 years old... They were ready to go there, and already gathered their things.
Did you all four go to different mosques, or for the most part to one and the same?
We didn’t go to some one particular mosque and didn’t gather there. We didn’t get acquainted at a mosque. In my opinion, the Chechen introduced me. I just can’t remember, but it seems to me that he introduced me, because he knew them well.
And who were those two? What were they? They were family people, probably.
Yes, family people. Later, their families followed them. One was a taxi driver, the other – a driver. I don’t remember exactly where they worked.
Among the four, were you the only one with higher education?
I don’t know, maybe they were all with higher education. They all were rather intelligent.
And who was better in Islam among the four of you?
In Islam? Probably, that Chechen, in ideological terms. I'm not talking exactly about jihad now, but ideologically. With them, I first encountered the topic that there is shirk... I know that there are Sufis here; you see, they are not like that. Salafis don’t like them, and they don’t like Salafis. And why, I didn’t even understand. He explained it to me. In general, for the first time I faced this, that there are such notions like shirk and kufr. Actually, all the knowledge was superficial, even in that Chechen.
For how long did you communicate: a few months, or a year, or a year and a half?
It's hard to recollect. Maybe for a year, I don’t know. So, when they decided to go, my friend, a Chechen, took them from Makhachkala to Derbent, to the border with Azerbaijan.
And why he did it? Why didn’t they take a taxi, say?
It was not important; he just wanted to help somehow, to reveal engagement. Especially, seeing off friends, he wanted, probably, to be with them. He took them there; and they crossed the border.
Through the legal checkpoint? On Samur?
Yes, they legally crossed the border, took a taxi and went to Baku; and already from there by air to Istanbul.
And why not from Makhachkala to Istanbul?
Already at that time... Maybe someone thinks that it was some paranoia, maybe, really something... But they checked more carefully. There were suspicions already there, because at that time – in the summer of 2013, in early summer – people already departed there, people were leaving.
Did you discuss their departure with your friend? What moods did you have that they left, and you stayed?
It was like that we should also go. But we didn’t go for some reason, maybe for family reasons, things haven’t been settled, something else. We found such excuses for ourselves... But the real reason was that I was not yet spiritually and morally ready to take this step. I was determined to do this, but I probably was not ready to take the step yet. Somewhere a month later the Chechen left.
Alone or with someone else?
He left alone. He had a cousin brother; but he was already a local, a Daghestani; half Dagestani, half Chechen.
Was he in your group, too?
Yes, he was, too, like us. The Chechen had left; then, we stayed with him alone. A month passed, we gathered, finished our businesses and bought tickets.
You two were flying, weren’t you?
We flew three of us; there was one more acquaintance.
Volgograd suicide bombers
Trolleybus blow up in Volgograd, VPh
We met in a small mosque in Makhachkala... I went there in the morning to do my namaz; and he too. We talked and it turned out that we are thinking alike; and he was the third one, who flew with us. There was also another guy, who also came to the mosque. When I was in Syria, I saw a video. Do you remember that at the end of 2013, explosions were triggered in Volgograd at the railway station and in a trolleybus?
On December 29, 2013, an explosion occurred at the railway station in Volgograd; and in the morning on December 30, 2013, another explosion occurred in a Volgograd trolleybus. Investigators qualified them as terror acts. Both blasts were committed, according to the power agents, by suicide bombers. As a result, 34 people were killed, and more than 70 others were injured.
Yes, before the Olympiad.
These guys had made those videos. One at the station himself blew himself up, the other in the trolleybus. The one who undermined himself in the trolleybus was Suleiman. There, in the videos, he also acts as Suleiman. This, in my opinion, was his real name. In the video he shows, demonstrates his button; he’s so satisfied and happy, smiling, straight happy; anxious to commit self-explosion. And before that they made a video appeal: he was sitting, then, next to him another guy was, who talked to him. They talked for a long time in the video...
Let us remind you that the grouping “Ansar al-Sunna” took responsibility for the terror acts in Volgograd, said the statement distributed by the websites, which support militants of Northern Caucasus. The statement on behalf of the "Ansar al-Sunna sabotage group" led by Amir Umar was published on January 18 on the YouTube video service.
Did you know him?
I knew him, but he didn’t know the others. He only knew me.
How did you get involved with him?
I just went with him to the mosque.
You just saw him, didn’t you?
Volgograd "suicide bomber" Suleiman, screenshot video from the YouTube
In general, the guy who blew himself up in Volgograd, and this third man, who flew in our group, these two, they didn’t know anyone else. They only knew me. With the third one we agreed on the same day, bought tickets – each by himself. Then, we went in different cars. We already had paranoia: we were afraid that they would trace us down and identify. Each departed separately not to give them a chance to capture the whole group, if they capture one of us. We arrived at the airport and flew to Istanbul.
There already did you go all together?
Yes, there we were already all together.
Was anyone a sort of chief among you?
No, there was no chief. We just phoned each other and met. Are you ready? Yes, we buy tickets and look. They have no everyday flights from Makhachkala; in my opinion, they fly once or twice a week. Here, there is the next, nearest flight; that’s all, buy tickets.
Was it the summer of 2013?
Yes, it was summer, end of July. That’s how we ended up there.
That is, how did the moment occur, that you decided to buy a ticket? You first agreed with your two companions that you all booked the same flight, didn’t you?
Yes, here we were all together, ready to go. Yes, we must go, that’s all, we buy tickets.
That is, it was not that you were watching a video and bought a ticket.
No, it was not such a direct emotional rush. Gradually, I'm already ready, yes. Just delayed, saying that I had to finish all your affairs – family, some financial ones.
From Istanbul to Hatay
On the border with Turkey, VPh
Were you met in Turkey?
No. We had a contact, a man, we communicated with him by the WattsApp; we told him that we were coming there, what should we do next? He said, ‘Take the specific bus...’ Hatay, in my opinion, is the name of a province. When we were approaching it, we said, here we are, we're coming. ‘Well, come and wait there, they'll come to pick you up,’ he said. An ordinary taxi driver came, a Turk. He took us to a village, very close to the border, a Turkish village; there, already a guide met us, a local Turk. Late at night it was, until the morning, till the morning prayer, we had some meals and slept there. And then, he took us further to the border, to the barbed wire. We crossed, and some guys met us there, they were Azerbaijanis, one of them was also quite well-known one – Mukhammad Amriki...
Abu Mukhammad al-Amriki, (al-Amriki means "American") was one of the commanders of the Jabhat an-Nusra units, who later joined the IS. He gained fame after in February 2014 a video with him appeared on the Internet, widespread by "Jabhat an-Nusra”. The militant himself claimed that he was a US citizen, but experts noted a strong accent in his speech and suggested that he hadn’t lived long in the USA. In January 2015, the NBC News circulated a message that Abu Mukhammad al-Amriki was killed in a battle in the city of Kobani (Ain Al-Ara). However, there was no official confirmation of his death made by the State Department or US special services. Earlier, Kurdish sources reported his death. According to Pukmedia, Mukhammad al-Amriki was killed in October 2014. The Section "Reference Book" of the "Caucasian Knot" has the material "Natives from the Caucasus in the ranks of the ISIL".
Amriki, yes. Another our respondent, who was in prison, told us about him, about this Amriki. Was he American, yes, Amriki?
Yes, he had lived in the USA. He himself was an Azerbaijani. Then he came there. There was even a video on the Internet, showing how he downed a helicopter with the ‘Igla’ (Needle) missile. But it was not in the ISIL, it was before ISIL, in 2013.
Little-known information about the "Islamic State" (IS) (banned in Russia by a court judgement and recognized to be a terrorist organization) and the testimonies of a person, who was in the ranks thereof, may be found in the interview by the "Caucasian Knot" entitled "Journey to the ‘Islamic State’ and back”.
ISIL from within
In the militants’ hostel, VPh
Were there many people among storm-troopers from the former Soviet space – Central Asia and from the Caucasus?
The main part consisted of them. There were a lot of Caucasians and Asians; there were plenty of Uzbeks and Tajiks. There were also Arabs, but at that time there were mostly Caucasians. How many, it’s hard to say; maybe a hundred, maybe a couple hundreds.
But those who were from Dagestan or from other regions of the Caucasus, did they somehow communicate more intensively with each other; or you contacted only those, who were in your group?
There were no problems with communication there. There, after all, in the rear, in the cities, when we lived there, there was no curfew. If you are free, you have no job and there are no instructions, you move around freely, go where you want, and you communicate with whom you want.
Well, did you have some format of communication with someone from Dagestan, simply because you were from the same region?
I talked mostly with those who were in my jamaat. I had acquaintances both among Caucasians, and among Asians from (Central) Asia, we were just acquaintances, with whom I simply communicated, once we lived in one city; either neighbours, or otherwise; we communicated in a friendly manner.
There’s such an opinion, both in Russia and elsewhere, that there are strong differences between people from Central Asia and Caucasian republics. But for people who came to Islam, where many are from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and from Northern Caucasus – these differences are gone, they are pretty tightly communicating, and understand each other very well. Do you share this opinion, or do you think that there is a very strong difference all the same, that Uzbeks keep to one another; they speak Uzbek in the same way?
It is easier for them to speak Uzbek, this is normal. In Islam, nationalism is categorically denied and blamed. Nationalism is already like a religion within Islam. An Uzbek simply knows Uzbek better than Russian; therefore, he speaks Uzbek with other Uzbeks; and not because he promotes his nation.
But were you friends? Did you have understanding?
Yes, we were friends. But still there were some moments, perhaps, left... But there were no attitude to Uzbeks like to Gastarbeiters.
And in Russia, what do you think, there may be such that those who come to Islam, in particular, driven by the ideas of jihad, they also have these differences blurred, between those from Central Asia and those from the Caucasus?
Even in the ISIL completely, perhaps, they have not blurred. Some moments in a slight and weak form, maybe, could remain. In Russia, they are not completely blurred, but, in any way, the brink already blurred very much.
That is, more such generality and unity.
Yes, they are no longer split by nationalities. Historically, there are a lot of Uzbeks in Russia, for example. They are called Gastarbeiters. But they are humans, but rural, uneducated people. They are not very well developed intellectually. Therefore, from this side, we can say that there is this moment. We recognize this as a fact. But we don’t oppress them for this reason, we don’t separate them, we don’t consider them second-rate people.
School of young militant
Charging a volley fire missile system, VPh
What did they do in training centres? Did they separately trained those who were engaged in assault operations?
All the recruits, who came, were sent immediately to ordinary common muascars. This is a training camp. But, when I arrived (it was not the ISIL yet), there was no centralized well-organized training as such yet. When I arrived, it was the month of Ramadan, we were fasting. And therefore we just were running there for a couple of weeks over rocky places, hills and deserts. That was all our training. Most of the time we were fasting, and then, after that, we left, and our training was over. And then, when I was with the ISIL, everything was much more serious and better organized. There were training sessions, tactical education and shooting. There were specialized muascars. If some people wanted to participate in assault squads of special troops, they were sent there. There were snipers’ muascars. Others had huge artillery, tanks, they taught to handle cannons and armoured personnel carriers (APCs). They sent people where they had deficit, or at person’s will.
How long did the training last?
I had just physical training, just workout. It took us a month in total. In general muascars, in the ISIL (I wasn’t trained there), it also lasted for about a month. I don’t know about other specialised muascars. At snipers’ ones, I know, guys passed accelerated courses. It was six-month long, in my opinion. Then, there were three-month courses as well.
Accelerated – that is, three-month long, right?
Half-year-long ones are also accelerated, because there were professional snipers, who in the former life took their service in the Russian Army, and as snipers in particular, in Special Troops. There were professional snipers already. As far as I know, they train it for several years.
Revolvers, pistols, assault rifles, VPh
Did you have your own firearms, or were you given some, when you went on duty?
In the ISIL, everyone has his own firearms.
But he buys it, right?
If a person wants to buy, he buys; no one will say anything against him. But they give out weapons to everyone. I had my own ones from the very beginning, I bought them.
That is, with the same submachine that you had in Aleppo you passed through the whole way... And why didn’t you wait until they give some to you?
There was a new jamaat; and the newcomers didn’t have any weapons yet.
And for a muascar (training camp, – note of the “Caucasian Knot”), why should one have a weapon, if there is training there?
I bought it after the muascar. After the muascar, it was not possible to give out. They waited until they got money, someone would sponsor, someone would buy. Therefore, I had my own one.
Yes, a Kalashnikov submachine gun. In the beginning, I had a Soviet-made one; then, after a while, I bought one of German assembly. Such guns are made by many countries; of very high quality – especially, Soviet-made, yes, and German-made either.
There were not, probably, modern Russian ones there, were there?
Do you mean modern weapons? Of course, not; all of them were Soviet-made; model AK-47. There were also AK-74, calibre 5.45 mm; but they are expensive and very few there.
Why are they more expensive?
They are precise and modern; they are better. And they are rare.
That is, it’s modern Russian weapon?
It was also Soviet-made – one of the latest assemblies. It fires more precisely, it’s recoil is not so strong.
And why is the German-made better?
It has a more convenient butt. A wooden butt is inconvenient to carry, like a large paddle. And this one is retractable, like a metal chicken leg. It’s pulled out from the submachine gun and becomes a good butt. It consists of two pieces. A German-made one is of high quality. There are also Chinese-made ones, with diamond-coated barrels. You can deliver fire for a long time; it doesn’t lose shooting accuracy from overheating.
Doesn’t a German-made one get overheated, does it?
Any one gets overheated. If you keep shooting for long, firing out a few magazines, it will get overheated.
Did you happen to fire out several magazines?
No, not several ones. I had such a ribat, say, a non-combat one. Often I had to shoot at shooting ranges, during training; it was interesting to shoot there. There, I made several volleys. But shooting aimlessly... They didn’t give ammunition out just for nothing.
Did you have to buy rounds?
No, they gave quite enough rounds to people who took part in assaults.
And trophies? Suppose, there was a group of storm-troopers, and then another group comes in, so to say, the main one. Let's say there are 20 of them. Seven storm-troopers and 13 others, who follow them. They capture, say, 50 Kalashnikovs? Do they divide them proportionally among all 20? Or did they give all the Kalashnikovs to the ISIL; and do they split all the captured money among those 20, or did those seven get more, because they are more at risk?
In my opinion, they divided everything equally. It's difficult for me to say. There was such a moment that those who were in reserve, as helpers; or those who brought food, already after the battles. Such people were given a smaller share. But those who participated in battles, they got everything equally.
Did you take part in battles for the base of the 17th Division, or were you in reserve?
Our jamaat took part there, but I personally didn’t. The reserve was in the city, if, suddenly, it would be needed. If there are some incredible losses, there’s no difference whether you are a reserve or not, they take everyone who is in the jamaat. But there is a reserve group, on the spot, which is ready if needed.
And were you there?
No, I was in the city. Then, yes, I already came there to see this division, it was interesting. I saw a lot of trophies there, a huge amount: huge shells, cannons, submachine guns, pistols.
For large shells, for cannons, did they pay money to those who captured them?
Money was given out for anything smaller than DShK. A DShK is a large-calibre Soviet-made machine gun, calibre – 12.5 mm, inclusive. For all that is over this they didn’t pay.
Thus, you were paid too, weren’t you?
No, I didn’t, I was in reserve.
Do only those, who were in place, receive money?
And in Sinjar, did you receive any payments for anything?
No, our group didn’t participate in any battles there. We just held ribat.
Didn’t you get anything for ribat?
No. It is for anyone, who is in the ISIL, even if he's a cook, who doesn’t fight at all, if he is not listed in the combat jamaat, he just gets 50 US dollars a month. In the ISIL, there is, for example, police, city police, there is police of morals, there are some communal workers. Any person in the ISIL gets a salary.
In dollars, by the way, or what?
In Iraq – in Iraqi, what do they have, dinars. In Syria, they have pounds. They paid according to the exchange rate.
Who defined the rate, I wonder? Who said that today 50 dollars are equal to so many dinars?
I don’t know how it was regulated there, but the rate somehow depended both on the rate under Bashar, and on the rate in the territory of the Free Army. There were exchange offices there for foreign currencies. Not ISIL fighters worked there, but the local peaceful population. You could exchange money at any time. The dollar is also an everyday currency. You could change, but you could also use dollars.
And how did they bring money? That is, money arrived with newcomers only, didn’t it?
Yes, there are no banks there, and no ATMs either. In Iraq, I saw ATMs, but, naturally, they are non-working.
Deep in the ISIL’s rear
Still a peaceful city, Aleppo, VPh
Didn’t think that you would get to the rear. You thought that everywhere there was a frontline, that every day there was shooting. And you came and found out that there is a territory where you don’t need...
Quite a peaceful life; absolutely; just people were walking with firearms. They want to carry them, and so they do. The life is absolutely peaceful: marketplaces, bazaars, shops, entertainments... I bought a car.
How much did it cost?
It was a Kia Rio, costing about 3-4 thousand dollars. It was about five years old. I bought it from an acquaintance. Buying a car is no problem. There are car markets also there. Accordingly, there was no registration, no licenses, no number plates – nothing. There are also hijacked cars, and imported ones. There’s no customs clearance there either. There were many European cars delivered via Bulgaria.
Were they brought via Bulgaria?
With Bulgarian documents; apparently, they were brought from Bulgaria to Turkey, then to Syria. Cars there were 1.5-2 times cheaper than in Russia.
And was your car not a hijacked one?
I think no. I didn’t go into these details. Then, probably, nobody thought about it. There were a lot of European hijacked cars; most of them KIA and Hyundai models – a lot of new ones, in good condition.
What did the everyday life look like? What did you do in the evening, when there was no curfew, in those places, where there was no curfew? Was there a period in Syria, when there was no curfew?
If we are talking about the ISIL now, yes, there had never been a curfew in the rear.
What did you do in the evenings?
Just lived in apartments, communicated, or went to the river to swim, then met, went to eat kebab, shashlik, ice cream (smiles). City lived the usual life – Tabka, Raqqa, El-Bab, others.
Did any institutions work? Were there cafes, where you went to eat together, or...?
There were a lot of different cafes, Internet cafes also. Communication with the outside world was only through Internet cafes. People went there to communicate with their relatives, probably. Tabka is on the bank of the Euphrates River; we went bathing there.
Did you have to go shopping often, buy something for yourself, or was it then of little interest to you?
Quite often. Let's say that family people had to go to the marketplace; they had to buy food and bread there; they don’t buy things often, just sometimes. There were ateliers there.
Was it cold in winter?
Things were sold. I say, there were ateliers, people often ordered custom-made clothes, such Arabic commission stores. In winter, when it's cold, in fact, in the market, people could buy things in stores, cheap clothes, warm ones inclusive. There were no problems with supplying stores with goods; they worked at full swing. In the rear, these cities, when there was no such situation as now, in 2013-2015, when the active offensive by the coalition had not yet begun, had, we can say, peaceful life. People quietly lived their ordinary life; they worked somewhere; some cultivated their fields, some traded in marketplaces, worked in car repair shops, ran their stores, Internet cafes – in general, absolutely everything. They worked in schools, on the dam and hydroelectric power plant.
And when did the situation start changing?
Unfortunately, I can’t say that in detail, because at that time I was already in jail; so it’s difficult for me to give an assessment.
Let’s take you, a non-family man, how much did you spend a month? More than 50 dollars?
I think not, depends when. Food is cheap there – fruits, vegetables. They are all local there. Meat is more expensive, a live sheep cost 100 dollars. Well, I had my own money, which I didn’t spend on food. Sometimes I could buy myself some clothes. Sometimes I could go to a cafe, when I wanted to eat some sweets or fruits – then I went, bought, drank some soda. Of course, we didn’t go to cafes every day there, just occasionally.
Did you go to other cities?
I lived in Tabka; and we often went to Raqqa; simply so or on business; we often went to Mosul. It made a serious impression on me – a nicely developed, non-poor, huge city. The central part, the old city, where the marketplace is – whole neighbourhoods, districts, like a mini-city – this is its bazaar. All houses in the centre are rich, made of marble. Trade is highly developed. The central street there is a university street; the university there is notorious.
Why is it notorious?
For the fact that they smashed it into shreds, into splinters (the Mosul University was bombed by coalition forces; the Iraqi army stated that on the basis of university laboratories militants set up the production of explosive devices and chemical warheads. On January 13, 2017, officials of the Iraqi army stated that the university had been liberated from militants, – note "Caucasian Knot"). From there, in my opinion, it all began, and then proceeded further, they began levelling the city with the ground. Now, there are only ruins there in general.
Do you now follow what's happening there?
Yes, I try looking on the Internet. It’s still a part of my past, I wonder what's going on there. There are quite a lot of people there; I'm not talking specifically about ISIL fighters, I'm talking about civilians. Almost a hundred thousand, probably, are already dead. There's a real catastrophe there. Refugees, I read, more than a million, are in some inhuman, animal-like conditions; they live in tent camps.
And if you compare what happened during the capture of Aleppo with the capture of Mosul, do you think, where were there more victims among civilians?
It’s difficult to say; in my opinion, there were more victims in Mosul. Because in Aleppo much less population remained. There are not so many people there anymore. And Mosul was larger; there were several million, more than a million, definitely. Then, when they captured Aleppo, half of the city was in Assad’s hands; that is, we talk not about the whole of Aleppo, but about half of the city, in which very few local and peaceful people remained. About Aleppo, to be honest, I don’t know, I saw more videos than live. Mosul – they really didn’t leave a stone on the stone. Probably, there were many more victims in Mosul.
The operation to free Mosul from the militants of the terrorist grouping began in October 2016. On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced on the Twitter that the city was liberated. On July 19, the British edition The Independent, reported, citing Kurdish sources, that during the battles in Mosul, about 40,000 civilians perished.
Sharia Themis
Execution of a woman in Syria, VPh
Did you ever face a trial of a thief or other criminal? Were decisions of Sharia courts publicly performed?
Yes, I saw some videos. I myself was not a witness; I saw video clips, how there cut an arm or a wrist. Then, they didn’t follow so actively the ISIL groups in the "VKontakte", in other social network; therefore, it was easy to watch everything of the kind. It was not blocked. In some ISIL group they posted, as they said, a punishment of a person for a theft, according to Sharia. And once there was a video clip – a civilian was punished.
For a theft?
For a theft, and in the second case – an ISIL militant. Both were chopped off their wrists. They approached it very competently: a doctor was next to it, just ready. The wrist was cut off, so that there was no blood loss, so that he would not suffer from pain. It is not supposed to torture him with this pain, but simply to punish. To chop the wrist off and that's it. The video showed it, and the doctor immediately began acting: he tightened it, treated with iodine or something else, to stop a further blood loss. He was ready and started immediately. It was all centralized. Apparently, they somehow announce in advance that this will happen.
Were there many people around?
Yes, quite many; both militaries and civilians; everyone was watching. There were cases when they threw stones.
Did you see this or...?
I didn’t see it, my friends and acquaintances, whom I knew, saw it. They threw stones at two women, in my opinion. They were punished for adultery.
To death? Or just punished?
They throw stones to death only. It's not so easy to kill with stones.
Was it somewhere in a square? Or how was it?
I didn’t see it in video clips. This I didn’t see. They told about it. It was also somewhere in the square near the marketplace. It was in 2014, probably.
Was it in Syria or already in Iraq?
It was in Syria. Well, at the time of the ISIL and now. I don’t know what is going on now with the border, but at the time the border was practically non-existent; they drove straight, past the former border. It was not there, just a wasteland. They levelled it with the ground: a hill, an ordinary road. Who wanted, could drive here and there. Formally, this was Syria and that was Iraq. And that was a common territory, as if you went from Dagestan to Astrakhan. Well, yes, there was a checkpoint at the exit from the city. Not straight on that former border, but there, not far away Shaddad was – a Syrian town.
Trade in concubines
Slave market, VPh
Are concubines widespread? Nor wives, but concubines.
Yes, they were, when captured.
Did some Amirs have them, or ordinary males?
Both Amirs and rank-and-file ones. You could buy it all.
And did you see yourself how they sell women? They tell that Yezidi women were often...
Basically, only they were concubines, they were sold.
Did you see somewhere a marketplace, where they traded in humans?
I didn’t see the marketplace; they said that at such and such a time, on a such and such day, you can go and buy; they’ll sell. Somewhere, in some city. But for me it was of no interest.
But do you know someone who bought a concubine for himself?
Yes, I know people who had concubines. There was one guy, an Egyptian; he had a concubine, a young girl, about 18-19 years old. There were also married men, who took concubines.
Yezidi women exactly?
Yes, at that time only Yezidi women were concubines, because you can’t take Shiite women as concubines.
Because they are Muslims?
No, well, that's from the standpoint of the ISIL. They treat them as apostates. They say that Shiites are apostates, that is, they ceased to be Muslims, but they used to be. Who was formerly a Muslim, she can’t be taken. And Yezidis were never Muslims, they were taken. And that guy, the Egyptian, he didn’t touch her. He was married, but he was such a religious guy, very educated in this respect, he had great knowledge. He, by the way, also later was executed for the Takfir, for his declaring the Takfir. He also wanted to leave, but he couldn’t.
And how did they execute him? Shot dead, or...
They shoot dead. He made a dagwat to that girl (a call for Islam, – translation of the term by the ‘islam.ru’). As a result, she got converted to Islam. Then he wanted to marry her to someone. Well, she didn’t accept Islam, she accepted his call in that sense. He released her, said that’s all, you are no longer a slave; I, as your guardian, will marry you to someone.
Did you know this Egyptian personally?
Yes, I knew very closely; we made friends. I was very sad, when I learned that he had perished; because he also wanted to leave. We had with him... He also explained some of my mistakes to me, yes. And my misconceptions about the ISIL.
That is, are you sure that he didn’t force this girl whom he bought?
Yes, I know well about him and the girl. She was young and she was a virgin. And he was looking for someone who wanted to get married. But at that moment he got into jail; and all that mess began. He was going to find a man to marry her, whom he would approve.
But do you know other cases, when concubines were used as sexual slaves?
There was an adult man, also an Egyptian. He had a concubine, an adult woman, she wasn’t beautiful, but she had two little children. He didn’t abuse her; he didn’t keep it on the chain. Once, however, she wanted to escape; he caught and beat her up. But then she was treated normally... Now, they show that since she is a concubine, she is kept in bestial conditions, beaten, tortured, held on a chain or in a stable. No, she was like a housekeeper. I visited him and saw her. He was also good to her children. Not like his own children, he had a son of some 16-17 year old. But the children were also very well treated by their children, how they rear children; they lisped them, just like everyone else... I didn’t see that she was very unhappy. Well, probably, yes, it’s not probably, but for sure, she would like more to get back home, to her relatives, to her homeland.
Now, when time has passed, don’t you think that concubines were such sexual slaves, in fact, that they had no chance to go?
A concubine is not a sexual slave. It's a slave, yes. That is, she is kept there against her will.
But, say, a woman's husband was killed; he was in the assault group; and she has two children. No one wants to marry her, but she is offered to be a concubine. Does she have to agree or will someone take decision for her?
No, a concubine is a slave. A slave gets into slavery against her will; she is forced to do this.
But can a widow of a killed storm-trooper be a concubine?
Maybe yes. If she was captured, she will be a concubine. Again, it doesn’t mean that she will be treated badly. If she doesn’t fight, try to kill her master, the owner, will not resist, then she will have a humane attitude. A concubine doesn’t mean that she has no rights. She also has her own rights. That is, the master, the owner not just of a woman, but of a slave generally, is obliged to feed, to dress, to give a roof over head. And he should not just for pleasure torture and beat up his slave. This is prohibited in Islam. That is, a slave, not only a female concubine, a male slave, children...
And where can she complain, the concubine?
Probably, it will be difficult for her to complain, if he, for example, keeps her at home... There were cases, when a concubine accepted Islam, accepted his appeal.
His vision of Islam?
Yes, accepted his call; respectively, her rights are already rising sharply, despite the fact that she had bee a Yezidi and she had been captured.
Is a Yezidi woman, who has accepted Islam, already treated equal to other Muslim women?
Honestly, I don’t know this case; I'm not good at this. There were cases in history that slaves-Muslims were released. But this was either by force, or at the owner’s will. Either he must, or he can. I don’t know. But, again, if a slave accepts Islam, definitely, he has more rights than a non-Muslim slave. But even a non-Muslim slave, again, has his rights, which the owner has no right to violate.
Yes, but it’s unclear when and how one can challenge a violation of these rights.
Probably, somehow... If he does some work in the street, he can, perhaps, say when a Muslim is near, ‘Here, they infringe me.’ I don’t know.
But not that one can come to a Sharia court, such...
I didn’t come across. There were no such cases there. There were no male slaves. Children-slaves, they don’t work. Children just are brought up and raised by them, and called to their religion. And women are used as housekeepers, in a sexual way – as concubines. Slavery is physical labour, such there... There was no need for physical labour, accordingly; today no one cultivates fields, there’s machinery everywhere. Building houses? There are houses already. No one forces anybody to build houses.
Did any of your acquaintances participate in operations against Yezidi settlements?
Our jamaat participated in Sinjar. But not in an operation.
Kurds live there, in Sinjar.
Yes, Kurds, and Yezidis among them. Our jamaat had a mission there; we held ribat. There they didn’t conduct operations. They had seized this city before we moved there. It was captured by some other jamaats; and there was a small part, a very small one, just several streets, a small block of the city remaining under control of the Kurds. We came, when everything was ready, let's say. And we came right to keep ribat.
In Sinjar, how long did you have to stand on alert? How long did it last? A day after every two, or what?
There were groups there, who succeeded each other periodically. In 10 days, two weeks, approximately like that.
Did anyone, who was there before you, take part in attacks, in seizure of Yezidi villages?
I don’t know anyone. But, of course, they were ISIL fighters, who captured them.
They write that they had completely eliminated the Yezidi population, except for young women, who could be sold.
And the old women, did they kill them, yes, they say?
Well, they write. I don’t know if it's true or not.
It is not true. In Islam, there is no such thing. There are some ISIL rituals, they don’t know ideological aspects; they don’t fulfil; therefore they are not in Islam. But rituals from Islam, namaz, Sharia are some moments in the legislation, slavery, the capture of slaves. They were carried out according to the rules. You can’t go like this...
That is, all the Yezidis were not killed?
Those, who fought, were killed. Enemies were killed; women remained, they were taken prisoners.
And if older women?
They didn’t kill anyone. That man, an adult, he also had an elderly concubine. I saw her face, she was not beautiful.
A Yezidi woman?
Yes, who had two children, about whom I told.
But they took her; and if she was 50-60-70 years old?
I didn’t hear anything about it, I don’t know.
Trophies and payment
Weapons of different generations, VPh
Did you communicate with any locals in Tabka or Iraq, or Aleppo, in general? Or only with your own guys? Did you visit someone or not?
Of course, we talked, actively communicated, there were friends. Yes, we had a neighbour. There, that Chechen, who came from Makhachkala, his neighbour a local Syrian, he invited us as guests.
Was it in Aleppo?
In Tabka. He lived in the same entrance with him, and invited to visit him. We went, he treated us.
He invited, did you go? Or was he just inviting?
No, he invited me to visit him: come to dinner, I will feed you with our Syrian food. He invited, we came, ate and talked with him... We had such close, good friendly relations with him. Then, he gave us ice cream. But I don’t like Syrian ice cream. Their dairy products have some burning taste. They keep it on fire too long: very tasteless. I ate with difficulty, not to offend him; I had to force it into my mouth. Then, they already adjusted, those businessmen in the marketplace, made an ice cream café for Europeans, well, for non-Syrians; for us to eat the ice cream, to which we were accustomed.
What did he do, that local one, with whom you communicated and made friends? Did he have any business?
I don’t remember. There was another Syrian, a teacher of the Russian language. We talked with him, too. He had a store in the marketplace, as it then turned out. We met him in the city, because he knows Russian. Then we got closer; he had a store and was selling clothes there. A pharmacist was with me in jail; he studied in Kharkov, later – in Armenia and Moldova. He spoke Russian very nicely, almost perfectly. He was a Syrian from Raqqa. I communicated with him too, it was interesting.
Did any of them want to become a member of the ISIL too, to join the organization? Or did they perceived you all as...
There were also those who wanted to join, but most of the civilian population lived their peaceful life, were engaged in their own affairs.
Were they Muslims?
No, I did say already. Well, from the ISIL’s viewpoint, yes. They called all of them Muslims. There was a guy, my age, from Tabka, when we arrived there. He also came to us, to our jamaat; he helped us to settle there, helped to search for housing. There was the head of Tabka airport. He used to be in charge there before. But then, apparently, when the war began, he fled from there; he didn’t like something. He took our side there...
Of the ISIL?
No, not ISIL; even before ISIL he left from there. He took, on the contrary, the side of the Syrians, who were fighting against Bashar. All those who are against Bashar. He didn’t join any jamaat, but he joined the opposite side – against Assad. He left, fled at night somehow from the airport; it’s a few kilometres from the city. And he lived in the city. Later, when ISIL was planning an operation against the airport, he actively helped them, he told everything about the positions, shared his experience, because he had been boss there for a long time. He also contributed to the capture of this airport.
Breakthrough from Aleppo
Ruined Aleppo, VPh
When the ISIL began conflicting with other groups, were you there?
I arrived in late summer of 2013. And until the beginning of 2014 we were there. The attack on ISIL began on January 2, 2014.
Suddenly, by radio, they began telling that they detained on posts without any warnings, didn’t they?
Yes, they clarified whether there were ISIL members, if any, either they were shot dead, or roped at once, twisted. Even women. If they knew where ISIL’s houses were, just where families lived, they stormed these houses. They took away women with children, and men. Quite a lot were killed at that time.
Who did this?
The Syrian Free Army (SFA), Ahrar ash-Sham (the Union of Salafi Brigades, united to fight Assad, a terrorist organization, banned in Russia – note of the “Caucasian Knot”) and other groups. But Jabhat al-Nusra didn’t participate in this, they observed from aside, saying that Muslims were at war with Muslims, that we should stop it. They didn’t provide real help to anyone.
And what happened when you tried to escape from there?
On January 2, it began simultaneously in all cities, throughout Syria, wherever ISIL was. At that time, the ISIL had no territories of its own. They, like all other groupings, were next to other groupings, because no one was at war with each other then, all fought against Bashar al-Assad, only against him. On January 2, an assault began. People left (the districts), where there were few ISIL fighters, too little strength. They came out of them and gathered in one territory, it was just Raqqa, Tabka, those places.
Where were you at this time?
We were at that time surrounded in a suburb of Aleppo, could neither go nor drive out. We were attacked by all the others: Jeish al-Hurr (Syrian Free Army), Democrats and other Islamized groupings – Ahrar ash-Sham and others. Every day they tried attacking us, our city, tried to break through.
Was it a suburb of Aleppo?
Our territory comprised two suburbs - Kafr Hamra or Haritan, they are closely adjacent to each other on either side of the main road that goes to Aleppo. In principle, the whole city was under our control. The rest tried to squeeze us out, knock us out. But since there was nowhere to go, we had to defend ourselves, trying to be the first. We had assault groups (detachments), which also stormed the enemy. Everything was aimed to break through the corridor and get to the territory of the ISIL, a large territory.
How much time did it take to clear up the corridor? ‘Corridor’ – that's what they called themselves, didn’t they?
Yes. In total, it took about two months.
And why did they fail to capture you during these two months, if they had much more strength?
We still had strength, after all. We had even a tank, a trophy one. When they were thrown away, we captured a T-72 tank. We had anti-aircraft guns and a cannon. Which one – I don’t remember already, in my opinion, it was called No. 58.
Was that the one they install on a pickup truck?
No, it won’t fit on a pickup. It was a big cannon; it's already mounted on a big truck. Pickups were equipped with large-calibre machine guns and antiaircraft installations.
Can antiaircraft systems by mounted on a pick-up truck?
There’s a ZU, an antiaircraft installation, it is from military times, in my opinion, since the 1940-50s, calibre 23 mm.
Soviet-made, yet?
Yes, a Soviet one, you can put it on a pickup truck; or a large-calibre machine gun of 22 or 23 mm. There were twins: two machine guns work in a pair. They were put on pickups; and the cannon – already on a truck.
And when they managed to break through the corridor, did it become clear how many vehicles were coming out of the city?
The storm troops broke the corridor with great losses. Then, a column was formed: buses, cars, a lot of people were there, women with families. I would say, probably, dozens of cars, a few hundred people in total left.
Just if there were 20-30 cars, then, if multiply by 4, hardly more than a hundred people, and if there were cars...
There were buses there. There were, apart from storm-troopers, those who held the ribat. They guarded the combat positions. Since the ribat had to be kept on all sides, there were many points, respectively, there were also a lot of people. A lot of people gathered; and the column was big; eventually, we left. Maybe a hundred, maybe a couple of hundred cars, it's hard to say, it was a long time ago, and I didn’t go round the whole column.
For how long did you have to drive?
A few hours, almost all night, the corridor was long. How long, it’s difficult to say.
You struck the corridor from inside, and who helped you from outside?
Umar ash-Shishani and his assault groups; they made the corridor from outside, because there were too many enemies along the way that we had to pass. It was unrealistic for us to break it through completely. That's from both sides: we – from the inside, they – from the outside; they broke it from the outside. When they had already punched the corridor and linked with each other, then, already slowly, systematically, all at once everybody went out.
Umar Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili), VPh
Umar Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili) is a former Georgian serviceman, a participant in the Syrian civil war, the commander of the Northern Sector of the “Islamic State” (IS), a combat grouping fighting in Iraq and Syria (before 2014, the name was the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” – ISIL); in Syria, Umar gained his fame as Umar ash-Shishani (Omar ash-Shishani, Chechen Omar, or Omar – a Chechen). On July 13, 2016, the IS, a terrorist organization, banned in Russia by the court, stated that Abu Umar ash-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili) was killed. The "Caucasian Knot" has published the biography of Abu Umar ash-Shishani in the Section "Personalities".
Frontal attacks on fortified positions
Homemade artillery, Raqqa, VPh
And if you recall some stories of that time, about an assault or something, where your acquaintances could participate, how did it all happen? How well were such attacks planned?
Well, I can’t tell the overall picture, how well in was done. It all depended on Amir, roughly speaking. How he plans, so it goes. In 2014, there were battles for Kobani. It was not one attack, at one time. The fights for this city were fierce. And there, they really lost several thousand people on the part of the ISIL. And Amirs kept saying that we had came here to do jihad, we had came to die. We need no plan; we’ll attack and capture it.
The fights for Kobani lasted from September 2014 to January 2015, when ISIL detachments began a large-scale offensive on the Kurdish territories in the north of Syria. The city was taken in a dense siege; and militants captured individual city districts. Hundreds of thousands became refugees. According to Turkish media, some 190,000 refugees came to Turkey. On January 26, after the counterattack of Kurdish detachments, the siege was lifted. However, ISIL fighters tried to attack the city later. According to Euronews, about 3000 Kurdish soldiers, including women, perished in the battles for Kobani. Kurdish sources reported the deaths of more than 3500 ISIL fighters. According to the Syrian Human Rights Monitoring Centre, the ISIL militants lost more than 1000 people.
You launched a frontal attack, didn’t you?
Yes, a frontal one… We filled them up with our cannon fodder, roughly speaking, I don’t know how else to say it; with cannon fodder, with our bodies.
Was there any difference of whom to send? Arabs or, conversely, people from our regions?
No. I didn’t notice this, I didn’t even hear about it. It depends on the place. Just, there are more Arabs in some places, and more non-Arabs in others. Therefore, I wouldn’t say that they were purposefully liquidating Arabs there, or, on the contrary, Caucasians and Asians, and Arabs were protected.
Defeat of the 17th Division of Syrian Army
Air base near Raqqa, Tabka, captured by militants, VPh
Did you happen to hear stories about carrying out of better prepared offensive operations?
Yes, I gave an example of unpreparedness – Kobani. They threw bodies there, as a result they didn’t manage to, they didn’t have enough bodies, probably, I don’t know. There were cases, when we very well prepared for operations. For example, that very Chechen, with whom I went, he was for some time the military Amir in our jamaat. There are about a hundred people in the jamaat.”
When did he become the military Amir?
When that Uzbek died, who was the Amir of the jamaat, Seiful-Islam became the Amir, the nephew of Evkurov, the Amir of the whole jamaat. He appointed the Chechen as the military Amir.
The Chechen, with whom you communicated in Makhachkala and who left before you?
Yes, a little before me. But he was thinking a bit militarily, I said he knew a sniper's business a little; he served in the army, in special forces of the GRU (the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff, – note of the “Caucasian Knot”), in my opinion. But he didn’t become a scout, he had just served his term, and then, as he said, he was offered to continue either at the FSB, or the GRU, to make his career. But he refused. Well, he had such good skills.
Did you see him in action?
He could handle very well his sniper rifle; I saw him shooting at training, in the shooting range. And in combat business, in planning, he also had a little of thinking. By the way, when there was an operation, the 17th Division was near Raqqa; a few kilometres away there was a military unit. There, Assad troops sat; the unit was surrounded, but they could not take it. They were well entrenched, professionally. They could not take it. At some point the command said: that’s all, we must take it. We began getting ready, and attacked it from three directions.
Was it planned by the military Amir or by whom?
There was the chief Amir, yes. Not the Amir of our jamaat. Our jamaat was given one position only, one point. And the other two jamaats got two more positions. There was also the military Amir of the Raqqa region above this. Umar Shishani had appointed him; and he was in command there, in this region. Accordingly, he supervised this operation. That is, he was the main military Amir; and the Chechen was the military Amir in our position. From our position it was, in terms of the attack, difficult to gain some effect of surprise. Because there was a canal passing, a broad one; you just couldn’t jump over it; it was in front of the unit and defended it.
Was it straight laid down with concrete blocks?
Yes, a canal, water ran along it. Near the village there, the fields were solidly planted. And these canals. There are a lot of such places in Syria. Even the road. Halfway from Tabka to Raqqa – along the road is such a canal. When storming, they often like to use self-destructors’ cars, of suicide bombers. A canal excluded such option. Then it occurred to the Amir that it should be reasonable to send a super-heavy loaded truck by our side, along the canal. That is, along the bank, along the canal such truck stuffed with explosives went at night. A Saudi suicide bomber them pressed the button. The explosion was directed and brought a very strong effect. It killed a colonel, the division commander. Apparently, this also caused some panic among militaries. Then the assault groups after the explosion went from our side. Storm-troopers, there were few of them, less than 20 fighter from the whole group.
The ISIL units captured the base of the 17th Division of the Syrian Arab Army, located several kilometres north of Raqqa, on July 24, 2014. The base had been surrounded since April 2013. The division included the 137th Mechanized Brigade, the 93rd Armoured Brigade, and the Infantry Brigade. The base of the division was one of the largest military facilities in the northeast of Syria. In July 2017, the BBC reported that Kurdish detachments came close to the base and fought it back in fierce battles.
Where they from your jamaat?
Right from our point, from our jamaat. Our jamaat was at this point. Of the three, one point was in our responsibility. They went on the attack; they shot somebody. Those were already really in panic. They just dropped their weapons and ran away, yes. The division was large; they began concentrating in the centre.
That is, the left their positions?
They left their positions and went. In that attack, the task was to capture this point by storm-troopers. They captured the point. There was not a single loss, although there were very seriously entrenched there. It was the summer of 2014, the division had held this position for more than a year and a half. There in fact were also Djabhat an-Nusra, and the SFA. They could not take this position. Nobody could take it. ISIL also didn’t attempt to attack. They just kept the ribat, guarded this place, didn’t let them get out.
Ribat in guarding?
Yes. Here, without a loss, they captured this point. The guys were already inspired; they decided to show the initiative and went further, to take already those positions that were there. And there we already lost our 2-3 people. They (the Assadites) retreated further back. From other positions, too, everything was very successful, and from other points. And the night was very effective. Before this, mortars were fired upon; DShKs, “Shilkas” and ZUs were working.
ZU – what was it?
Antiaircraft systems, which are mounted in twins on pickup cars, calibre 23 mm. A DShK is 12.5 mm. So, the night passed efficiently. Then, during the day, they shelled further positions. Because in the daylight it’s not an option, because it's all a plain, yes, a flat desert. Attacks were undertaken only at night. Accordingly, they decided to attack at night. At night, when it came to the attack, it turned out that al-Assadiates had completely abandoned their positions. They just at night, through these ribats, because the field is large, at night it's not seen, there are a lot of spaces, they just went into the desert. The whole 17th Division was completely in our hands.
No prisoners are taken at battle
Tachankas of the 21st century, Raqqa, VPh
When they went into the desert, did you send groups to follow them?
When they left into the desert, our groups competed in pick-up trucks trying to catch up with them and finish off those who fled into the desert. It was a safari in Syrian way. There were several hundred people. A total of 200-300 people, in my opinion.
Were they in that position or went away?
Perished in the position; and those who were caught up and executed – a total of 200-300 people.
And those who went to kill those in the desert, they were just going to kill them, no one took any prisoners, didn’t they? Was there never such a task – to take prisoners?
Only those who voluntarily surrendered before the battle were taken as prisoners. In the course of the battle, even when they caught up with them in the desert, they killed them. There are also fields, some small ones could be, small shrubs and thickets. When ISIL fighters screened fields, al-Assadites were afraid to get into their hands; so, they blew themselves up. I saw bodies there, two bodies. Just people go, and somewhere an explosion. They didn’t understand what kind of explosion, rushed there, there is a bush, two bodies lie; they have triggered their grenades and blown up their chests. They were hiding there and saw that now, here, in five, literally after a hundred meters they would be caught.
And why were they afraid? You wouldn’t have tortured them, probably?
They wouldn’t be tortured, just cut off their heads.
That is, they wouldn’t be killed like that, right?
Well, not all in a row... Very often they were just shot dead. But sometimes, if someone is in the grip of life, there would be anyone who wanted to cut off his head. If there was one, then no one objected to cutting off the prisoner’s head.
Al-Assadites vs ISIL – rivalry in cruelty
IS’ executioner, VPh
Why is there such a ritual of cutting off one’s head?
It's not even a ritual. This is not an obligatory ritual, I don’t know. Probably, people have this excitement, behold, hatred for their enemies. I don’t know why.
Did you ever see how they cut off a head?
I saw cut-off heads and bodies without heads. When the 17th Division was captured, many bodies were transported to Raqqa. It was a few kilometres away. These bodies were brought to the square in the city centre. One of the central squares. There are a lot of cafes, many people walking around, a big marketplace nearby. And in the centre, there is a circular flowerbed and fencing. Soldiers brought these bodies, threw them nearby, and pierced their heads.
That is, they were ISIL soldiers, it turns out? Did they plant heads on some poles?
Yes, on the poles of the fencing.
And did you see a lot of heads planted there?
Some 10-20, maybe.
And how did you react to this then?
The view is not very pleasant. I didn’t pity these people, because this is a war, they are enemies. But, it's not my topic – cutting off heads. And it's disgusting and unpleasant to torture a person. If he's an enemy, kill him with a shot. There, in fact, there was some 20-30, well, not 30, 20, most probably.... They didn’t cut all the heads, when they were alive. They cut heads off dead bodies, just to show.
There were no al-Assadites there whom to show these heads.
This was for the local population. Not all, but many were pleased that the unit was finally taken. They told us, not the militaries, but civilian population, that still before the ISIL... There, this colonel or general, who he was there, who was blown up by the blast, was quite a cruel man. They were unlimited there. They could go to the city, capture women, rape them. We are now talking, yes, the ISIL is harsher, but, nevertheless, this doesn’t whitewash and doesn’t idealize the al-Assadites. They were still harsher. They weren’t just fluffy. The ISIL, at least, never raped and tortured. Torturing the enemy, who is a spy, to knock out his confession – this is one thing. But torturing so simple, for one’s pleasure, or capture women from one’s own population for one’s needs and rape them… We don’t talk about concubines – this is another topic.
Discrepancy with Seifulla Shishani
Militants with a heavy machine gun, VPh
What was the reason for the break with Seifulla Shishani? Why was he left by many, who first came to him?
No action, nothing happened there. A new jamaat was formed there; newcomers arrived; they were trained at the muascar. Not that they never fight, they didn’t even take a ribat ever. I didn’t understand what he wanted.
Probably he wanted to attract people.
His videos... He was a movie star. He acted without end. He recruited people, but he was at war – he didn’t fight himself. Then, when we were already gone, they attacked prisons there, in Aleppo, he was forced to conduct an amalia – a special operation. He had to attack, fight with al-Assadites, because people had already begun resenting, ‘Why don’t we do jihad, we just go here and there, having fun, eating shaurma, going to the marketplace and doing nothing.’ A lot of people went to the ISIL for this reason. Well, he already had to undertake an operation. That's why he, in fact, died. Not in the first operation, but in the second, or in the third one.
In general, he was more a preacher than a warrior.
And he was not a preacher either.
But he motivated many to come.
Yes, he was a motivator. It was just a word, but there was no action. It must like that: the word, the action and the third thing in the heart – the conviction. He called emotionally, say, here, Muslims are oppressed and killed, come for help. But from the viewpoint of the Sharia, he didn’t explain anything else. He himself was a man... He was in prison before, he really was a crook. He at a half-look straight, in the prison jargon, ‘redeemed’ a person. He understood who it was. He saw a man through. He knows you and understands what approach is need to you. And he tells you what you want to hear in order to attract you. To the other man he says what that wants to hear. Already completely different. He had absolutely no knowledge. From the viewpoint of Islam, he was a complete zero. Ignoramus, a jahil, in Arabic.
Why did you leave Seifulla?
We left with a scandal; we quarrelled with them. At that time I believed that all these Muslims, all Islamic groups, were doing a common thing. They all were at war with Bashar, committing jihad. There should not be Muslims individually; there shouldn’t be two separate jamaats. If there are two small jamaats, then, they must unite into one big jamaat... When we told Seifulla: it’s necessary to join them; we have a small jamaat, but here are big ones. Or choose yourself. If you want to go to Jebhat, you may join them. We think, probably, it is necessary to join the ISIL. No, I'm not going, he said. Those who started to leave were declared fitnochers – troublemakers – by him.
And where most people were leaving for?
There were guys, who came from Saudi Arabia and studied in Egypt. They lobbied that topic, that we should join big jamaats. At that time, those large jamaats were Jabhat al-Nusra, as most Islamized, and the ISIL. They went to their sheikhs. They asked those from the Jabhat and those from the ISIL: what are you doing for the Sharia? What are your main ideas? The ISIL said: we came here to do jihad, establish Sharia, proclaim and liberate territory from Bashar, do a common cause, restore the Caliphate. The sheikhs from the Djebhat an-Nusra said: we came to liberate the local population, the land, and give territory. And further, let the local population decide, the land owners continue thinking what to do... What Djebhat said, from the viewpoint of Islam is completely wrong. Because there a considerable part of the population was for democracy, for the Syrian Free Army. For that reason many went to the ISIL.
Did he announce a fitna to you?
Yes, a scandal happened. We left, and people began leaving him for the ISIL.
When was this?
It was the end of 2013. In January, a mess began, that whole mess. For about two months, we fought off somewhere; we were surrounded. We got out of it at the end of February- early March.
Have you been with the ISIL at this time?
Yes. We left at the time, when we were already a part of the ISIL. We didn’t even know that they had their own territory, the ISIL. Already their own land, where there was nobody, except ISIL people. We arrived, and we were in shock. Then, still the ISIL called itself the ‘Islamic State’. They didn’t call themselves Caliphate, but it was in fact a state.
The terrorist organization "Islamic State of Iraq" (later the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant") was created on October 15, 2006, as a result of a merger of 11 radical formations. The global Caliphate was proclaimed by its leaders on June 29, 2014, after the capture of Mosul, see the material "Natives of the Caucasus in the ranks of IS (ISIL)", published by the "Caucasian Knot" in its Section "Reference Book".
And whom in the ISIL did you join?
Before us, the Uzbek had left. He knew Arabic, studied religion in Saudi Arabia. It started with him, I mean, the transfer to the ISIL. Then, we left. And thus, a small group gathered. He turned to some ISIL’s Amir in a suburb of Aleppo. And they said, ‘Behold, we are to you, accept us, actually’.
Preparing for an escape
At firing position, Kobani, VPh
When did you start thinking about leaving the ISIL?
My friend came into contact with me.
By the WhatsApp or Telegram, how did you communicate?
I don’t remember.
But how? Does the phone connection allow 3G there, or just where does Wi-Fi work – in the WhatsApp and Telegram?
Only where there is Wi-Fi, in Internet cafes.
Were you in Iraq at that time? That is, you went to an Internet cafe to communicate in the WhatsApp?
Yes, I was in Iraq at that time, I went to an Internet cafe.
That is, you talked with him, but you yourself had already doubts before, didn’t you?
Doubts, yes. But they didn’t enter my head so deep; it's just that when I read articles about Islam, I realized that I felt something strange. But I didn’t realize, didn’t think deeply about it. But this friend forced me to think about it.
And so, communication with him allowed you somehow to put forward a Takfir, it turns out?
Yes. I did it, I realized that I was in kufr all this time, that I was not in Islam, that if I had died there in the same situation, then I would not have died as a shahid, as all these lost militants think, but would have died as an infidel. And I'd have gone straight to hell.
You could die there every day. And did you have that special fear of death? By that time, how long have you been there?
I was already there for a year and a half... The fear of death is still there. Even when you live in a city, nearby, it happens, an aircraft flies, in the rear, and it is bombing some position, some ISIL base, or headquarters. If a drone had identified it, then an aircraft arrives and bombs that place. The place is in the city.
Whose drones were they? Did you have drones?
No, I'm talking about the coalition, when they bombed the ISIL, the ISIL’s rear, it was basically the forces of the coalition. Well, when Assad bombed, he just hit it off, indiscriminately. He didn’t realize whether there was peaceful population there, or non-peaceful. But the fear of death is still there. Although I thought that if I die, I'd go to heaven.
It turned out that when your friend started writing to you, did you get a fear that after the death you wouldn’t get the paradise?
Was this fear the main reason, or was there something else?
I always wanted to leave from there. I had a desire to go from there to Turkey, somehow to solve this issue with the family somehow: either to return back, or... So, there was no concrete plan. There was a desire to leave; but this fundamental issue, it very strongly spurred me up and really forced me. Then, it was already scary to die. Not at the moment, when they bomb something, but when I lived in a quiet environment, I was scared... I realized that I should go from there already to study Islam and study religion, because I had big problems in knowing the basics of my religion, the fundamental position.
Well, for example, now are you ready to die, realizing that you will go to heaven, now that you are on the right track?
I don’t know, I can’t know that I'm going to heaven, because...
Now you understand that you are a Muslim, and then you realized that you were not?
And now, are you more ready than then?
Well, I'm not currently conducting military jihad with anyone; all the sins are forgiven to a shahid, if he really died as shahid. No one really knows about this, except for the Almighty. Only he can forgive all other sins. If just a person, say, gets under a car, or something else, it is not known what will happen to him, where he will be. One should not be sure of a person, only for this certainty, self-confidence a person can already be punished and not get into heaven, because he has already decided for himself that he deserved the paradise. He, I don’t know, probably, still doesn’t deserve, it is necessary to worship and do many other things to correct in oneself.
And then, what did you understand? That you were on a wrong track? And you needed to look for other people, such who also doubt?
Then I had a friend, who was with me, who had escaped from there before, he wrote to me from Turkey. I understood, I announced Takfir and...
And how did you declare Takfir? Publicly?
No, declared – that's for you to understand. And then, I talked with my other friend, he also agreed with me. With him, we approximately thought the same in this direction. And he also understood all this and decided that we needed to look for a way to Turkey. With such intentions, we departed. We were in Iraq, and went to Syria.
When was this?
It was the end of March, or the beginning of April 2015. Actually, we arrived in Syria. There, we found our old friends, met guys from Central Asia, talked with them. They, it turned out, were also in the same position as we were.
And how did you move to Syria? You just decided that you want to leave? But you had your Amir, or someone let you go?
The events so coincided that our jamaat moved to Mosul. We were not in those combat groups, but we were registered in this jamaat; we did other missions but didn’t fight. Therefore, we had no strict timetable to go there to the positions and carry the outposts, guard, keep the ribat. And at that moment, we had not yet moved. Gradually, we gathered our things. And that guy, he was a family man, he had a child and his pregnant wife. And I had money. We moved to Syrian Tabka. We rented an apartment, because he had his wife. She had just given birth to twins. They had a girl of 2-3 years, and those twins were born, also girls. And it was difficult for him at all. His wife was weak, and the babies. We rented an apartment in Tabka, and already met those guys. It turned out that they too were looking for a way home. We together tried to find a way. I asked a friend to look for a way through his channels. They also promised it, those guys, Uzbeks, they were going to meet someone, someone promised them to find a way. It seemed like everything should have worked out there normally. And at some point they agreed that we should meet. Those guys were supposed to meet us, Uzbeks, and then to meet us on the road home and tell us everything. But then, this meeting had failed. It turned out that there was a ‘duck’ among the group, a special agent of those amnias – special services, like the FSB, let's say, within the ISIL.
And were they paid money for giving information, that it was profitable for, to expose someone.
ISIL security agents get confessions of espionage through deception, provocations and knock out under torture, a former militant who got disillusioned of the ideas preached by adherents of the terrorist organization, told the "Caucasian Knot". "The ISIL so often catches spies; the reason is that if someone catches a spy and proves that he is really a spy, he gets 5000 US dollars from the ISIL" he said. Little-known information about the "Islamic State" and the testimony of a person who had been in its ranks are presented by the "Caucasian Knot" in the interview "Journey to the ‘Islamic State’ and back".
I have heard. A Jordanian was with me in jail; he told me that if a person finds a spy, reveals a spy, and proves that this is a spy, then he receives very good premium – some 2000 or 5000 US dollars. This is a serious amount. Especially there. So they tried catching spies. Most of all, in my opinion, they were interested in this, in spies. A slight suspicion, and that’s all, a person could have huge problems. It once nearly happened with me...
Did someone suspect you?
I was not suspected, I could get under suspicion, when that guy, who had already left the ISIL, he asked me... There was a bookshop in Raqqa, and there was a dictionary of some kind, Russian-Arabic. He asked me to go to this store. That was a rare book, and he recollected that it was there. He asked me to buy it, and bring it with me. When I was in Raqqa, didn’t find that store, that area. I began taking pictures of the street; and a car driving past stopped. There were Arabs in it, ISIL people. They asked why I was taking pictures there, and what I was doing there. At that moment I didn’t pay any importance to this, I didn’t know all that spy wave. And I answered negatively, said that I want to take pictures and I take them, it's none of your business. If there are any problems, call the local Sharia police; and I’ll tell them why I was taking photos, but it doesn’t concern you. My words hurt him; he was offended that I was so harsh, not very polite. Then I realized that I got too excited. I explained to him that I had been asked to go into the store, buy a book, but I couldn’t find the store, so I took a photo. The conflict was exhausted, he drove away. Then, after the jail already, I realized that if he had addressed policemen as I had suggested, he would have recommend to check me... I would have had very serious problems.
Most likely, you would have been put in jail, yes?
Not most likely, but for sure. And there I would have to prove that I was not really a spy. Most likely, they would have used serious methods to prove the opposite.
Evkurov was ready to return to Caucasus with a sabotage detachment
Umalat (Seiful-Islam) Evkurov, VPh
Did you meet any people there who had got fame in Russia?
Evkurov’s nephew was there: a cousin nephew of the Ingush President – Evkurov, Seiful-Islam. Evkurov is his surname by his passport; his name in the passport is different, but they called him Seiful-Islam. I've seen him on the Internet recently. Earlier, he was not wanted. Now, I saw him on the Internet, he’s also on the wanted list. His photo is there. He has already perished – somewhat six months or a year ago.
As of July 22, 2017, Umalat (Seiful-Islam) Evkurov remains on the list of persons wanted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) for Ingushetia. The MIA’s website has no confirmation that Umalat Evkurov is a relative of Yunus Bek Evkurov.
Did he come from Ingushetia?
Yes, he said that he had worked as a security of his uncle, the president. At some point, he saw on the Internet that a war was on in Syria, that Muslims should be defended. He had such ideas before; he was a desperate guy, courageous and brave. He said that he saw that Muslims in Syria were killed; videos were calling. He felt resented for them; worried about them there and thought of going there to help.
Did you know him? Could he deal with weapons, i.e., had he any training?
Yes, in fact, they don’t hire anyone as security. They are trained there; in all these tactical moments.
Was it the FSO? (The Federal Guard Service of the Russian Federation, – note of the “Caucasian Knot”)
It was local guard service, not FSO. But still, some kind of tactical, physical training, and handling weapons – he knew all that very well. He showed me how to shoot a pistol by snatch out; he demonstrated his earlier skills.
By snatch out – what is it?
To shoot precisely, one has to fix his posture and aim; and they can do it right away; he snatched out a pistol like a cowboy, and shot straight at the target, into the bull's-eye.
You were friends, weren’t you?
We were friends. He was a moral, very good guy, kind and sincere. It was easy to make friends with him; he treated his friends very well, humanly. He said that he had earlier wanted to join the French Legion, (the French Foreign Legion, – note of the "Caucasian Knot") to fight there. It was interesting to him. He was very fit for that... sporty, huge, hyperactive. Then he switched from the French Legion onto this subject – Syria. He was concerned about people there, the local population. He also watched videos enough...
That is, he watched same videos as you did, when he decided to leave for Syria?
Yes, they gave a powerful impetus.
How did Evkurov get to Syria?
He had somehow planned this escape from his homeland. He said that he drove to a cafe in his car, and left the car there, because there were CCTV cameras all around. Secretly, he went to the airport. Whether he took a direct flight, I don’t remember. It seems to me – by a direct flight. It’s difficult to recollect. But he made this escape. It was in 2013, at about the same time with me, maybe a little earlier, maybe a little later. In my opinion, he came there a little before me.
Did you meet in Aleppo? Did you live somewhere close to each other?
Yes, he was in Seifulla Shishani’s jamaat, like me. Only we lived in different houses, in different parts of the suburb. Then he brought his family, his wife and children, also secretly. Well, he told me that his uncle was in a strong fury.
Did his uncle contact them in some way?
Apparently, he himself somehow maintained contacts with his relatives. In any way, we all kept in touch with our relatives. Then, after a long while, he sent his wife and children back – in late 2014, or early 2015, approximately. His family then returned to Ingushetia.
So they managed to get out of Aleppo as the whole family, didn’t they?
Yes. We were first in Seifulla Shishani’s jamaat; then, after a while, we all left there for the ISIL. Again, a jamaat is not the state of ISIL, but just a jamaat, in parallel there, in the suburb. Here, there is Djebhat an-Nusra, there – Akhrar ash-Sham. In the house next door there could be Seifulla Shishani, and then – ISIL units nearby.
Did he send away his wife and children before he joined the ISIL?
No, after, already after his departure from Aleppo. He was with Seifulla for 1.5-2 months, probably.
Did you contact him often?
Yes, I saw him every day. There was our general group, a circle of people in Aleppo. Then, he stayed with Seifulla; and we already joined the ISIL, with that Chechen, with whom I was in Makhachkala. We left Seifulla together with a scandal.
What about the nephew, when he sent his wife and children back, why did he do it?
We lived in Tabka; there was a jamaat there; and that Uzbek was Amir. This was after we got out of encirclement; and we moved there. We had a makar, and there were a lot of families. Evkurov had a separate apartment. Married couples were given isolated flats. We lived there, and after a while there was a wave; even on the Internet, too, I saw about it in the media, not of the ISIL, but in Russian media, I saw this topic; they discussed there, or on forums, that a group was prepared to be sent to the Caucasus. And he joined that group, Seiful-Islam, an Evkurov’s nephew. For this reason, he sent his family back.
Because he was going to go there himself, wasn’t he?
Yes. He was about to go there.
That is, it's not a lie, do you think that all these publications in media were right; and such a group was really prepared?
I know this is not a lie. I was near, I saw it all.
And why didn’t you join that group?
I didn’t want. I thought I have no need to go to the Caucasus.
Did you talk about it with Seiful-Islam? Why did he think that he should go back?
He wanted; they were specially trained as a sabotage group. But this, again, is a very hard job; they were tough guys, and very enduring physically. I was far from that.
Was he ready for this, what do you think?
They had a group – people, who wanted to continue that cause at their homeland.
How many of them were there, what do you think?
I don’t know this. They kept details in secret. I don’t know, maybe 20-30, maybe 40. Maybe they were training a hundred there, several groups.
That is, you think they were not individuals, some 2-3 people? And why? Even one person can blow himself up at the airport.
They were not going to blast themselves at the airport; they were going to, I don’t know, maybe in a group of 5-6 people, to commit some diversions. Not just blow up an airport or a train station. Probably, they planned to kill someone and attack some police stations. Just a sabotage group; and specifically, I think, already there, in place, they would have been managed and commanded, and decided who and what to do. Because then it was prepared. They were just gathered in groups and engaged in training. They trained specially blasters; with special physical training. I don’t know what the end was, in my opinion, this idea died away. Because it coincided with my getting into jail. That's why I don’t know what the end of it was.
That is, he sent his wife, because he thought he would come himself.
Yes, that he was going there himself. They all planned to go there; people were ready not to live there for long; they were going to commit some serious operations there; respectively, they were ready to be killed there. Therefore, he sent his wife and said goodbye to her; and sent his wife.
Was it generally only once during the time that you were in these territories that the topic evolved of sending and returning people to conduct jihad in Russia?
Yes, only once.
Just because the conditions were much tougher there, or were there any other reasons?
Most believed that there was a Caliphate. At that time, they declared themselves to be a Caliphate. There’s a Caliphate and it needs to be expanded. No groups should not break away and go to some other place from there. Someday we'll come there, that's what they thought.
And then, you left...
Yes. After some time, he also left Seifulla to join our jamaat. And then, this Uzbek was appointed as Amir.
And he left the first, didn’t he?
Yes. There were many Uzbeks with us. We had several Caucasians, but mostly Uzbeks. And, this Uzbek, he was also Amir.
Was he duly trained, did you feel as a completely capable jamaat?
He was nothing as a military man. He was a religiously educated person, from the point of view of Islam.
You didn’t already see, probably, the period, when the ISIL recognized ‘Boko Haram’ and other well-known groupings.
No, I was there at that time.
That is, it’s a sort of inverse logic.
But they didn’t go to ‘Boko Haram’.
Well, yes, but their oaths were recognized, and more than ten Amirs swore to them in Northern Caucasus.
They told people who couldn’t come, ‘Do jihad there.’ That is, they were given an official permit; and not a person decided for himself... You decided and left – it can’t be like that; no one would let you go. Amirs had pushed this topic through; they were given an official permit; and they began recruiting and training groups.
I have a feeling that the ISIL has completely failed in Northern Caucasus. That is, the ‘Imarat Kavkaz’ was active; there were kadis, Sharia courts; there were collegial meetings, shuras, where they elected Amir for the entire Northern Caucasus. There were some proto-institutions. And then, when ISIL cells appeared, they clearly entered into a conflict among themselves. Somehow very quickly, I don’t know why, they began killing Amirs of ‘Imarat Kavkaz’ one by one. After that, the numerous oaths that were given, they didn’t lead to anything. That is, in fact, there were no such serious terror acts organized, which everybody feared in Northern Caucasus. Do you rather agree with this conclusion or not?
I rather agree, as I see from aside. In reality, I don’t know, of course, what was happening there. But from the outside, it seems to me that at that time everyone believed that it was like that. The ISIL then told, made an appeal: join us. We establish a Caliphate; you too join the Caliphate, and you’ll receive help from us. Who were those Amirs at that moment? I no longer remember his name, he was a Dagestani. It seems to me that he didn’t like the fact that he was losing power.
Yes, this process is clear. The question is why was the ISIL not successful?
Why was it not successful? Accordingly, the Amir refused to join the ISIL. But some others Amirs under him, of some cells all over the Caucasus, but mostly in Dagestan, they thought that he had wrongly refuses. They started a dialogue with him: come on, explain to us, let’s decide the issue; we must join the ISIL. If you are against, we’ll join it ourselves. And they did it. Accordingly, he didn’t like it even more. And then, the energy was spent to prevent others from following them; and to split those, who joined. Respectively, it was the central ‘Imarat’. Part of them joined the ISIL; they were in different regions and had no centralization among; probably, there was no main Amir. At centralization, he had everything properly organized, after many years of work, all the routes were trampled; he knows how and what works; and he had responsible people.
And if the ‘Imarat Kavkaz’ is helped by sending something from Syria, money, instructors?
They received help without Syria.
But the ‘Imarat Kavkaz’ was linked with Al-Qaeda, wasn’t it?
It was, probably. But in fact, I don’t know. Maybe Al-Qaeda helped it.
When Umarov was not yet in conflict with the ISIL...
By the way, yes, they helped. Even when Umar Shishani hadn’t joined the ISIL yet... In early 2013, when I just arrived, at that time he had an agreement with them. And at that time they sent some large sums to the ‘Imarat Kavkaz’. It's hard for me to say how much; hundreds of thousands US dollars.
Why do you know such things?
This was discussed; then, there was no conflict with the ‘Imarat Kavkaz’. There was no need to decorate all this, exaggerate, or speak for someone, or denigrate someone. Money was sent. Again, I can’t confirm this; I just narrate it at the level of conversations.
Yes, and then the support stopped. It turns out that they would have continued it, when ISIL cells were formed, but I think that it stopped. Because when we analyze the attacks for which the ISIL takes responsibility for, we see that they are very primitive. That is, there is no special equipment with weapons, machinery; no complex operations are undertaken.
In that period, too, Russian special services began working actively.
Yes, they worked before the Olympiad; however, they overlooked explosions in Volgograd.
But it was not ISIL yet.
At ISIL’s jail
Soldier after city battle, Mosul, VPh
Tell me how you got in jail.
I was with my friend, a Chechen, when our jamaat was relocated from Tel-Afar (a city in Iraq) to Mosul. It was in early 2015, in February or in March. We moved there with my friend, and gradually, the main part of the jamaat also moved. Some stayed still there; someone didn’t want to move, someone was just going to. At that time, my friend contacted me; he was in the ISIL before, but fled, because he couldn’t withstand the Takfir.
Did he have doubts about the correctness of what the ISIL did?
He didn’t hesitate, he was convinced that they were not on the truth, that they are not Muslims, that they are mistaken, although they consider themselves to be with Islam. And, accordingly, they were not Muslims. He contacted me to contact and explained some of these positions. At that time, I was ready for such conversation. If today we could explain to the majority of the people who identify themselves with Islam these positions, the foundations of religion, which a Muslim is obliged to know... If a person doesn’t know and doesn’t practice these basics, he is not a Muslim. If we start explaining this, people perceive it very negatively, because it is very difficult for oneself to admit that he is not a Muslim in reality. This is the most difficult thing – to confess to oneself that you, as it turns out, are not a Muslim and not in Islam. But I was ready. Because I read all these articles on the Internet and in groups in ‘VKontakte’.
And when did you start reading such articles? And what was it connected with?
It was also in early 2015, or in late 2014. I read on Takfir topic, about the basics of Islam, but it didn’t go deep into my heart; I didn’t correlate this parallel with myself.
That is, some scientific articles?
Yes, scientific, from the point of view of Islam, Sharia scientific materials. Not just someone's position, or opinion, but precisely the arguments from the Koran, from the Prophet’s Sunna, from his companions, from the conclusions of righteous ancestors, universally recognized scientists and scholars, who in ancient time explained this position. Accordingly, I read it all, but didn’t perceive it. Probably, it can be stated like this. And then, when that my friend contacted me, he began talking to me about the same topics. And he began explaining that I don’t fit into these parameters, that I don’t practice these basics; therefore, I'm not a Muslim. And the ISIL is just not an Islamic state, and its leader, al-Baghdadi, and all the Amirs, and all their supporters, their participants, the sheikhs, the rank and file citizens, are not Muslims. Similarly, the local population: Syrians and Iraqis – they all are not Muslims. And then I realized that I, as it turned out, was not a Muslim. And there is no Islamic war there, there is no jihad, just one group of non-Muslims was killing another group of non-Muslims. And those ISIL militants, who were dying, they, as I understood and realized to my horror, they, in fact, don’t get into paradise, but get straight to hell forever. I was very scared. I realized that until I was still alive, until another missile or bomb has fallen on my head, I had to go away from there and study the very foundations of the religion to find out what it really is – the Islam. And what one should do, and what one needs to know to be a Muslim.
Did they torture you in jail?
But why were others tortured, but not you? I know that those who were regarded as Takfirs were beaten up.
Not all. At first, just when the wave of Takfir stated, then they fought very hard against it. They killed, shot people dead, executed in crowds. The count was in hundreds, almost in over a thousand. Yes, in my opinion, even exceeded one thousand. Azerbaijanis were there, Caucasians...
Have you seen any executions?
No, I didn’t see them.
And did you see video of executions?
I saw videos, those famous video clips, I think...
Well, particular of those, who were not spies, but those who were in Takfir?
I haven’t seen anyone like that. There was some Azerbaijani group; they also had a video in Russian. They were executed as Takfirists. But, they stated that they allegedly had wanted to attack; and they attacked and killed, and they were executed for that.
And how do you know about that wave and the count in thousands?
Well, there is no confirmed data, of course. Many people disappeared.
Maybe, they disappeared because they were at war, or they were killed?
No. Who was at war and killed – everybody is known. For instance, he went to an amalia, a special operation, and never returned.
Everyone knows, because he is considered a shahid, yes?
He’s gone missing – that’s what everyone knows. A person, when he goes to an operation, everyone knows that he’s gone to an operation. He left to a fight, but he doesn’t go to war alone, everything is organized there. But when a person disappears somewhere in broad daylight; it is not known; he disappeared as if he never existed. Or there were cases, when men disappeared, and then their wives received official letters that their husbands had been executed. Well, that's the way people disappear in the Caucasus. How do we know they were killed, when they disappear in broad daylight and go missing? Well, everything is known, that many people are captured by special agents in masks and forced into cars without number plates and tinted windows. A man disappeared in broad daylight to some unknown place. He was here, and literally in half an hour disappeared without contacts. The phone is silent. And in the Caucasus, it is clear that at least 90% of such cases have to with special services, not with the fact that some robber stabbed him in the ditch, or he drowned in the sea. This is clear to everybody. I think people drove to such conclusions there in the same way. Well, a lot of talk. Both in jail and outside it, that many had been executed, that many had disappeared. Those people who took up the Takfir disappeared.
Of those you personally knew, how many disappeared? Two or three, or dozens?
Of those, whom I personally knew, 10 people were executed, probably. Letters about executions were sent to their wives. Let’s take that group of Azerbaijanis. I didn’t know them personally; I knew their Amir, who was also executed. Allegedly, he snatched out a submachine gun, wanted to shoot there, and he was then killed. There were many deaths. Then later, when this already became a serious problem, the fact that there were many killed ones, they stopped executing. I was lucky to be among those first; and only then, when they stopped killing, but began to put in jail and called them to repent and explained to them some of their delusions.
How did they reveal that a man was a Takfirist? Did they torture, or did people confess themselves?
It's hard for me to say; I was not there, after all. Someone confessed, someone...
Did you confess yourself?
I immediately confessed. I was asked; there was such a rather rude interrogation. I, in principle, didn’t deny it, and confessed immediately. I announce Takfir to you, and everyone else.
To everyone else – to whom?
To all the rest, to your entire state, the so-called ‘Islamic State’. I was in a mask (in a bandage); I never saw them with my eyes, only heard. It will be strange, but when I confessed, I heard that they were smiling. They were happy, and they lost interest in me.
And why were they happy?
They solve the case; the man confessed. One from the group had confessed, the rest remained. Things have moved. Accordingly, why not be happy? But interest in me was lost, respectively. The rest, as it turned out later, were executed. When I was already in jail, I heard that they had been executed.
And how many others were there?
Those Uzbeks and a friend mine, the Chechen? Some 10-15 people.
Were you one group or not?
No, we were not. We were two: I with that Chechen, and those – as a separate group.
Was the Chechen’s wife pregnant?
Yes. Still, in fact, I don’t know whether to call it a group – when the talks began; they started searching the way; that we must go out together, and leave from there. He discussed that with them, discussed that before leaving, they should commit some sort of sabotage: to kill or attack someone, to do something.
Did the Chechen want it?
Those Uzbeks; and, apparently, he was with them. Either they persuaded him, or he – them. I don’t know. But the fact is that they discussed this topic. When I heard this discussion, I told him that we should not do this; we had other serious problems. We shouldn’t do this; we need to get out and study these religious moments, which I'm talking about, the fundamentals of religion. This was the most important for us, and not now to fight with anyone. But the Chechen was a bit stubborn. As I understand, they were executed for this, for what they wanted and for their plan to commit a diversion. They were all executed except me.
Why did they let you go?
So, I confessed that there was Takfir. I told them, bring your sheikh to me, let him explain my mistake, tell me, I will talk to him. They brought a sheik, an Arab, he talked to me through an interpreter once and explained.
Did you talk for long?
For several hours. Then I confessed, I said, that it was my mistake. I admit my mistake; I agree with you, I repent. I was like that. They said that everything was fine, a nice guy, we are happy for you. And that was in the first month of my imprisonment; not in the second and in the following. In total, I was in jail for four months. For the last three months I was just serving my term. Although I didn’t really know, they didn’t say anything to me, for how long should I stay there; and what would happen to me.
That wife of the Chechen, with whom you were in prison, or some other wife, did you want her to be taken off ahead of you?
She was his wife, yes, when they found a road for me and a guide.
And you didn’t want to leave, because you wanted his family to leave first? Why did you do it?
If I went out, she would have left there alone; she had no one there.
And would she marry again, no? Was she young?
She announced Takfir too. She would not marry, she couldn’t marry them, they were mushrikas, infidels, polytheists, not Muslims. And she also wanted categorically to leave from there.
And do you contact her now?
No, I'm not communicating with her right now. She is married to one; he is also a brother, a Muslim. With him, I sometimes talk.
Is he also from Chechnya?
No, he is from Central Asia. He never had anything to do with the ISIL. He was just from the group who explained things to guys like us, and those who wanted to go there, these misconceptions. He is one of those.
But do you think that she would have had a bad life if she had stayed?
Of course, it’s difficult for a woman to live alone there, especially with children.
And how did you yourself got out of there via Tabka? Was it due to the fact that you were sick and needed medical care?
Yes, not only with my arm. Once, with a friend we were travelling in a car; he was not a very experienced driver. At high speed the car left the track, turned over, and made a few turns. We flew out of the windows, I went out from my side; he – from his side. Luckily, we landed already on the ground. I landed on my right-handed side. I injured my elbow, shoulder, hand and wrist. The hurts were strong, the bones got offset, I still have a bump here. That's how it grew together, I didn’t heal it properly.
Thus, was it then the reason for leaving?
Yes. In Mundbije (a city in Syria, – note of the "Caucasian Knot") there was a doctor, an Egyptian, but he apparently studied in Russia or in the Soviet Union; he spoke Russian very well. A well-known doctor; he had nice references. Many people went to him for treatment, both civilians and ISIL militants. I said that I needed treatment, my right side and my arm are not working well. It really was like that. Even now, when I do push-ups for a long time, my elbow hurts. If I pull myself up on the bar, my shoulder hurts. So I didn’t lie. But in principle, I had no such big problems.
ISIL pension system
In Syria, women are also at war, Mosul, VPh
And how can a woman live alone? That is, does a woman get any money there?
Widows do receive.
And if he was killed as a Takfirist?
He was killed, but they kill him as a Muslim. Let’s say they kill a spy as a non-Muslim; they execute him. He is not a Muslim. He's a spy, working for an enemy state. And if he is executed for committing adultery or for a murder, he is executed like a Muslim. They execute him, because they rely on Sharia. But he is a Muslim for them. A Takfirist is also a Muslim, though executed.
How much money would a widow receive?
She would receive like everyone else, probably 50 – to her, 35 – for children (to each). But still it's a little and hard. For one with babies – it’s very difficult.
That is, for 85 (155) US dollars it’s impossible to live for a month there?
I don’t know, probably, it’s very difficult and hard.
But the point is that many live for 50 US dollars a month, don’t they?
Let's say I do, but I'm not a family man, I live in a hostel. Roughly speaking, on a makar. Makar is a hostel, so to speak, a base, a headquarters.
Do you have to pay for housing?
We? What for? It is like a service state premise, a building.
Do widows live in free hostels?
They do, but they need diapers, baby food, mixes, children clothes… These were babies; they were only born; they were several weeks of age only. They still manage to live somehow. All the same, a family man, let's say, a whole family. A husband, wife – 100 US dollars in total; children get 35, if there are several children. Somehow they survive, but still it's not enough.
Myths about shahids
Ruins of the city, beaten back from militants, Mosul, VPh
Are there any myths or stereotypes related with someone recognized as a shahid, who, as you already understand, can’t be trusted?
Not that you can’t trusted them. There’s such a point: very often they show and take photos of people; I saw those who died there; a pleasant smell goes out of them. The smell of misk (oriental oily perfume). The dead body has a smile; his face is so calm, peaceful. I saw it with my own eyes. Not photos and no montage.
Did you see it in Aleppo?
I saw it in Aleppo, and at the ISIL, and before the ISIL. At Seifulla, there was one Tajik. We conducted an operation; an APC made a shot; and his arm was torn off. He died. He was lying and smiling. The smell, really, there was a this pleasant smell. I have misk at home; it was really the same smell.
It wasn’t the smell of misk; what was the smell?
The smell of misk; it was the smell of the body, his smell, the smell of his blood.
Maybe he had some misk also in his pocket?
No, no. There, it’s real, when there is a body, as if they’ve poured a bucket on it. When you put that on you, there is no such smell; it goes from the body, from the blood – it’s really so. This, in fact, I saw with my own eyes. But I don’t treat it in any way. This doesn’t mean that he is absolutely happy, because...
And these photos have been very popular, haven’t they?
Photos and more than just photos. There were also witnesses. They pull out the body, they see it and they feel the smells.
And when you were in Makhachkala, did you know about this?
When in Makhachkala, I read an article, when Said Buryatsky was killed. He was lying in the morgue. The article was about him, or about someone else. He was for several days there, almost a few weeks. The morgue staff then said, ‘Take away that your guy.’ He was also smiling; and some pleasant smell came from the body; there was something like that. There were such cases in Islam. I don’t know whether it's true or not. It was not, in my opinion, under the Prophet, it was already under the Caliphate; already later, under the Righteous, under Muslims, in those righteous times. The dug out some shahid – for some reason, it was necessary to relocate his grave; and he seemed as if died yesterday. The body hadn’t decomposed; it smelled nice. Still there are, in my opinion, ayats or hadiths, this is certain, it is already certain that shahids (shahids) on the Doomsday will smell like misk. On the Doomsday, but this doesn’t mean that he died, and this smell is from him in this world. This doesn’t testify to this, correct? It is specifically said that on the Doomsday, they will smell like misk; their blood will smell like misk. This is; but by the way, here’s today; the Doomsday has not come yet.
As I understand it, one more argument of yours, why you don’t regard them shahids, is, as far as I understand you, that such cases were not only with those who were on your side.
Yes, I'll tell you about it. Apart from such bodies, there were other ones. Let us assume that they were bodies of ISIL fighter. It’s terribly hot there in summer. There it scorcher there; in Iraq it’s even hotter than in Syria.
Some 40 degrees?
I don’t know the temperature, but it was unbearable. Moreover, people were not in T-shirts, not in shorts, not in sneakers, but in military uniform. They have equipment on them, which weighs several kilos – with ammunition, a submachine gun, someone with a grenade launcher. They have to walk in the very strong heat. There was a case, a sniper killed a man. The body was lying there; they could not take it off, pick up the body. They did it only 2-3 days later. I saw that body: as if he had just died. That is, not stiffened, soft, not decomposed absolutely in the heat. There was no smell, a calm face and no signs of decomposition. Absolutely nothing. As if a person had just died, literally, a minute ago.
Did you know him, the killed one?
Yes, I personally knew him. He was in our jamaat, an Uzbek from Termez. I don’t remember the name, but I knew him well, this guy. He was also so desperate, brave and courageous. When it was necessary to move forward in the battlefield, he never shied away. They told that about him.
Have you seen yourself that he never dodged from bullets?
I didn’t see it myself, because I myself didn’t participate in such attacks; he was a storm trooper, and I didn’t participate in assaults within such groups... It's difficult to believe in the stories, but when you see it yourself, it is real, as if a person has just died. He was lying there at 40 degrees for some days at least. There was another case that I saw with my own eyes, when an enemy was killed in an attack. We followed them; there was an enemy man lying; literally, some 15-20 minutes passed, or half an hour, probably; in summer. The body got puffed up, as if it was really pumped up with some pump. The face and eyes got inflated; flies were already around; it was stinking.
Was he one of al-Assad fighters, wasn’t he?
No, he was not with al-Assad; he was from Jabhat al-Nusra. At that time, active skirmishes with them began. There was a man lying there, dressed in an Islamic garment; well, it was scary to look, and smell too. His eyes went off the orbits; he already began getting rotten; a very scary face. Literally, half an hour had hardly passed.
And were there opposite cases?
Now, an opposite case. When I went out, ran away from the ISIL, they helped me, guys from Jabhat al-Nusra dragged me out. They dragged me out and also showed me their photos: look, here is our brother, a shahid from Jabhat al-Nusra, whom the ISIL regards as Kafirs. Accordingly, he can’t be a shahid; but they said: look, the shahid is smiling. I'm looking at the photo: yes, indeed, he has a smile on his lips. Actually a smile. His eyes are closed, the face is calm.
And did they say that there was some smell, too?
Yes. The same thing that we said there, and they told us; they showed exactly same things, one to one.
And what do you think about it now, how do you explain this?
I can’t give specific points, but there is such in Islam that a person, even if he is not a Muslim, but led a righteous life in this world, he can even be a Christian, but he led a very righteous life. And he sincerely believes that he is doing all this for the sake of the Lord, he is avoiding all worldly and sinful things. When he dies, the Most High gives him a good death. That is, if he behaved well in this life, then he will die the same way. It will not be excruciatingly terrible to die. His body, too, maybe...
A good death doesn’t mean that he will go to paradise?
It does not mean absolutely. Already on the Day of Judgment, yes, there will be a settlement, not only by one’s external manifestations, but because of the way he positioned himself, how he related himself to Islam; who he was about Islam; first of all, yes. And if he smells misk and smiles – it doesn’t mean that he will fall into paradise. This is a delusion of many.
But this leads to shirk, doesn’t it?
Just in this case – no.
Just on the basis of this, people think that they are on the right track.
If you look at it from this side, it can also be like that, of course.
Did you personally see such things?
I saw such things, I watched videos. When I watched Seifulla’s videos, I got charged. I watched videos, there they also showed Syrian shahids, well, as they were smiling.
That is, did you see such examples in Makhachkala as well?
Yes, on the Internet, YouTube video clips. Accordingly, this was also one of the factors, one of the reasons that were raising my spiritual moods; I was charging myself that I had to go there. And I went there; I risked dying there, in such a state, in delusion, being a Kafir, a non-Muslim. Because I was in error since my birth, until I accepted Islam. And I accepted Islam shortly before leaving the ISIL. Even when I announced Takfir to the ISIL, I still had some other misconceptions. This could be the reason – these photos of shahids, the so-called. For this reason, I went there, if I died there, these photos could be the original cause of my death in error. Accordingly, if I die in error, I won’t get to paradise, never; I’ll fall into hell forever. And for a Muslim, yes, his main goal of existence on this earth is to obey the orders of the Almighty, in order to get to heaven, and to avoid the fate of hell.
"Participation in elections is no longer Islam"
Peaceful life of the Arab city of Tabka, VPh
The people of Syria are not in Islam. Under Bashar's rule, they served in the army, and took part in elections. They went to these constitutional trials.
Does the participation in elections deprive a person of the right to be a Muslim?
It drives him out of religion, if a person is in Islam. I elect not an Islamic ruler, respectively, the constitution.
And if he is a real Muslim?
In Islam, this is not done.
But don’t they elect the Imam of a mosque?
Democratic elections don’t take place.
It happened in Dagestan, when the spiritual leaders appointed the Imam, but it also happened that rural residents elected him themselves; and thus, many Salafi mosques appeared in villages.
Maybe yes. Here, I don’t argue with this. But, again, the spiritual management, it’s not Islamic; they aren’t Muslims.
It’s clear, yes. And it happened on the contrary, when people themselves elected Salafi Imams.
Well, let's suppose it. Somehow, a Muslim has become the head of state. But there’s constitution there, not Sharia. They rule not according to Sharia, but according to the constitution. Like in Russia – they have Constitution and the Criminal Code.
Maybe, he will change it?
It is impossible for him to come, rule by these laws and change them gradually. He must change them immediately.
Maybe, he’ll just do it.
“If at once, then he will become a Muslim.
Do you exclude a possibility that in a couple of decades a Muslim will become the president of Russia?
No, and how does a person become president of Russia?
They’ll elect him.
Participation in elections, in such elections, it is no longer Islam.
Well, maybe Islam will then change Russia.
Well, then. If he then changes, he will then become a Muslim. But for the moment, if a person, who considers himself a Muslim, becomes president, he will not be a Muslim. If he introduces the Sharia rule immediately, and repents of all his former sins, which drive a person out of Islam, yes, of great sins, of kufras. Then, accordingly, he will become a Muslim.
"Most people want the Syrian Free Army to come"
Military instructors of the Syrian opposition, VPh
That is, do you think that locals supported the ISIL for real, and sincerely?
I think there are some who had supported the ISIL. However, I think, most of the population would still welcome the Syrian Free Army more than the ISIL.
Do you think like that now, or did you then too?
I saw it then; I understood it; and now I think so.
* IS, ISIL has been recognized as a terrorist organization and banned in Russia.
July 26, 2017