Bring back alive: from Dagestan to ISIL* to return the son
Syria, 2013, Vph
The ‘Caucasian Knot’
Bring back alive: from Dagestan to ISIL* to return the son
Why have you decided to give this interview not anonymously, but by revealing your real name?
Now, I can’t clearly tell you why. I haven’t made this decision at once, it’s not spontaneous. Circumstances have forced to make it.
Are you acting now with a hope that this interview can help one of your sons?
Yes, definitely. I want them to understand the position of my family in relation to the events, in which my sons were involved — the younger one, and then middle one.
Your younger son fled and joined the ʺIslamic Stateʺ, banned in Russia, didn’t he?
ʺA notification to the mankind about the birth of the ‘Islamic State’ʺ was published in October 2006, when a terrorist organization called the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) emerged as a result of the merger of several radical Sunni formations.
It’s not quite true. Look, my youngest son, his name is Marat, went away on August 1, 2013... He left his family, his pregnant wife and left, saying nothing to anyone, except for his brother. He left first for Istanbul; then, from there, as I found out, he went to Syria. At the time of his departure, so that you have a correct idea of those events, there was no banned organization, and no criminal aspect in his actions. In those days, the Russian legislation assumed no punishment for any participation in armed formations abroad, and didn’t make people accountable for that.
Since when has it become a crime?
This has become a crime since November 3, 2013, when amendments were made to Article 208, Part 2 (‘Participation in illegal armed formations’) of the Criminal Code. This article was amended with the formulation, not quite clear from the legal viewpoint, ‘if it contradicts the interests of the Russian Federation.’ However, the very disposition of the article fails to clarify what it means. Who should define whether it contradicts the interests of the Russian Federation or not? There is a feeling that this phrase gives a great freedom to law enforcement bodies to interpret and make decisions in accordance with their own reasoning in relation to this article.
The responsibility for ʺthe participation in the territory of a foreign state in an armed formation, not provided for by the legislation of this state, with the aim contrary to the interests of the Russian Federationʺ was introduced by Part 2, Article 208, of the Russia’s Criminal Code since November 3, 2013. On February 13, 2015, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation put the ISIL on the register of terrorist organizations. The responsibility for the ʺparticipationʺ, in accordance with Part 2, Article 208, of the Criminal Code, in the activities of this organization may only arise since the date of entering this organization into the above register.
Over barbed wire fence to his son
El-Bab, Syria, 2013, VPh
You went quite quickly to pick up your son, didn’t you?
Literally in a month. He left on August 1, 2013; and I knew about it just in a few days. I went there in September, somewhat in mid-September 2013, that is, a little more than a month later.
Tell us please in detail, how you got directly to Syria and what you saw there. What did the realities of this territory look like in 2013, when you got there? Did you have any guide, who helped you to cross the border?
Before, I was in Turkey once in my life — on the way to the hajj, in a car. I had no particular territorial knowledge as to the location of Turkish and Syrian borders. Prior to go there, I contacted my son using WhatsApp or Viber, I don’t remember now; and we agreed that I would come to the town of Hatay. This is the South-Eastern Turkey, on the border with Syria, the province of Antakya, the centre of the province. They would meet me there; and they did. I arrived there and settled into a hotel. By the evening they called me, again by Viber or WhatsApp; a taxi driver arrived, an ordinary Turkish city taxi, and told me that we should go. I somehow didn’t feel very comfortable, that I had to go into the night, nobody knows where and nobody knows with whom, but...
A border guard lifted with a stick, in the truest sense of the word, with an ordinary stick, this barbed wire and said, ‘Go!’
Suruk, Turkey, 2014, VPh
Yes, it was already dark. It was evening, some nine or ten o’clock in the evening, probably. We got into the car, I think, the Renault Logan model. I remember the taxi driver, Mustafa by name, he then gave me his business card. And we were driving and driving; I don’t know the language; so, we spoke half-Avar, half-Turkish, half-Russian, or English. And he was driving, somewhere in the middle of the night already, one or two o’clock at night. We covered some 30-40 kilometres through the territory of Turkey. We drove for an hour and a half, probably. Not quickly, there were some traffic jams... From time to time, some borderline shapes were visible. They brought me late at night to some village. It was a private house, not a huge cottage — an ordinary rural house. The taxi driver knocked, the door opened, the owner went out, drove me in, showed the bed and said, ‘OK, now go to sleep.’
In the first part of the video, the father tells how he, in search of his son, crossed the border between Turkey and Syria
Yes, we didn’t cross the border yet. I was absolutely unaware of what and how it was there. Then, someone else arrived. There was a large room there; they showed him a sofa there; he went to bed there. Some young guy, I don’t know. Then I realized that he was an Azerbaijani. When we got up for our morning namaz, the owner brought in a tray — tea, a light breakfast and fruits. I couldn’t speak, at all my desire, I don’t know the language. This Azerbaijani maybe could speak, I don’t remember. And then, we were sitting for an hour or two, drinking tea. Then the owner said, ‘Let’s go, come.’ It was sunny already... about ten o’clock, probably.
Did you realize in what village you were?
A usual village. We were put into a minibus. There was some woman there, all covered with clothes. We thought that we still should go far, but we drove literally for 500 meters, probably, to the outskirts of the village. There was a descent there, and already the border downstairs. We stopped at the top. It turned out that this village was right on the border. We went down with our things. There was barbed wire, a Turkish armoured personnel carrier (APC) of some kind, and the border. A usual barbed wire, used on the border. Not reinforced and not fixed. Ordinary barbed wire in several rows.
But was a checkpoint there?
No, this is an unofficial pass. This is the usual border. Barbed wire and the APC. Apparently, they drive here and there; they make detours along the border. There were a few Turkish soldiers. The Turk, in whose house we slept, talked with them, and then told us, ‘Ok, ready? Come on.’ Before that my son told me that the cost is 100 dollars. I understood that it was the cost of the taxi service, breakfast-dinner and of these guides. And when I approached, the Turk told me ‘100 dollars’, I gave it to him and he said goodbye. A border guard lifted with a stick, in the truest sense of the word, with an ordinary stick, this barbed wire and said, ‘Go!’. We two and this woman. I don’t remember whether she was with children or not. Under the barbed wire, we went to the other side; there was also a descent there... And there, my son was already coming up, two or three friends with him. They drove up, met us, and we went on.
No, he had no arms. The investigator also asked me about it several times. At least, for the time that I spent with him — for a week — I saw no weapons in his hands at all.
Your son met you, and did your ways further diverged with that woman and that Azerbaijani?
Yes, I’ve never seen them again. With my son we got into the car, and drove off. We drove away for a little bit, a kilometre or two, probably. There was also a smooth descent and a large settlement behind it, Akma by name. I remember well. Afterwards, it repeatedly passed from one hand to another; I followed these events. In the settlement, we drove to a private house and came in. There, in a big room, young guys were sitting, looking like mine son. He was then turning 30 years old... We were sitting on the floor, drinking tea. All of them were young and enthusiastic. All of them had their smartphones with verses from the Koran in them. They started propagandizing. As soon as they saw some new and fresh ears, they began to convincing me: everyone should come here...
There, in a big room, young guys were sitting, looking like mine son. He was then turning 30 years old... We were sitting on the floor, drinking tea
El-Bab, Syria, 2013 VPh
Did they all speak Russian?
They all were Russians, well, I mean — Russian-speakers. From the Caucasus, most likely. Then — Central Asia. One of them, I remembered him, was a Tajik. He said that he had studied in Egypt. There were people from Dagestan, too, but I didn’t ask for passports. By facial features, there were two or three Dagestanis. There were some 10 of them, probably. There were Caucasian facial features — from Dagestan and Chechnya. One was a very young boy, aged 18, probably. A tall one with glasses, he spoke pure Russian. He said that he was a Chechen and had come from France. I thought that he was, probably, from the first wave of the Chechen emigration.
And they started immediately calling you to something, didn’t they?
Well, not just calling; they are all inspired. I assure you, all these people are absolutely sincere. Well, I don’t know. Of course, among them there is a certain percentage, as always, of adventurers. But, in general, these young people are absolutely sincere. They think that they are doing everything right. They absolutely have no material, or mercenary goals. And they, inspired, made a sort of preventive blow on me. Without waiting for my questions, they themselves began telling: we are doing everything right, that we have arrived here. This is Islam, this is the country of Islam, the land of Islam, and everyone should come here... And agitation: la-la-la and la-la-la.
Do you think they were ‘newcomers’? Or have any of them been there for long?
Well, maybe a month more, or a month less. I don’t think they had been for long there. In the middle, there was one older one. He was also, it seems, an Azerbaijani. By his accent, I judged. He was slightly older than them, maybe, 35-40 years old. He, too, occasionally joined the conversation, but not actively. I understood that he was a sort of a commander over them.
How long did you stay in this house?
About an hour, probably. We were sitting and talking. I was silent, letting them speak out. They did it with pleasure — quite clever speeches. Then, at the end, I rushed on them a little. I said, ‘What do you allow yourself, not knowing who is in front of you? Maybe I’m dressed like a peasant, tired after the journey. Do you think that I am more stupid than you and I’ve lived less than you? What are you explaining to me, where is Islam and where not? If you are in Islam, and we are what — not in Islam? Are we kafirs or infidels somehow? They immediately fell silent and respectful. They felt an adult man. I had a long beard... Then, with my son and this Tajik we drove on, somewhere into a suburb of Aleppo. The place was called Kafr-Hamra. They, as it turned out, lived there. It was some 30-40 kilometres from that border village. We arrived, through all sorts of posts and checkpoints on the road. There is no such strict system there. There are ‘bearded’ posts and ‘non-bearded’. All kinds of them.
Did your son tell you who the people at those posts were?
No, he didn’t. We didn’t talk much on the way. This one, who was driving, the Tajik, he apparently knew Arabic, as he had studied in Egypt. He was talking to them, they said ‘OK, drive on, go.’ I just remembered that he was saying ‘muhaji’. Muhaji means the one who has moved there, that is, I have arrived — it means that I was muhaji. Moreover, I understood that there was no unified structure as such. There were no state institutions. And this was confirmed later. State institutions, however, appeared in the ISIL, when on July 30, 2014, there was the first announcement of the Caliphate. Until then, there were no state institutions as such. There were groupings: armed and not armed... But on the posts, of course, there were armed people. And we arrived at the place, where my son lived. A two-storey private house — a cottage, like that. A large fenced territory was around. There were empty barrels for olive oil. It had belonged to some businessman, probably, who was trading in olive oil; and they lived there; a total of 15-20 people in that house. A two-storey house it was... Cultural, neat, tidy — not a huge palace, but such a good, solid house. In the afternoon, they left somewhere. They said ‘training.’ But what kind of training, they didn’t say.
The news about the influence of the situation in the Middle East on the regions of the Caucasus regions are grouped by the ʺCaucasian Knotʺ on its thematic page ʺCaucasus held at gunpoint by Caliphateʺ
Were many of those who lived there from the Caucasus?
You can distinguish ‘from Caucasus-not from Caucasus’ only by facial features. There were also Asians there.
But did they tell you that they were also from Dagestan? Kunak from some district? Were there such guys?
No, I remember only one of them — he was a Daghestani, an Avar; a little older than they were.
Thin soup, tea and group training
El-Bab, Syria, 2013 VPh
And was your son somehow aloof?
Aloof... The first stage of talking with my son — he generally tried not to come into contact. There was no psychological contact with him. Even that Tajik was faster to come into contact with me. He even joked with me on the way. He said, ‘You know, I learned from you two new Russian words. I asked, ʺWhat words? He said, ‘demagogy’ and ‘geopolitics’. I explained to them, ‘Why are you making demagogy here?ʺ (laughing). He didn’t know this word, it turned out. At least some benefit from me... The son was silent, didn’t enter the conversation. These people told me, ʺAh, you probably came to pick up your son.’ They started running on me. I told them, ‘Listen, guys, how do you imagine this? I’ve come to pick up... Is it a sort of suitcase that I can take and go? Am I supposed to rope him up? Or how should I take him?’ I came to explain and to understand myself what you are doing. And to explain you what you are doing wrong.
And when you met on the border, did he somehow embrace you?
No, but we have no such sentiments even at home. It was clear that his father had come. Well, I came and that’s it. He gave his consent for me to come. Without it I would not come. I wanted to know where he was. Al-Assad would not give me his coordinates (laughing). And he didn’t enter such psychological contact with me. Somehow I spent there 5-6 days, probably. And then, I understood what was going on there... I repeat, there are no state institutions there. There are groupings there. There are such, such and such. They had a very small grouping. And I didn’t see any weapons on them either. Maybe on recruits, I don’t know. They had very few people — some 20-30 persons, I don’t know. I kept trying to find out what they were doing during the day. They would say: ‘at training’, and disappeared until the evening.
Did you live with your son?
Yes, they gave us a room. We were sleeping together with my son in one room. We went downstairs to eat. Once or twice a day, somewhere.
Probably, themselves, I don’t know. The food was simple. We weren’t starving, but it was not luxurious. Usual simple food: a chicken, some thin soup and tea. Basically tea, sugar, such things (laughing). Well, I realized that they were not starving, but nobody demanded any luxury there. I didn’t see any delicious meals on the table.
Most likely, these trainings, which you mentioned, were the practical exercises, which were reported by other participants of events. Most likely, it was some kind of training camp. Don’t you think he was taught shooting there, or something else?
I can’t tell. Of course, I guess, I’m not that naive. Probably they did, but I don’t know, they persistently told me, ‘We have trainings.’ What kind of trainings? Where are they held? What are they doing there? When I went there, he asked me to bring him a book from here. There is a book, such as a self-taught Arabic textbook. He asked for this book. I even bought several books in Makhachkala. They sell them at mosques in kiosks. Maybe they have their lessons in Arabic or the Koran. I don’t know; and it didn’t bother me very much.
My son is an adult, I can’t forbid anything... It’s just pointless. I managed to convince him that he had done at least one wrong step
Turkey, 2013, VPh
During these 5 or 6 days that you stayed there, did you manage to establish some kind of contact with your son and talk to him?
My son is an adult, I can’t forbid anything or say, ‘Do this, don’t do this.’ It’s just pointless to prohibit; he’ll just sends me to hell and disappear from communication. I couldn’t impose on him so hard, because he would have switched off the connection, and I’d lose the contact. I managed to convince him that he had done at least one wrong step. I explained to him: your wife is pregnant at home (6 or 7 months was about until the delivery), you didn’t provide anything, did you ask anyone to take care of her? She can’t stay alone; her husband had left, with whom she should stay? They had a separate apartment. Should she live alone — the pregnant wife? No. She then, naturally, moved to her parents and still lives there. I said: you failed to solve that issue with your wife. If you wanted to leave, why hadn’t you taken her with you then? When I asked her upon my arrival back, she told me that he had told her that he was going to Turkey, then, in a month, he promised to come back and take her with him. That’s what he had told his wife, it turned out. In short, by this topic, I convinced him that in this, at least, was his mistake. He shouldn’t have left his wife. A Muslim has no right to leave his wife anywhere, especially a pregnant wife; without subsistence means, without anything. He then told me, ‘I left subsistence means with my brother. With Shamil, my second son. They worked together in Moscow. I didn’t know how much money he had left. Now I found out this, but then I didn’t pay much importance to this. They really worked together. Shamil was the boss, Marat was a manager, and quite successful. Therefore, I completely admit it. It was like a family business. At the same time, I convinced him that he was wrong: go and make things clear with your wife, and if she agrees, take her with you. If she doesn’t agree, then divorce and leave your wife.
From the second part of the interview the reader will learn where and how the builders of the caliphate came to Syria
That is, your task was to plant some grain of doubt into his head, wasn’t it?
Yes, and it seems to me that I did it, because by the end of that week, he was basically ready to go back.
In five days you managed to persuade him?
Yes, to go back. Look, I don’t think that his beliefs had changed radically in his mind, but he was ready to correct his mistake. Then I told him: you have your parents. Well, we are alive and well today, but tomorrow something may happen to us. Who had taken this responsibility from you? Well, tomorrow we may have no means of livelihood. Who had taken this responsibility away from you? You have your mother. Okay, I’m healthy myself, but you have your mother, not very healthy. He seemed to have been grinding all that in his head and ultimately agreed to go out of there. I don’t think, I repeat once again, that some transformation took place in his consciousness, that he was ready to change his convictions. His convictions, too, didn’t arise in a single day, but at least at that stage he was ready. And I began doing some researches on how to do it. But it was virtually impossible. How to pick it up? He is in full view of everyone. How will he explain this? But who will let him go? We agreed that we would seek a cultural way. The one not noisy, not scandalous. Quietly and peacefully to get out of there. Once I was met and brought in and out for 100 US dollars it means that this was a business. We would also solve this issue with money. He gave me a few phone numbers of people who can help him to quit there without pain. And it’s good that they had not participated in any events. I thought that there was a military sporting camp there. Because there are no military operations; nothing happens there, everything was quiet and peaceful. Aleppo is a big, cultural city. I saw this Aleppo. We drove straight to the outskirts.
Once I was met and brought in and out for 100 US dollars it means that this was a business
Aleppo, Syria, 2007, VPh
Aleppo before huge bombings
Aleppo, Syria, 2008, VPh
Did you spend time in Aleppo; have you been there?
No, we just approached Aleppo. It was interesting. We drove close to the outskirts. They have some pharmaceutical factory there. What I noticed — streets are very broad. Aleppo is a big city; it has several millions residents, in my opinion. A broad highway, half covered with building debris, some sand. I said: what’s this? It meant that on one side there were Assad forces, on the other — those. This was the border line. I also noticed that electricity was sometimes out there, not around the clock. They supplied it a few hours a day just to charge the phones. Then I found out that they have one power plant and common power lines, although they are at war. No one bombs the power plant, because everyone will stay without electricity.
So, in fact, the Assad’s government gave power to both parts of the city, didn’t it?
I don’t know in whose territory that power plant was. The confrontation line goes along some geographical borders... And from time to time it became funny to me, when I imagined that during the Second World War we were fighting Germans, and half the time we gave power to both parties (laughing). Such a story was there. Sometimes, there was no power for the whole day. The phone completely lost power. Then, they supplied it for several hours, and people could quickly charge their phones. The most important thing for everyone there was to charge phones; the rest didn’t need much electricity.
During those five days that you stayed there, did you go out of that cottage, of that house anywhere?
Yes, we left for several times. One day we went out into the same settlement. I was just curious to see. We drove in a car. There were, as I understood it, various groupings, which occupied same small cottages. Well, my impression was like that; what I unambiguously remembered that there was no single structure; no unity in anything. Even within that settlement. For example, the head of the settlement, the administration — they were not there. It was like that: who had managed to capture something. One possessed five or six cottages; the other — ten cottages, owned by that or another grouping. I had some impression of surrealism... In my perception, in no way it was associated with any war.
Aleppo before the fighting and the military sports camp - this is in the third part of the interview
And how could you describe life in these places? For example, were shops working?
Shops were working. They bought foodstuffs somewhere. I was not there. But they went, brought food, prepared some meals. Surely, there was no centralized supply system there. There’s no one to supply. Because there was no one-man command. Members of the grouping collect money, travel somewhere to buy food and bring it.
You say that they collected money; thus, they were paid money for something, yes?
I think that at that time they had no one to pay. In general, there was no structure as such. Who could pay them? But later, when the ISIL was formed and the Caliphate, I think, they were being paid...
Were there any destructions?
There were destroyed houses. There’s war there. Not continuously, not every day, but, probably, when they captured that settlement, they destroyed something; probably. There were half-ruined, and destroyed buildings there. In Aleppo, too, there were some ruined houses. I asked, when we drove up to Aleppo with my son, what was the cause of those huge destructions? There was such a big house that was dilapidated. I was still surprised, it was silence around... I wondered if it was long-range artillery. No, they say, it was when an Assad’s helicopter dropped a barrel at night. It was on the Internet later. A 200-litre barrel stuffed with dynamite. In those days, this party, apparently had no antiaircraft guns. It’s now that the ISIL is armed, as I understand, quite seriously. And then: a helicopter would fly up and find an area, where, in their opinion, these militants were (but peaceful people also lived there), would drop a barrel, and this barrel would ruin a couple of such high-rise buildings, because it’s a huge barrel.
There was such a big house that was dilapidated... I wondered if it was long-range artillery. No, they say, it was when an Assad’s helicopter dropped a barrel at night. It was on the Internet later. A 200-litre barrel stuffed with dynamite
Syria, 2017, Vph
So, was it a completely destroyed house?
Essentially destroyed. I understand that when an artillery shell hits a house, it destroys a balcony or a corner... And here, a corner of the house collapsed after the explosion. It was not just a shell that got there.
Thus, did you understand that you are in a war zone?
I guessed that it was not just so. When my son left, I studied this topic for a month. Before, I was generally far from that. I studied where it all came from, how the concept of jihad emerged. This is a whole story. The war broke out there back in 2010, in fact. There was no jihad, no Islamic topic in that war. The war was resistance to al-Assad. The groups had one goal — to assassinate Assad. Then, as always happens, all sorts of groupings had begun flocking there... Some of them were ‘for’, others — ‘against’. Semi-adventurers, adventurers and simply straightforward bandits, probably, arrived there. In hot spots, such ‘material’ always accumulates. Then, two years later, Islamic scholars gathered somewhere in Cairo. You remember, in 2012 or 2013 they made an assessment of what is happening from the viewpoint of Islam. Then, they decided that this was jihad. After that moment, I began guessing that it was a big push. A mass of people, immature young people, with fragile consciousness, rushed there... Like my son and those whom I saw there. Young guys...
Have you seen anything else in this city?
Shops; they said that an Internet club is there. Not always they have good Internet there; and when it’s bad, they go somewhere to the Internet club, pay some small money...
That is, you saw a living city, in which shops operated, and in which...
Excerpts from the diary of a man, who decided to fight for the ʺIslamic Stateʺ, but faced the deceit and viciousness of many of its followers, are presented by the ʺCaucasian Knotʺ in the interview ʺTravel to the ‘Islamic State’ and Backʺ
, which describes the hero’s unsuccessful experience of building Caliphate in Syria, torture, waiting for execution and escaping from prison.
But was the pharmaceutical factory working already?
In my opinion, it was working. It seems that it worked. Because they said that they had no problems there, the medicines were good. I remember from the Soviet times that Syrian medicines were famous. Good western companies built factories there and produced high-quality medicines.
Have you seen any western brands on sale?
Now, I can’t say that. I was not interested as much, but at least it looked like a living and a working city. Yes, it was ruined. But there were no such rampant destructions, like what we now see in Aleppo... There is almost no city now, as I understood. Aleppo is ruined now.
You spent five days there and decided to leave. Why?
Well, what should I do? My task was to understand what they were doing there.
Did they try to involve you and persuade you to stay?
No, absolutely. No one, apart from these young men, sincere, on emotions... Apart from them, no one spoke to me. Actually, there was no one to say it.
Dad, that’s impossible
Aleppo, Syria, 2013, Vph
How did you decide to go back?
Well, I sat down and said: I’ve learned everything I wanted, I can’t take you away, not now... My task is to use the channels that I had to get him out of there as soon as possible. Just going away — I couldn’t quite imagine how. There’s no fixed-route taxi-minibus: you pay and go.
And to go to see you off, get to the border, and then cross it, and that’s all...
But he’s not alone there. This is a group, it’s not his private border. This group was probably controlled by someone. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to say. At least, it wasn’t possible for him just to leave...
And did you offer him to leave?
I told him: let’s go away, if you agree, but he said: no, Dad, that’s impossible.
I told him: let’s go away, if you agree, but he said: no, Dad, that’s impossible.
El-Bab, Syria, 2013
Thus, he was afraid that something could happen to him, if he decided to run away?
I realized that he was not just afraid. It was a real danger. It’s not just so simple — you came yesterday and leave tomorrow.
You correct me, if I say wrong... Can I understand you that then, in 2013, it was relatively easy to come there, but to leave already then, having stayed there only for a month, he understood that leaving was not so easy, or even very difficult?
Yes, I agree. An absolutely correct thought.
And how did he tell you that? Did he say that he could be killed?
He didn’t. Maybe it was psychologically difficult for him. His friends all came there, they would say that it was some kind of cowardice. He said: Daddy, it’s impossible. I say: come on, let’s go, here’s a taxi. But taxi — it’s later, it’s still necessary to get to the place where a taxi stands. When I decided to leave, I was again taken to the same frontier village of Akme. Such a large settlement, a civil one. I saw several mosques there.
He took you there, and then you were in that house again, weren’t you?
No, this time they took me directly to the border. I don’t remember whether my son was with us or not. The Avar was there for sure.
In what way did you cross the border?
In the centre of the village, there was a taxi standing, an ordinary taxi. The Avar went and talked to someone, to an Arab, and said that he would take me to the border. I remember that the border was very close to Akme — one and a half kilometres, probably. Very close. And he sat down and we started driving, and driving... A long drive, a whole hour, probably. I just couldn’t understand where he was driving. Anxiety was in my heart. Again, we faced checkpoints — these and those. Well, I understand, we drove for a long time from Aleppo to Akme — there are 30-40 kilometres, maybe even 50 — posts and all that stuff. But from Acme to the border is 1.5 kilometres, all in front. But we were driving for a long time... I was trying to ask, where we were. ‘Turke, Turks, Turz.’ He said, ‘Yes, yes, Turk-Turk.’ We arrived... He drove to the location. Apparently, at that time that crossing, where he raised the beam, and they passed me, didn’t work. And he drove me away... some 30-40 kilometres — the name of the place was Reyhanly. There was once an official crossing, but by that time it was closed.
That is, was there a checkpoint there?
Yes, a checkpoint, an official one, on the Turkish border. I went there when we went by car to the Hajj. I recognized the place. And somewhere we drove for another two or three kilometres. Somewhere into the thickets of bushes. We drove off somewhere to the bushes; and there were some 20-30 people like me. Who were on the way back.
And did you sit there in bushes?
We didn’t hide especially. There are tall shrubs there, very close to the border. The barbed wire was already seen. There was someone who organized it; he went in and out, talked with Turks. For about an hour we sat in those bushes. There was water there — even a river. Then he said: all-all, come on, good. And we passed, calmly passed. On that side was a minibus again. They, apparently, agree in advance. It’s their business.
Last time, when I was brought there, I paid to the owner of the house. He, probably, paid to the taxi driver, or to someone else. And now, he paid to this taxi driver. When I crossed, they showed me the minibus and put me in. Myself and some 2-3 other people. We drove, and they brought me to the bus station of a small town, I don’t remember the name. They showed where to get a ticket to Istanbul. I bought a ticket, gave 100 dollars to the taxi driver, and we parted. But it was another taxi driver, not the one who had brought me there.
How much did you pay then?
The same 100 dollars. They seem to have such a rate there.
A two-year long return
Kwiriss Airport near Al-Bab, Syria, 2012, VPh
How many times have you travelled there in total?
I was once in Syria and six times in Turkey.
So you haven’t returned to Syria since then, have you?
No, there was no need to do it. Then, a year later my wife went to Syria. She was there longer — for more than a month.
Thus, in 2013, you last saw your son? For how long haven’t you seen him since?
After that, I saw him already in 2015, somewhat in September, in Istanbul.
You spent the next two years to getting him out of there, right?
Yes. I and my whole family.
You made many trips to Turkey and Egypt in order to agree on how he could leave...
Yes, now I’ll tell you all the chronology.
The main aim of this interview is to understand how one can help those who need help. It took you almost two years... What was necessary to do first of all, if we consider that he was more inclined to leave that territory? What was required of you during these two years in the first place?
In fact, one thing was required, first and foremost, and in the second place... It was necessary to find a channel on how to pull a person out of there.
A channel is what you have described, isn’t it? When someone brings the person to the border, and someone will ensure that there is transport on the other side of the border?
He had a desire to leave then. I said that I didn’t know what was in his head, but, at least, he was ready to leave... But it took so long to transform this ‘ready to leave’ into reality
Adult Muslim Man Is Reading The Koran In The Mosque, VPh
And, of course, an agreement with border guards, so that they let pass...
Yes, this is a channel. And on the Turkish side there is a channel; it’s not scary. I think that there, at least in those days, they closed their eyes. They didn’t pay much attention to this... The main thing was for us that he could leave it safely. Now, you’ll understand why I say so. Because, he had a desire to leave then. I said that I didn’t know what was in his head, but, at least, he was ready to leave... But it took so long to transform this ‘ready to leave’ into reality. Moreover, a year later — it was in March 2014 — we went with my wife to Egypt. Why did we go there at our old age, for no reason at all? Everyone was in surprise. I explained everything to everyone: we go to learn Islam, learn the language, that the Arabic environment is there. But I subconsciously had a need to find channels. I began looking for channels, I studied this topic along and across. How they go, how they leave, and how they come. I started looking for contacts, starting from Dagestan and Moscow. Slowly, I found Egypt, there is a large Diaspora of ours there; some people were there, some left, or were leaving — different people. I found a contact and went to Alexandria. We lived with my wife there for four months. I had such an idea, a hope that it may be easier from there... Well, somehow naive, maybe I thought that it would be easier for him to get there.
Yes, I will now explain. Perhaps, I naively believed that it would be easier for him to say, ‘I’m not returning, I’m going to Egypt.’ Also, there are a lot of those who were there, who arrived and who left. ‘I’m going to the same Islamic country.’ We were in touch all the time, using Viber.
Was that idea of your wrong?
It was wrong on the one hand, but on the other hand, I found contacts there. Ultimately, the contact that I found in Egypt worked; it gave result, but in a year. It was that very man, whom I met in Egypt, this man eventually dragged out my son in September 2015.
And how did he do it? Are you talking about the same model: a car that brings the person to the border, an agreement with border guards, and a car that takes away from the border?
There, it was already much more difficult. We stayed there for three months, all the time in communication, trying to find channels — such and those... I contacted many people there; there were a lot of those willing to help, swindlers too, there are a lot of them in this business. They asked, give us 10,000, give us 5000 dollars, and we’ll take him out. I had already lost 5000 dollars, trying to find a channel. On fresh tracks, when I found them in 2013, I gave the money under my naivety... In my opinion, they were Kurds, as far as I remember. And then I had never seen them, those Kurds. Either in Istanbul it was, or in Hatay. I don’t remember now.
I contacted many people there; there were a lot of those willing to help, swindlers too, there are a lot of them in this business. They asked, give us 10,000, give us 5000 dollars, and we’ll take him out. I had already lost 5000 dollars... under my naivety
Damascus, Syria, 2017, VPh
So, you were searching for the next two years in different ways, how to ensure financially his exit from there...
Definitely. Well, financially I had no special problems, because I have my working children. I have a son, who is in business. He’s not a millionaire; the point is about thousands, tens of thousands. In total, several tens of thousands of dollars are needed.
That is, your son, who is now under investigation? Shamil?
Did he help you in financing the exit of your younger son?
Yes, sure. Definitely. Because all our trips had one goal in the final — his exit.
In general, let’s talk consistently. The trip to Egypt was in March. On March 8, 2014, I flew to Egypt by a direct flight from Moscow, from Domodedovo. Before that, I managed only once to go there, via Istanbul, via Hatay and to come back. Apart from that, when I was looking for channels, I didn’t go to Istanbul. Until 2014, I was no more in Istanbul. Then, my wife, seeing that nothing happens and achieved from Egypt, after three months there, she was in hysteria, she said, ‘Let’s go after him, otherwise he wouldn’t succeed. Let’s go, let’s take him out of there. I was already nervous and said that I shouldn’t go anywhere, ‘if you want, go yourself.’ And she went there herself. She later said, ‘I was surprised that you let me go at all.’ Because she drove me mad, so I let her go...
Mother goes to her son: from Dagestan to ISIL
Guta, Syria, 2017, VPh
What is your wife’s name?
She was born in 1959. It was 2014, the month of May. She was 55 years old and she went there.
In the fourth part of the video: his son went to ISIL with his mother, and Rakka two days before the announcement of the caliphate
In the same way as you did?
Yes. Our son again found some contact in Istanbul. People met her and took to some family; she lived with them for 2-3 days in Istanbul. It was a Russian-speaking family. I understood later what it was done for. It became harder and harder to get in and out. A year has passed since my trip. They are looking for the right moment. As soon as the right moment comes, they say at the border: it’s OK, tomorrow will be a normal and suitable moment; and they go. It’s far to get there. From Istanbul to Hatay or Gaziantep — it’s a 15-hour drive, about a thousand kilometres. In a couple of days she went. There, guides met her; in Gaziantep it was. This is also a Turkish border town. Just from there goes the road to Aleppo.
And how long did she stay with your son?
She spent a total of 35 days there, in my opinion — more than a month.
Was she in the same cottage?
Oh, no, no! By that time, they were already deep inside, at the rear. It was the town of Tapka. Rakka is the capital, and it is not far from the capital. Now, it is the capital of the ‘Islamic State’, a conditional capital. And Tapka is a town not far away. There, they have a power station and a dam. My friend built them, back in the 1980s...
On June 29, 2014, the ISIL, a terrorist organization, banned in Russia, proclaimed the World Caliphate with a Sharia form of ruling and headquarters (capital) in the Syrian city of Er-Rakka.
What did she tell you about your son? Was he in the same group?
No, it was completely different. When she was there, as she says, they had no group. According to her, he again regularly went away and disappeared. It was the same. He didn’t say where he was and what he did. He said ‘training.’ What is it? I don’t know what it means. Well, probably he didn’t want to say. I asked her if there was any weapon. It was a town deep in the rear. She didn’t see him with arms.
Did she see any weapons at home?
She didn’t even visit his home. Married ones live in apartments; unmarried ones live in some male dormitory or hostel. Women are forbidden to enter it.
That is, so she lived somewhere else, didn’t she?
She lived in a family, again, when such people come, they live in families. In the female section of the house. Well, some sort of apartment, someone’s wife and a child, and she lived there for these 35 days. The son went to his hostel for the night, a males’ hostel. Then, he said, they were paid 50 dollars, into their united cash, for food, to have what to eat. They buy the rest for their own money — who can get it. That is, there is nothing of the sort they are telling here. One of my friends tells me: you know, they are paid 3000 dollars per month. I joked: tell me where, and I myself will go to earn 3000 dollars for doing nothing there.
So, she saw him in the evening, or what?
On the contrary, she saw him in the daytime. In the evening, he went to his hostel. Not all the day, from time to time he left, but she saw him much enough. They even went to Rakka. She said they just went on an excursion there, for some reason to that capital.
Did she tell you anything about Rakka?
Well, it was a cultural city. The difference was that the Caliphate was not yet declared, but there were already elements of the state structure. It was July 2014, but only in December it was declared a state; and it was declared a terrorist organization also in 2014. My wife was there before the announcement of the Caliphate. She left, and in two days they declared the Caliphate. On the first day of Uraza (in 2014, the Uraza-Bayram began on July 28, — note of the ʺCaucasian Knotʺ), I remember well, they declared the Caliphate. She said that the state institutions and town already functioned there then.
Well, cleaning, transportation, shops... There’s order there, the police of morals... When the time of namaz comes, everyone quits trading; and they all go to the mosque. The institutions work there, and there is no mess. Well, that’s understandable. Firstly, it is a metropolitan city, and, secondly, it is deep in the rear. Far from the border, it’s far from all the borders. Rakka is far from the Syrian border and from the Turkish border.
And what did your wife say about how she spent time with Marat?
They talked and walked... She sent me a photo taken on the shore of that huge reservoir, like our Chirkey one.
She dressed in such a way that only her eyes were seen. All the women are dressed like that there
Syria, 2012, VPh
But there a woman must be covered, probably, mustn’t she?
Definitely. When she was about to go there, the son had warned. She dressed in such a way that only her eyes were seen. All the women are dressed like that there. There was no other way. It was like that then; and now — even stricter, probably. Well, she lived there for a month, I was constantly in touch with them. There was Viber there, and Skype. They also said, when the Internet was bad, they went to a cafe, nearby — an Internet cafe. Well, as usual for a business city. No war, no explosions, they heard no explosions at all.
I understand that it was not expensive there, the Internet I mean...
Absolutely. There, they have quite different prices, of course, if you have dollars on hand. She said, prices were generally in pennies...
How to find entries and where exits lead
How did your searches for possible way out for your son progress?
In general, we searched again for those same channels. I got acquainted already here, in Dagestan, with some 15-20 parents, like myself, who were searching for ways — they went there, came back, or wanted to go... They consulted each other; and I was almost the major consultant among them, because I have covered the longest way...
For how many times have you travelled to Turkey to find some channels of getting out?
When I left Turkey together with my son for Ukraine, this was my fifth trip. Then, I was there for the sixth time; but it was only partially connected with my son. After the son had already left for Ukraine, there was my sixth trip; I tried to find some forms of rehabilitation there, but I also failed.
And what do you think was the most important in the successful return of your son?
I can tell you, the main thing was the desire. If a person has no desire to get out of there, you wouldn’t drag him out.
I can tell you, the main thing was the desire. If a person has no desire to get out of there, you wouldn’t drag him out.
And how did your son acquire the desire to get out?
Now, look here: my son is a fairly intelligent person, he is a good specialist... He studied at the university in Makhachkala, at the mathematical department, the division of programming. But he didn’t graduate; he left; but he is a good specialist; he worked here, in Moscow, in serious large companies. He is a system administrator, at the level of hardware, as they call it. He received normal, good salaries. Then, he worked for the Internet TV; he was the head of the technical support division of the company. That is, a person, who absolutely can’t be presented as someone downtrodden and oppressed — absolutely not, an absolutely adequate person, not a marginal.
So, how he had his desire to leave? You talked with him for five days and thought that he had already begun to be inclined to leave, didn’t you?
He started to think about leaving, because, I think, I found his weak point. Since he joined them on the basis of the Islamic ideology, I found a weak point that he left the family behind. This doesn’t fit into any framework of the Islam. Who, I asked, should care about your wife? Parents? Who have you asked, other than your parents? Nobody? Did you instruct me to take care of her? No.
Fight against extremist ideology. In the fifth part of the interview, a story about the causes of radical attitudes
Has he interrupt his contacts with his wife or continued?
No, by using WhatsApp, probably once or twice, I think.
But, perhaps, she also called him to come back? Has he listened to her calls?
Well, I think it was all this in the aggregate. It’s hard to say; it’s not a one-shot operation: he said or he didn’t. It’s very complicated... But, I think, it was all in combination. She actively helped him. Before the delivery, she wrote to him; then, when the child was born, we had such tactics: all the time we sent the child’s photos; this also had some psychological effect on him. Well, he originally wanted...
Did he have a son or daughter?
A son. Now, a daughter has already appeared. His son is already three years old, quite an adult boy.
Did the wife go to her parents?
Well, yes, but what had she to do? We live in a village. Here, in Makhachkala, another son lives, the eldest one. They lived separately, they had a separate apartment. But how could she live alone?
And how has her family accepted her?
Well, at first it was assumed that it would all end, that he would return; they saw that I was actively travelling here and there; that I was trying to raise people to their feet. They saw that it was about to happen, that it would all end... They are adequate people; they are our relatives, not occasional people; they are sympathetic to our situation.
That is, it’s difficult to say how he had got his desire to return. And have you managed to understand how the intent to leave appeared in him?
It’s hard to say. This is still a mystery to me, I’ve tried...
But he actively used social networks... Have you ever watched his accounts in social networks?
No, I haven’t, because as soon as he moved from Moscow to Makhachkala and got married, a week later I left. I always said to my wife: as soon as we marry the last son, we’ll go to the village. And in fact I left... I believed that I had fulfilled my parental functions in relation to children. They were quite independent. They never created problems for me. No quarrels, law enforcement bodies, alcohol, drugs... They don’t smoke, don’t drink; in general, they were not particularly problematic for me. And not ‘white hands’. They are financially independent of me.
Did he leave from Makhachkala?
He left from Makhachkala — by air flight Makhachkala-Istanbul. More than a year had passed after he returned from Moscow.
In general, when he left, was he very religious? Was he praying five times a day?
No, the indicator is not like that. If he doesn’t pray five times, then it’s already difficult to treat him as a Muslim, because it is his duty, a minimal duty. Of course, he prayed five times a day, but I can’t say that he is some kind of crazy religious.
Did he speak Arabic, when he left?
No, he doesn’t speak it now, although he had lived there. That Diaspora, these groupings are Russian-speaking, that’s why he doesn’t know Arabic even now. He was, yes, an ordinary practicing Muslim. I can’t say that strongly; it’s a difficult category here — hard to assess.
And what mosque did he visit in Makhachkala?
I don’t know. We have one, close to where we live, in my opinion. Several times, we went to the morning namaz (prayer) together. We live quite near; there’s a mosque in Ordzhonikidze Street, a small, so to say, district mosque. There, at the morning prayer, he told me that he went there, but how regularly, I don’t know.
So, you didn’t try to find the reasons why he decided to go there, did you?
I tried to understand, but I couldn’t. He didn’t say anything either. But, you know, it’s difficult. Even if he wants, I’m afraid he won’t say, he will not be able to say. Well, for what reason? How can he explain?..
Maybe there was some man who persuaded him?
It is unlikely, I don’t know.
Probably, there was some communication, I can’t say.
And you said that there is a whole group of such parents in Makhachkala, trying to rescue their children, is it really?
Yes, they wanted to, but I don’t remember that someone of them has succeeded...
If we imagine that you are now addressing not these 20-30 people, but some broader audience, what would you advise those who want to help their children to return? To more people than you know, and, accordingly, you don’t know what situations they are in. However, what are the main elements, in your opinion, of your success?
It will be hard for me to give recipes...
Well, tell about yourself... There are people who don’t know where to start with, what should they do?
I think there is no easy success here. It’s a painstaking and long piece of work.... The most important thing is not to lose contact. I know the people who went there, and their older brothers started pressing them on WhatsApp; and they just broke the connection, and that’s all. I think the most important thing here is not to lose contact. Don’t hope that you come today, clap your fist on the table, and tomorrow he will realize and come running back. He will not come back from there running. That he had this desire arose in him, here I see great merit of his wife, mother, and our trip. And personal contact, constant contact and communication, this is the explanation...
Did you talk on various topics, everyday issues?
Yes, I just tried to talk more on everyday and household issues, and at odd moments I tried to inject the idea into him that the life doesn’t end with the fact that he left. He has us, his family, his wife — this is also life, a part of his life. And then what?.. His wife is an intelligent girl; she made photos of their child all the time and sent to him, so that he understood...
Is he with his wife now and with his children?
Now he is not with his wife and children, because he is in Ukraine, and his wife is here, at home.
What else can you tell those, who want to return their relatives? I understand that they need to be flexible, not too intolerant to those whom they want to return, and not to break contact with them...
It’s the most important thing, yes.
You know, I tried to talk to people, who know... Islamic people, literate people in Islam, scientists. I know a friend who has finished al-Azhar [University]. A man, who has completed the full course of al-Azhar, lives here in Dagestan. I tried to act with his help... But it’s useless at the distance... I didn’t feel any effect, at least. You know, it’s very difficult to convince a person at the distance... We are surprised that, you see, the Islamic call, it hasn’t disappeared; for fifteen hundred years from the rise of Islam. It is still here; sometimes it dampens, sometimes increases, but as a whole, it remains. We are surprised that young people are there, and call them bandits. Well, what kind of bandits are they, I’ve seen them, what kind of bandits are they? These are people, who went there on the ideological basis. I assure you that by 99% they are sincere people.
But, you understand that even if you hadn’t seen weapons in the hands of your son...
Yes, they kill, I think that they kill...
Yes, they kill, I think that they kill...
Syria 2015, VPh
Probably, when talking about those who kill other people, no matter what ideas they are moved by, it’s hard to say the way you said right now, ‘What kind of bandits are they?’...
I agree, maybe I used a wrong expression. I don’t justify them, I’m not talking about justification. They are people, who sincerely think... Our counterpropaganda, it doesn’t take into account this factor at all. I also talked with FSB agents and other structures. They only consider one thing: is he a bandit? If he is, he should be liquidated. But they need to be weaned from this in a different way. We need to work proactively and preventively with them, so that they don’t go away; and with those who have left, probably...
Can we say that they are such erring people?
My opinion is that leaving there is an absolute mistake. I’m not pretending to have profound Islamic knowledge, but I can sincerely state that I consider myself a Muslim, a practicing Muslim. I consider myself a believer. Just like everyone else, I have the right to be wrong, but I am absolutely convinced that this is a mistake. There is no need to go there. This is not the way that is prescribed by Islam.
I am absolutely convinced that this is a mistake. There is no need to go there
Aleppo, Syria, 2013, VPh
You say that we need preventive measures. What do you specifically mean?ʺ In Dagestan, what should we do? You know that recently in Makhachkala and other cities of Dagestan many mosques treated as Salafi mosques were closed; and in Derbent, in my opinion, it was burned down under the guise of such, you know, a natural fire. In your opinion, is this way a preventive measure or not? Or is it a reverse action? How do you interpret what is now happening in Dagestan?
I have an impression that people there are in some absurd theatre... I don’t think that this is encouraged at the level of the supreme power. This is either ignorance, or lack of these specialists...
How would you describe this closure of Salafi mosques?
It’s counterproductive absolutely! One hundred percent! Instead of, on the contrary, opening new ones, trying to influence on this ummah, this Islamic mass in some way; arguments can be presented.
Thus, can we say now that while earlier there were Salafis, who used to go to mosques in Dagestan; and there were madrassas and other places, where they could, as I understand, follow their faith, then with the closure of these places, on the contrary, they are forced to leave, because such places are now inaccessible in Dagestan?
I can’t state such a direct link, because I haven’t studied the whole topic. I’m not a researcher. But, at least, I think that the closure of mosques in terms of propaganda, so that they wouldn’t go, it gives exactly the opposite effect. This is an absolutely counterproductive way, because closure of mosques is a complete contradiction to the Constitution. Nobody has cancelled the freedom of religion prescribed in the Constitution. What is a mosque? It is the people, who are there, the people, who spread ideas, sometimes aggressive ones. Thus, you should fight these people, not mosques...
The authorities of Dagestan have long been suspicious of Salafism and are considering mosques as possible centers for training terrorists. Law enforcement officers closed a number of Salafi mosques.
So, what preventive measures in Dagestan, in your opinion, would be efficient?
Unfortunately, I’m not a public person; and I can’t give out recipes. I can only reason from my own narrow bell tower. Well, when in Dagestan at the level of the authorities, for example, in the ‘Dagestanskaya Pravda’ — the mouthpiece of the government — they say that young people leave, because unemployment, that there is no work... I think it’s complete nonsense. For them not to leave, we need, probably, a comprehensive programme. When the central authorities are blindly harping on, ‘let’s open up jobs, and all will be OK... Nothing will be OK! Because they won’t open jobs! They open one and steal the rest.
And why are they leaving?
Probably, people should have some, I don’t know, social lifts, where youth people should be striving...
Don’t you think that your son Marat could have some ignorance in Islam, which was used to mislead him? Or was he well trained, and someone couldn’t use his only initial level of knowledge to further mislead him about how he should act?
To say that he has deep knowledge... I still know that he has no deep knowledge of Islam. Because to have it, a person should specifically and systematically study some topic. Knowledge is acquired in the process of learning. Even now he has no such deep knowledge. It is difficult to say whether someone had used it... Because it’s a complex category of influence. There are people who, while possessing deep good knowledge, chose this way, went to Syria or ‘to the forest’ in Dagestan. I think that here we see more an acute sense of justice, the absence of this social lift in Dagestan, some kind of way out. You see, I once said in some circles: the recipe is not for parents, who have their children left there — it’s difficult to advise something to them, except that they shouldn’t lose contact and try to be in contact — but to the authorities. There’s no need to create any jobs in Dagestan — give us a normal humane state power, a sane one. At the level of the supreme republic’s leadership, only 10% of the population communicate — give the sane power at the level of ordinary authorities — rural and district ones. This is the first; and the second — give us a normal, if necessary, judicial system, which will allow people to protect their interests within the framework of the Constitution and the state legal sphere.
Sane authorities — what does it mean in your language?
A person who will have some kind of trust. I don’t know how this is done; I’m not a public person.
But do you mean that it is, for example, the head of the district, who works, and doesn’t steal, or the head of the district, which is what? What are your characteristics of the sane power?
Probably, apart of that he works and doesn’t steal, or works, but steals, there is no third option, is it? Today, the system in Dagestan is such that, in fact, a person who enjoys the confidence of his encirclement, can do nothing. People are not asked whom to put to this or that post...
And where did your son work, when he returned to Makhachkala?
He didn’t work in Makhachkala. He just got married and didn’t work for a year. He had some money left here. I asked: don’t you want to work? — I have money, why should I work?
Are you sure that he had earned this money when he was in Moscow? Enough to live through the whole year...
Of course, because I know how much he earned. I got here, working, 1500 US dollars as the head of a middle-sized company, then trading in furniture. He worked for the ‘Efir-TV’ and received 2000 dollars a month; moreover, he had nowhere to spend. We lived as a single family. There is no place to spend money there. He spent some for pleasure. He likes to dress well. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, so, he had nowhere to spend. He’s no pub-frequenter. He had money. I have no doubt that he had it.
That is, this factor, as you think, didn’t play any role, did it?
Absolutely. There, this factor can’t play any role. There is no place to earn money; no source of earnings. We are only told here that they allegedly are there for money... I spoke with my son. They paid just not to die from hunger, on the average, 50 dollars for 50 days. Males’ hostel, and 50 dollars per month for food. Well, a person should eat for 50 dollars for a month. The rest — who what sends from anywhere.
Saving brother as financing terrorism
Suruc, Sanliurfa, Turkey, 2014, VPh
This is the topic of supporting those who have already left, by their relatives; how do you feel about it? You saw your son a month after he occurred in the territory of ISIL — a banned organization; and you saw that he needed some financial support for staying there, or was he in no need of money there; and was he, so to say, ‘supplied with everything’? This is the issue, as I understand it, which your middle son is now charged with. That he had provided some kind of support...
My son is charged with the following: in December 2013, that is, three months after Marat left, my middle son sent him some 200,000 roubles by means of the bank card. Then, somehow, they cleared out in an operative way that this money had reached him. About 5000 US dollars reached him. The rest was spent on services. 200,000 roubles were equal to about 6000 dollars, and some 5000 reached him. I didn’t even know that he had sent this money. I learned about it from law enforcement bodies. They showed me the search warrant of the Basmanny Court; and it was written there. We are accused of financing this terrorist organization. Firstly, when he sent it in 2013, they themselves didn’t the name of that organization. There was no ISIL. There was a heap of people. I don’t think that in a month or in a month and a half after I left, this heap of people, in which my son was, turned into some kind of organization. An organization should have some kind of structure and some kind of a leader. Unequivocally, all our actions were aimed at helping Marat to get out. There, I also explained to investigators that there was no tram there — you pay for a ticket and quit where you want. You have to pay there — it’s business. You find a channel to get out of there, and you will say, ‘I’m sorry, I have no money.’ You should have money at hand all the time, so as soon as there is a chance, you could jump out of there.
That is, the money that Shamil sent to Marat was the funds with the help of which Marat could leave this territory, wasn’t it?
In general, this money was unequivocally for the fulfilment of our mission, that is, to get out of there. Including for some current living there, probably. I don’t know what to eat there... I saw what they wore there in 2013. A long Arab dress faded in the sun and some ragged slippers — that’s what he was wearing. And soon winter was to come; winter in Syria also happens. All this in combination, I can’t say ‘1000 dollars for this, 1000 dollar — for that, I didn’t make the budget and gave no instructions. And here they accuse him, you see, of financing the purchase of weapons. I still joked, when I was interrogated: are you going to show a receipt to me that he had bought a machine gun for that money, or what? They laughed: no, they said, we’ll not show the receipt, but we know. But when a person agrees to get out, he needs help with money; money is the most important thing there, because this is business — to take a person out of there. The further — the worse... Then I found out that this was money of Marat himself, not Shamil. The owner of this money was the youngest son. When he worked with Shamil, he had his money left — some 220,000 roubles. This money — 200,000 roubles — was sent to Marat at his request. Then, at my request he sent 100,000 to his wife. When I flew to Egypt, Shamil gave me 2000 dollars, and, I guess, it was also Marat’s money. Unequivocally, there was no funding by Shamil — it was a return of money to the owner — to Marat.
Sixth part: in prison for saving his brother
Is your son Shamil charged with some other episodes?
Yes, with two air tickets for the plane, bought in March and November 2014 from his card. One — from Moscow to Istanbul. Later, this person, a Tajik, found himself in the ISIL; it was later; and Tajik authorities initiated a case against him. I asked my sons about him — neither of them had no idea who he was. I suppose that in this round of searches for the way out for my son, and for the person, who can help him to get out of there, I contacted dozens of persons... The second ticket was for a Lezgin woman, born in 1959. She went from Dagestan to Baku, and flew from there. Her ticket was also bought from Shamil’s card. I found out in my own way that this woman went there in November 2014; and before that, in May, her daughter went there, in September — her son left. I guess this woman went in the same way like me — to take them out. Now I recollect that this woman was a member of that mini-community of parents, who communicate with each other and try to help... I am sure that in the actions of my son Shamil there was no intent to finance any terrorist activity, and non-terrorist either. Because by his nature, Shamil is aimed at doing business. He is accused of radical beliefs. By Lord, have they checked beliefs by X-ray?! If radicalism is not manifested in actions, then, where is it? Shamil is a businessman, not a man just to do charity... He would have never bought a ticket to anyone; it could have been connected only with his attempts to get Marat out of there.
In May, her daughter went there, in September — her son left. I guess this woman went in the same way like me — to take them out. Now I recollect that this woman was a member of that mini-community of parents, who communicate with each other and try to help...
Damascus, Syria, 2017, VPh
Thus, do you want to say that this help in buying air tickets was part of the deal, undertaken in order to get his brother Marat out, to implement this channel, as you call it, for getting to Turkey?
Yes, I’m sure of it. Because no one has cancelled the logic. After these two cases, he had bought nothing to anyone. Moreover, as soon as Marat got into that ISIL prison in April, definitely not a single kopek was sent anywhere. If he was funding, so what’s stopped him? Shamil was more and more successes in his business. What prevented him from financing others there?..
Four months without hope
Damascus, Syria, 2012, VPh
By that moment, when your son Marat came out of there, in 2015, was it already an ISIL’s structure?
Yes. There was no voluntarism, the state machine was strictly working there. With all its institutions, from plumbers to buses, cleaning, public catering, shops and others. This is business — to take a person outside the territory controlled by the ISIL, which only Arabs can do. Others cannot. Why? Arabs are allowed to go out. Territorially, look, the ISIL’s territory is now the An-Nusra’s territory; while Eastern Aleppo is the Assad’s territory. The way out is as follows: to the territory controlled by the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat An-Nusra, to Eastern Aleppo, then to the Syrian border. My son, at least, has left the ISIL in this way.
The ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra are terrorist organizations banned in Russia
Did he get to the territory controlled by al-Assad?
No, it’s impossible to get out there, because they kill right away. If anyone gets there from the other side, they don’t take prisoners — Assadites kill immediately, without ceremonies.
And 2015, which you are talking about as the exit time, was it already the time of confrontation of al-Nusra with the ISIL?
The confrontation began with the formation of the Caliphate, from July 30, 2014.
That is, by that time, the confrontation was already underway, and it can be said that, just as with electricity, which the Assad authorities give to their friends and their enemies, so is this business of illegal border crossing and exit — is it working on both warring parties — the al-Nusra, and the ISIL?
This business is not at the level of state structures; it is at the level of personalities... For example, an Arab has a divided family, his family lives in Eastern Aleppo, which doesn’t participate in these battles. Well, a usual, peaceful Arab, who lives there. Not the whole Aleppo is under arms; there are also peaceful, ordinary residents there. My son was dragged out in this way. An Arab is carrying his family, his wife and children, who were there, taking them here, or, conversely, from here taking them there. They have movement. Why is an Arab needed? Arabs pass through all the checkpoints saying: here, I am taking my family, here are my things, these are my house things. Under the things, the right person is hidden. That’s just the way. With you, with even more money, we couldn’t. In no way, we can explain the ISIL’s posts that we are carrying our house things. What kind of house things can I have in the structures they control?! Arabs can have them. Just a divided family: here he has a household; and there he has a household. There he had his parents, here was his wife, and there were his children... In general, only this scenario works.
In the seventh part of the interview: the father received the news of his son's death, while he was sitting in the ISIL prison
And to ensure the exit, in your opinion, you needed money that your other son had sent; and now because of that he is charged with financing a terrorist organization, isn’t he?
I am more than sure that if a person is going to get out of there, and my younger son was going to do it, there was no need for him to get money there to buy weapons. To get out of there at least for the sake of his family — to take away his wife and the child, what do they need weapons for? He, when he left, had to leave them there, to give someone as a present. He had no need to buy weapons there. He needed money at any time in order to be able, at the right time, to spend it for getting out of there. But most importantly — the result is obvious, he has de facto got out of there. I’ll tell you more, in April 2015, my son said: that’s all, dad, I can’t stand anymore; do whatever you want but pull me out; we are already under suspicion here, because we want to quit. They had their own group there, some ten to fifteen people, who wanted to leave. They quitted the Jamaats. Exit from Jamaat there is not punished, but you put your life in danger. No one takes any responsibility for your life. If someone kills you, nobody will stand for you. Jamaats are some kind of clannish protection... When he said, ‘That’s all, I can’t stand anymore,’ I rushed again, once again went to Istanbul. There just that channel worked, with which I got acquainted in Egypt. They began looking and calling, already began contacting those Arabs, who transport people. Three days we were in contact; the anxiety was felt even by phone; my son was already in a very alarming state. In a day, he disappeared altogether from the sight and contacts. For several months, I didn’t know where he was and what happened to him. The last thing he said was that he was going to ‘negotiate’ in the evening. It was on April 17 or 18: ‘I’m going to negotiate with some people, who promised to take me out quite cheep.’ Either for 500 US dollars, or 1000 — I don’t remember.
...in April 2015, my son said: that’s all, dad, I can’t stand anymore; do whatever you want but pull me out; we are already under suspicion here, because we want to quit. If someone kills you, nobody will stand for you
Aleppo, Syria, 2013, VPh
But it was much more expensive at that time, wasn’t it?
It cost much more; for me, at least. It cost us much more, several thousand dollars.
Did he then disappear for several months?
He did. I knew nothing, I spent almost a month there, in Ankara; then, I went home, because there was no communication with my son. Then, somewhat in May, one of my contacts reported that they are in prison. They wanted to leave, and they were betrayed, as they were shadowed. They were kept in jail for four months. It was in Rakka, some stadium; they were kept in the basement of some stadium, I think...
How did he describe to you the realities of the jail?
Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to tell anything and describe anything.
When you met him, did you see any traces of torture?
No. He said that nothing of the sort was applied to them. They were ideologically treated for four months. If they agree, admit their mistakes, then, in principle, if nothing else is on them, for example, a murder, then, they are set free. For a month, I knew nothing, then, they said that he was in jail; a few months later I was informed that they were all executed. I was half-crazy for a couple of months. Then, four months later, in August 2015, my son called me on the phone. They took away his phone, when he got to prison, but he remembered his mother’s number. Marat called his mother, I picked up the phone; it was at night, at midnight. He said, ‘I’m alive.’ His mother didn’t know that they had been executed. I didn’t tell her, only I knew...
And he was at that moment in Rakka, wasn’t he?
Yes. They were released from there, and sent to Deir ez-Zor. This is on the Euphrates River, below Rakka. I conditionally call them a ‘penalty bat’: maybe another Jamaat, to which they were ascribed. They were told: that’s all; you can’t go anywhere from here. There were four of them there.
They were told not to go anywhere, was it something like house arrest?
Not house arrest, as I conditionally called that a ‘penalty battalion’. Because at that time I followed events on the Internet, a big operation was being prepared. Deir ez-Zor is still under our siege.
So, you think they prepared him as cannon fodder, don’t you?
I don’t think, I’m sure. They said they were not let anywhere. However, my son had his arm injured; somehow he got into an accident in 2014-15. He had a displacement of some bone there, injured, when the car rolled over. Under this pretext he went to Tapka to take his treatment. He was for 10 days there, his arm in plaster, as if he was treated there. I involved everybody I could; and those channels that worked, those whom I met in Egypt, then in Istanbul. But this is the same channel. The channel worked; we have pulled him out; he was first in Eastern Aleppo; he was for 10 days there. Several attempts failed; again there was a panic; I could feel it by voice on the WhatsApp. At the first flight, when we pulled him out, he didn’t go, didn’t agree, saying that we should pull out first the wife of one of his comrades, who was executed. His comrade — a Chechen — was there with him. His wife left with three children. He said that until you pull her out, I wouldn’t go. They sent a car to pick him up, but he sent that woman with three children, just a young woman, instead. First we pulled her out; then the second attempt failed; then, the third one... This is not a regular channel; we couldn’t do it for some time... Not at once that we managed to take him out.
We hope that your interview will be useful to those who want to help their relatives and friends to return. I understand that this is one of the aims of your frankness...
I have no secrets. What I did is just... mini-feat. I did it for myself, not for someone else. It’s just my great luck and the will of the Almighty that I passed this test and pulled my son out of there. You see, it all went through my heart. For these few years — it’s already the fourth year — I’ve seen guys like my son in our village, in our small rural community. In total, 1000 people live there. Three or four of them will never return. They will never come back...
It’s just my great luck and the will of the Almighty that I passed this test and pulled my son out of there... I’ve seen guys like my son in our village, in our small rural community... Three or four of them will never return...
Karata village, Dagestan, Russia, 2012, VPh
*IS, or ISIL has been recognized a terrorist organization; its activities are forbidden in Russia.
April 14, 2017