With rare exception, active members of ISIS are notoriously shy about talking to Western reporters. The reason ISIS has invested so heavily in elaborate media and propaganda arms is that its mantra—“Hear from us, not about us”—is designed to demonstrate to fellow travelers and would-be enlistees that what the Crusader-Zionist press says is all lies. The higher metaphysical truth of the “Islamic State” can only be grasped by joining it or listening to what the mujahidin have to say.
For some weeks, I have been in contact via an intermediary with a man I will call Abu Jihad, trying to persuade him to talk to an American reporter. He agreed reluctantly, but as part of the deal, Abu Jihad asked that I not disclose his true identity or current role in the organization, apart from noting that it is by no means senior or even mid-level. He is both a citizen and employee of the caliphate and, importantly, lives in its de facto capital of Raqqa.
Mainly I was interested in probing the captive mind of a true believer. What does he think of his own sodality now that it is losing city after city, and township after township, across Syria and Iraq? I’ve interviewed several ISIS defectors who presented an unvarnished—perhaps selective—view of their erstwhile comrades long after saying goodbye to all that. But what motivates someone to hang in there and remain a loyal subject of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi even in these trying times?
I promised Abu Jihad to record his answers to my questions in full. Where what he says is in obvious contradiction to provable facts, I have added my own commentary in italics.