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Life Under Islamic State Rule: Abu Yousef’s Story, who was Held Captive by the Terrorist Group

Abu Yousef is a former resident of a town near Mosul – a region which Islamic State fighters held for nearly two years

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Islamic State
(Representational Image) On the day Abu Yousef, his wife and their four children arrived at the Khazir camp, a sand storm hit, forcing the exhausted refugees to race into tents, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 1, 2016. VOA

– by Heather Murdock

Khazir Camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, November 11, 2016: A week ago, Abu Yousef arrived at this camp during a dust storm, with his wife and four small children in tow. Relaxed and now without the scruffy beard he grew while living under Islamic State rule, he settled into the relative safety of a camp that has gone from empty to overflowing in just two weeks. A former resident of a town near Mosul – a region which IS fighters held for nearly two years – he told VOA his story, translated here from Arabic:

I was a police officer when Mosul fell to Islamic State militants. When they captured my town, Bashiqa, they made us – police and other government workers – go to Mosul to meet with IS officials and promise to be good Muslims.

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I was surprised, I had been a Muslim for all 30 years of my life. But they said, “You worked for the Iraqi government which is against Islam.” They cursed at us and demanded we give them our weapons.

Islamic State
Islamic State militants have left tunnels and buildings in rubble in all the villages and towns they have been pushed out of, near Khazir camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 7, 2016. VOA

They told us to say “There is no God but the one God and Mohammad is his Prophet” as we often do as Muslims. We didn’t know why we needed to say it at that moment.

[bctt tweet=”But then the militants hugged us and said, “You just became a Muslim.” ” username=””]

How did I just become Muslim?

Arrested

Two months later IS militants came to my house. They said, “Are you Abu Yousef?” I said, “Yes.” They handcuffed me and forced me into a car. After about a 30-minute drive they put me in a cage about a square meter large and left me there for the night. In the morning they took me to a room and sat me in a chair. Sitting opposite to me was a bearded man wearing all white. They called him Sheik Abu Deema – The Father of Blood.

“Why are you an infidel?” the sheik asked me.

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“I’m not, I’ve been a Muslim my whole life, and lately I even renewed my faith with you all,” I said, and then lied to them. “I was with government police before because I needed a salary. It’s the only reason.”

“No, you are an infidel,” said Sheik Abu Deema, “We will cut off your head.”

For the next seven days I was kept in the cage, blindfolded. They took me outside for whippings and beatings and fed me only once a day, a bowl of soup and bread.

Islamic State
Outside Khazir camp, thousands of people wait in line to register in Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 5, 2016. More than 45,000 peoplea are said to have been displaced since the Mosul offensive began more than three weeks ago. VOA

‘Don’t lose this bullet’

At the end of the week, a soldier put a bullet in my pocket, and said, “Don’t lose this bullet. Tomorrow, we will kill you with it.”

The next day someone else approached my cage and demanded the bullet back. “No, take this bullet instead,” he said. “Tomorrow we will kill you with it.” This went on for three days, every day a new bullet. On the fourth day they said “This, yes this, is the day we will kill you.” I believed them.

They brought me back to Sheik Abu Deema and forced me on my knees. They blindfolded me and I heard the sheik bark, “Kill him.” I felt the gun on my head and heard them pull the trigger. But there was no bullet.

Islamic State
An Islamic State document certifies its holder (name blurred out) has pledged to be a true Muslim, according to IS standards. The document is not a pledge to join or work with the group. Khazir camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov. 8, 2016. VOA

The sheik gave the order again. “Kill him,” he said. The barrel touched my head, and the soldier pulled the trigger. Again there was no bullet. He did this three times.

Then they removed my blindfold, helped me up and said, “Sorry, you are not an infidel. You are our brother.”

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They gave me 10,000 Iraqi dinars (about $9) and I left. But the psychological punishment stayed with me. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. President Donald Trump Administration Says There Is No Return For US-Born Jihadist

The U.S. decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth. 

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Two women, reportedly wives of IS fighters, wait with others in the internally displaced persons camp of al-Hol in al-Hasakeh governorate, Syria, Feb. 7, 2019. The United States is refusing to take back a U.S.-born IS propagandist, saying she is no longer a citizen. VOA

The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist who wants to return from Syria, arguing that she is no longer a citizen.

The Trump administration’s refusal to admit Hoda Muthana, 24, could set precedent and face legal challenges, because it is generally extremely difficult to lose US citizenship.

“Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”

FILE - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

“We continue to strongly advise all U.S. citizens not to travel to Syria,” he added.

Pompeo did not elaborate on the legal rationale for why the Alabama native, who is believed to have traveled to Syria on her U.S. passport, was not considered a citizen or where she should go instead.

Pompeo’s statement on Muthana — one of the comparatively few U.S.-born jihadists amid the hundreds of Europeans to have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group in Syria — is at odds with his calls on other countries to take back and prosecute their own jihadist nationals.

Just this weekend, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to chastise European allies who have not taken back IS prisoners caught in Syria.

US-born, then radicalized

Muthana was born in the United States to parents from Yemen who became naturalized American citizens, according to the Counter Extremism Project at George Washington University, which has identified 64 Americans who went to join IS in Syria or Iraq.

In late 2014, shortly after moving to Syria, Muthana posted on Twitter a picture of herself and three other women who appeared to torch their Western passports, including an American one.

She went on to write vivid calls over social media to kill Americans, glorifying the ruthless extremist group that for a time ruled vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.

But with IS down to its last stretch of land, Muthana has said she renounced extremism and wanted to return home.

Muthana, who has been detained by U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters, said that she had been brainwashed by reading social media as a closeted teenager in Hoover, Ala.

“To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly,” she said in a note to her lawyer reported by The New York Times.

Hassan Shibly, lawyer for 24-year-old Hoda Muthana, 24, is pictured in his office in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back Muthana, a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist, who wants to return from Syria, saying that she is no longer a citizen.
Hassan Shibly, lawyer for 24-year-old Hoda Muthana, 24, is pictured in his office in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back Muthana, a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist, who wants to return from Syria, saying that she is no longer a citizen. VOA

She was married three times to male jihadists and has a toddler son.

Hard to lose citizenship

The U.S. decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth.

Britain asserted that she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship because of her heritage, but the Dhaka government on Wednesday denied that she was eligible, leading her to become effectively stateless.

U.S. citizenship is significantly more difficult to lose. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868 after the Civil War as slavery was abolished, establishes that anyone born in the country is a citizen with full rights.

In recent years, it has been considered virtually impossible to strip Americans of citizenship, even if they hold dual nationality.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1967 Afroyim decision rejected the government’s attempt to revoke the nationality of a Polish-born naturalized American after he voted in Israel.

And last year a federal judge rejected a government attempt to strip the nationality of a Pakistani-born naturalized American who was convicted in a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.

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But Trump has campaigned on a hard line over immigration and raised the prospect of ending birthright citizenship ahead of last year’s congressional elections.

In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered drone strikes that killed two Americans in Yemen — prominent al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son — but did not believe it was possible to revoke citizenship. (VOA)