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Test Migration New

More Islamic State defectors speaking out – report

September 21, 2015

BBC News

A growing number of defectors from the so-calledIslamic State are speaking publicly about their decision to leave, according toa new report.

The defectors risk reprisals by members of the militant group andimprisonment by their home nations, the report says, leading most to go intohiding.

But researchers at King’s College London found 58 defectors had spokenout, two-thirds of them this year.

The report suggests their testimonies could help to discourage newmembers.

The International Centre for the Study for Radicalisation (ICSR)at King’s College, which published the report, estimates that hundreds offormer militants have now defected or attempted to defect.

Dozens are thought to have made it out via Turkey while others havereportedly been caught and executed. The ICSR claims that the 58 cases in theirstudy are “likely only a fraction of those disillusioned, ready to defectand/or willing to go public”.

What the defectors said

  • “I opened up my jacket and said, ‘I have a suicide vest, but I don’t want to blow myself up'” – Usaid Barho, Syrian teenager
  • “Anything that contradicts their beliefs is forbidden. Anyone who follows what they reject is an apostate and must be killed” – anonymous defector
  • “The restrictions on leaving made it feel a bit like a prison” – Abu Ibrahim, ‘Westerner’

Read more casestudies in full

The researchers identify several key narratives among the reasons forleaving IS. Most defectors said they were concerned with brutality againstfellow Muslims and perceived “un-Islamic” behaviour among members,including corruption.

Some admitted they were disappointed with the quality of life under IS.”They were typically among the ones who had joined the group for materialand ‘selfish’ reasons, and quickly realised that none of the luxury goods andcars that they had been promised would materialise,” the report says.

Two fighters said they defected after learning they were to be suicidebombers Speaking to the BBC last year, one defector, who asked notto be named, said the “brutality of IS terrifies everyone”.

“Anything that contradicts their beliefs is forbidden. Anyone whofollows what they reject is an apostate and must be killed,” he said.

The report suggests that stories of disillusionment could help todiscourage new recruits.

“The defectors provide unique insight into life in the IslamicState,” it says. “But their stories can also be used as a potentiallypowerful tool in the fight against it. The defectors’ very existence shattersthe image of unity and determination that IS seeks to convey.”

The US is already fighting a propaganda war against the group. Amongits tools are a State Department-run Twitter account named “ThinkAgain Turn Away” devoted to pushing out anti-IS messages. But theICSR urges governments to do more to encourage former IS militants to speakout, including removing legal obstacles such as prosecution on terror charges.

The report acknowledges that many of the defectors may have committedcrimes and have an incentive to “say whatever they think will save themfrom prosecution or worse”. But it said the narratives compiled by theICSR were “so strong and consistent” with other accounts that theycould be regarded as valid.

The earliest cases compiled in the report date from January 2014 andthe most recent from August this year. Overall, two thirds of cases occurredduring the first eight months of 2015 and one third in the summer months alone.


ICSA News Desk shares articles of interest or importance with ICSA members who have signed up for News Desk. Selection of an article for the News Desk mailing does not mean that ICSA, its directors, staff, volunteers, or members agree with the content. ICSA provides information from many points of view in order to promote dialogue among interested parties.

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