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Establishing the Islamic State

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

ICSVE is proud to release its new Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narratives video clip, Establishing an Islamic State. This video clip features Abu Omar, who in 2006 as a boy of age 15, joined al Qaeda in Iraq in response to the U.S. invasion. As a youth, Abu Omar, like many Iraqis embraced Abu Musab Zarqawi’s vision of using terrorism to drive the American invaders out and reinstitute Sunni power in Iraq, although this time in the form of an Islamic State.

While Zarqawi was killed and al Qaeda in Iraq was ultimately subdued, Abu Omar, like other Iraqis we have interviewed for this project, remained active, working undetected toward al Qaeda in Iraq’s next reiteration as ISIS.

When ISIS took control over one third of Iraq in 2013 and 2014, Abu Omar worked in Fallujah preparing electric circuits for remotely detonating bombs that attacked Iraqi forces and killed those supporting the government of Iraq.

Now caught, convicted and imprisoned, Abu Omar has had time to reflect on his youth spent supporting the ISIS and al Qaeda vision of establishing an Islamic State. He now sees the futility of

establishing any state, which he realizes requires going to war and making ordinary people suffer. He expresses deep regret over having lost his youth participating.

Facing a death sentence, Abu Omar advises youth in the West, as well as in Iraq, to “forsake this path” and live their lives, rather than end them in prison.

The timed transcript of Abu Omar’s video is included below.

While Iraqis and the world over are celebrating that ISIS has suffered territorial defeat, ISIS, and groups like them, are still active on the Internet persuading vulnerable youth and adults to carry out attacks as evidenced by the recent attacks in both New York and throughout Europe. The digital “Caliphate” still needs to be defeated and the ISIS brand broken.

Researchers at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) have over the last two years interviewed 63 ISIS returnees, prisoners and defectors, capturing most of those interviews on video. In our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narratives Project we edit our video interviews into short video clips containing the most damning content of what these former ISIS cadres tell us, particularly of them denouncing the group. We then construct them to appear as ISIS videos, using their own propaganda images to turn back on them, and naming our video clips with pro-ISIS names to entice those already consuming ISIS’s online material to mistakenly view ours and get a very different message. Thus far out of our 63 full-length interviews we have made 16 counter narrative video clips, which can be viewed here.

Our video clips are also being subtitled in all the languages ISIS recruits in: including English, French, German, Dutch, Albanian, Arabic, Malay, Russian, Kyrgyz and Uzbek, among many others and are free for anyone fighting ISIS to use.

We have directed our video clips on Facebook and Telegram to ISIS endorsers and distributors with success as well, sometimes resulting in ISIS cadres actually mistakenly distributing or endorsing our counter narrative clips, and with good reach to not only these endorsers, but to the circles they influence.

The Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative video clips are currently being used across four continents, in prisons, counseling sessions, prevention and educational settings and on mass media and social media to disrupt ISIS’s face-to-face and Internet recruitment. They are being used for both prevention and intervention. ICSVE used two video clips to good effect to confront an ISIS emir in Iraqi prison and we recently learned of a case of a 13-year-old in the UK determined to travel to Raqqa who was dissuaded by viewing one of our video clips. We continue to focus test them around the world in face-to-face encounters and on social media.

Our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narratives are available for anyone to use that fights terrorism or wants to counter violent extremism and we are keen to continue developing these materials and offering our countering and preventing violent extremism trainings around the world. Likewise our team is regularly publishing research reports that can be viewed here.

If you would like to become a donor to ICSVE or volunteer your skills please let us know. All support is much appreciated.

Establishing an Islamic State transcript:

0:26 [We in Al Qaeda were] fighting the Americans because when they came to Iraq, they were invaders.

0:33 Abu Omar joined Al Qaeda in 2006 at age 15.

0:39 We [wanted] to establish a country. Just like now, like the one established by [ISIS].

0:45 To rule according to the Quran and Sunnah. I mean that’s the constitution it’s built on.

0:49 We praise Allah and beg him to forgive our sins.

0:57 Abu Omar joined the Islamic State in 2007 – years before it formed a caliphate.

1:03 [Before that] we were restricted. We were afraid of getting arrested.

1:10 [With the Islamic State] we got rid of the checkpoints on the roads. We could walk freely.

1:16 When al-Sahwa militias came in 2008, the Islamic State organization was created.

1:23 In 2013 there was a restructuring by some of our relations with people whom we knew back in 2007

1:27 and with some of the leaders who escaped from Abu Ghraib prison.

1:35 Abu Omar worked for ISIS in Fallujah in Iraq.

1:39 In Fallujah I prepared electric circuits for explosive devices.

1:46 Then I held a position [as a] technician in al-Bara’ sector on the southern wilayah [province].

1:54 I can’t provide a big army [with IEDs], but like battalion movements. That’s my capability.

2:04 I was a technician, I prepared electric circuits. I give it to the [military] sector so that they blow up the bombs.

2:07 We, several people, prepare these materials.

2:16 We used to receive a whole electric circuit, but like in pieces, separated. We connect them—the diods,

2:25 the adapter, the jack, the connection, the battery and the light.

2:30 We organize them,

2:31 until the circuit is finished.

2:34 This device, an electric circuit, has a cell phone connected to it.

2:38 It gives a signal to the bomb to explode.

2:52 Blowing up Iraqi forces

2:57 [We detonated bombs against] the Iraqi forces specifically,

3:00 to defend the places we’ve taken control over in 2014.

3:06 We set obstacles on the roads. We set massive amounts of them to cut [them off].

3:14 Killing civilians

3:19 [We killed] civilians who are cooperating with the Iraqi forces, like al-Sahwa militias and the likes.

3:31 The places ISIS takes control of, the Shia don’t stay in it. If they stay they get killed.

3:40 The Shia in cities, when they feel ISIS will take control over this place they get out before ISIS takes control.

3:49 Prison changed me

3:54 Ever since I got in prison, things have changed in me.

3:59 [I am sorry for] joining [ISIS]

4:00 and not finishing school.

4:03 I’m sorry for not living my life as a young man.

4:05 That’s what I’m sorry for.

4:09 And now, the outcome, getting arrested, and receiving the death penalty.

4:16 I feel regret.

4:18 Honestly… [ISIS], they were extremists. There was extremism.

4:25 I was with them,

4:26 but they are extremists in everything.

4:31 Even if one of their soldiers made a mistake they kill him.

4:34 [Establishing an Islamic State is] not a good idea, because it doesn’t have resources, nor economy.

4:38 People will die of hunger. It won’t accomplish anything.

4:42 A lot of the leaders [of ISIS] joined the organization, but after a while they quit.

4:51 They recognize that there is no outcome, thus they quit or retire.

4:59 A lot of soldiers, as well, joined the organization with this dream.

5:04 But when they get into the organization

5:06 and see that there will be no outcomes they stopped. They retreated.

5:10 Abu Abdullah

Former ISIS Soldier

5:10 I was deeply affected by this.

5:13 Abu Abdullah

Former ISIS Soldier

5:13 Is it okay for a Muslim woman to become a sex slave?

5:17 It’s not possible. A country can’t be built without war.

5:23 We reached a dead end with no outcomes.

5:30 I’d tell [a kid in the West thinking of joining], I’ll tell him go back and don’t join.

5:37 It’s not good for him if he comes here.

5:40 He wouldn’t be able to live his normal life, nor to live.

5:47 He might get arrested or die.

5:49 So it’s better for him to stay in Belgium and carry out his life.

5:57 Because, there’s no escape from the security forces to another place.

5:53 [I’d tell a boy in Iraq] no, you shouldn’t [join]. Forsake this path.

5:56 This is his outcome, prison.

5:57 Because, there’s no escape from the security forces to another place.

6:02 The Truth Behind the Islamic State

6:06 Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) where she heads the Breaking the ISIS Brand—ISIS Defectors Interviews Project. She is the author of: Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS and coauthor of ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate; Undercover Jihadi; and Warrior Princess. Dr. Speckhard has interviewed nearly 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and many countries in Europe. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism experts and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. Her publications are found here:

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