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dimecres, 17 d’agost de 2016

El Estado Islámico desde dentro


Hasta ahora, lo que se sabía sobre el Estado Islámico era lo que contaban las víctimas que habían sobrevivido a su brutalidad, lo que relataban sus enemigos del frente de batalla o la información que facilitaban los escasos desertores de poca monta que huían del grupo. Ahora, sin embargo, Foreign Policy ha entrevistado durante más de 100 horas a Abu Ahmad, nombre falso de un agente sirio del Estado islámico que ha sido testigo presencial de la rápida expansión del grupo y que fue durante uno de sus más notorios combatientes extranjeros.

Abu Ahmad took a great personal risk in talking to us. Because he is still with the Islamic State, we had to deliberately obscure some details about his life to protect his identity.

Abu Ahmad agreed to speak to us, he explained, for several reasons. Although he is still with the Islamic State, he doesn’t agree with everything the outfit does. He is attracted to the organization because he views it as the strongest Sunni group in the region. However, he is disappointed that it “has become too extreme,” blaming it for doing such things as crucifying, burning, and drowning its opponents and those who violate its rules.

For example, Abu Ahmad objected to a punishment that the Islamic State implemented in the northern Syrian city of al-Bab, where it put a cage in the middle of the city center, known as Freedom Square, to punish Syrian civilians guilty of minor crimes, such as selling cigarettes. The group, Abu Ahmad said, imprisoned Syrians in the cage for three days at a time, hanging a sign around their neck stating the crime that they had committed.

“Now the square is known as the Punishment Square,” he said. “I think this kind of harsh punishment is bad for us. It is making ISIS more feared than liked by Sunnis, which is not good at all.”

In the past, Abu Ahmad said, he had hoped the Islamic State would become “jihadi unifiers,” capable of bringing Sunni jihadis together under one banner. He admired the foreign fighters whom he knew, mainly young men from Belgium and the Netherlands who had traveled to Syria to fight jihad. They had all lived in rich and peaceful countries, and while tens of thousands of Syrians had paid large sums of money to be smuggled to Europe to escape the war, these jihadis voluntarily traveled in the exact opposite direction.

“These foreigners left their families, their houses, their lands and traveled all the way to help us here in Syria,” Abu Ahmad said. “So to support us they are truly sacrificing everything they have.”

But Abu Ahmad would soon sour on aspects of the jihadi group. First, the Islamic State has not brought jihadis together; on the contrary, tensions have risen with other groups, and he worried that “the rise of ISIS led to the breakup with the Nusra Front and the weakening of unified jihadi forces in Syria.”

Secondly, while some of the foreign fighters were men who led truly religious lives in Europe, he discovered another group that he took to thinking of as the “crazies.” These were mostly young Belgian and Dutch criminals of Moroccan descent, unemployed and from broken homes, who lived marginal lives in marginal suburbs of marginal cities. Most of these crazies had no idea about religion, and hardly any of them ever read the Quran. To them, fighting in Syria was either an adventure or a way to repent for their “sinful lives” in Europe’s bars and discos.

There was Abu Sayyaf, a jihadi from Belgium, who often talked about beheadings. He once asked his emir, Abu al-Atheer al Absi, if he could slaughter somebody. “I just want to carry a head,” Abu Sayyaf said. Locally he was known as al-thabah, or “the slayer.”

In war, the first victim is often the truth. The stories Abu Ahmad told us were so incredible, and so close to the seat of the Islamic State’s power, that we were determined to put his assertions to the test.

In order to do so, we set up a quiz for Abu Ahmad. He said that he knew many of the Dutch and Belgian fighters who had joined the Islamic State, so we prepared a list with roughly 50 photographs of jihadis from those countries who are known to have left for Syria. During a meeting with Abu Ahmad, we asked him to identify the men in the pictures.

Abu Ahmad’s answers confirmed that he had extensive knowledge about the European jihadis fighting for the Islamic State. In front of us — without access to the internet and with no outside help — Abu Ahmad went through the images, and correctly identified roughly 30 of the jihadis by name. In most cases, he would add some anecdotes about the fighter. For the other pictures, he said that he had not seen the people and did not know their names.

Abu Ahmad showed us private photos and videos on his laptop of some Dutch, Belgian, and Central Asian fighters in Syria, which are not posted online. The only way that he could have had these images was through deep, personal experience within the jihadi community.

Abu Ahmad also proved that he had behind-the-scenes access to some of the Islamic State’s most spectacular acts of violence. After the jihadi group captured Palmyra in 2015, Abu Ahmad paid a visit to the desert city to witness a Game of Thrones-like setting for executions of the group’s opponents. One day in July 2015, two Islamic State members from Austria and Germany executed two people who they claimed were Syrian Army soldiers on the ancient city’s great colonnade. This was one of many executions in Palmyra; on July 4, the Islamic State released a video showing the bloody spectacle of teenage fighters executing 25 alleged Syrian soldiers in the city’s amphitheater.
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