Rabia, a young Tunisian man arrested by the the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria after he left ISIS, confesses that his recruitment revealed the reality of the group to him. According to Rabia, many people joined the organisation believing that ISIS would establish an Islamic State coherent with the teachings of Islam. “All who joined were convinced, and I fought because I had faith in it,” Rabia said. Upon arrival to Syria and Iraq, however, Rabia realised that the rhetoric and ideology that the group professed was not reflected in the areas that they ruled. “First, there were contradictions in the doctrine, even the official doctrine – statements issued by that state were contradictory,” Rabia revealed. “Sometimes a specific statement was issued, then another completely opposite statement would be issued.”
Earlier this year a Tunisian reporter who went to the frontlines in Mosul to uncover the reality of ISIS revealed similar sentiments. “We thought that ISIS militants are ideologues and people who prefer to die,” said Ayzer al-Masri, the reporter. “On the ground, they are cowards with the full meaning of the word, especially in battles.”
Rabia, the ex-militant, realised that some of the organisation’s leaders joined in order to gain wealth or power, rather than serving the ideology. “I knew that they were people working for their own benefits in order to rule,” he said.
Rabia’s country, Tunisia, has been facing an issue with online radicalisation since the beginning of the Syrian Conflict in 2011 with an estimated 7,000 Tunisians joining ISIS according to observers. Researchers on terrorism have revealed that there are at between 300 to 400 ISIS sleeper cells in Tunisia, many of which belong to Jund al-Khilafah an ex-al Qaeda group which pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014.
In addition to the Tunisian government’s crackdown on Tunisian ISIS cells, local Imams such as Imam Mohammed Absha in the city of Ben Gardane has been attempting to counter extremist ideology by promoting peace and tolerance. “These people [ISIS] did nothing but harm Muslims,” said Imam Absha.