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Joining the Cubs of the Caliphate

Joining the Cubs of the Caliphate features 18-year-old Abu Yousef, a Syrian ISIS defector, who was lured into the ISIS Cubs of the Caliphate at age 16. Abu Yousef was interviewed in 2016 by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet S. Yayla and the video clip was video edited and produced by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team. It highlights the abuse of youth in the ISIS Cubs of the Caliphate.

Abu Yousef was an orphan living with his uncle at the time of the Syrian uprising, as he parents had been killed in a car accident. He and his uncles joined the Free Syrian Army but after being displaced by the conflicts, Abu Yousef decided to join ISIS.  Abu Yousef recalls being taken under the wing of a Chechen ISIS cadre and taken away, as a sixteen year old to join the Cubs of the Caliphate, against the advice of his uncle who was not informed.

Abu Yousef was at first thrilled to receive money, religion and weapons training from ISIS. However, when they required him to behead local Syrian prisoners he lost his taste for the group. He was arrested and beaten as a result and those in his group who refused to behead were stabbed in their legs.

Abu Yousef witnessed foreign fighters from Tunisia, Europe and even America, recalling being disappointed that some came for material rewards and for the women.

He speaks about being unable to forget his horror over seeing a man beheaded in front of him and describes his posttraumatic responses to remembering his experiences inside ISIS.

Abu Yousef eventually became so afraid and disgusted by ISIS that he decided to risk his life by escaping to Turkey where ICSVE researchers interviewed him. However, he states that those who were caught trying to escape were immediately killed—with no mercy shown to any of them.

Abu Yousef finishes his account by telling viewers, “Don’t come. Don’t join ISIS. Don’t be impressed by them, because they are not righteous.”

Timed transcript of: Joining the Cubs of the Caliphate  

0:02     My father and my mother died in a car accident.

0:07     I didn’t have anyone but my uncles. I lived at my uncle’s [house].

0:14     ABU YOUSEF

Former ISIS Child Soldier

I wanted to be with ISIS, because I had no one. I needed money to survive.

0:23     When I joined them, they first taught me about religion.

0:30     They gave me weapons training. I was thrilled.

0:35     In the end, I uncovered the truth about them. They weren’t righteous.

0:43     [In Raqqa], we had a lot of mujahideen [holy warriors] with us, about 80.

0:49     Some of them were ansar[local fighters]and some were muhajirin[foreign fighters].

0:52     We were together.

0:55     There were raids.

1:00     When they captured ansar[local Syrian fighters],they brought them to us to behead them.

1:09     They came to me and to the others and demanded us to behead them. I refused.

1:14     I had my knife but I couldn’t go through with it.

1:19     They took my weapon and took me away. They beat me until they couldn’t anymore.

1:24     ‘Why don’t you kill them?’ [they shouted.] ‘They are murtadeen [apostates] and unbelievers!’

1:32     [They beheaded] about 25.

1:40     Those who refused to kill were stabbed in their legs,

1:45     because they didn’t go through with it.

1:53     There were foreign fighters – youth and adults. Some brought their families with them.

2:00     There were Americans and Europeans.

2:03     They come for religious purposes, for shahada. They think ISIS is righteous.

2:21     Some of them came for money.

2:26     I heard one telling his father, ‘Send my brother, there is a lot of money and a lot of beauty here.’

2:35     Some people ran away, they fled.

2:39     But others were convinced that ISIS is better than

2:43     the Free Syrian Army,

2:45     al-Jabhat [al Nusra– al Qaeda in Syria]

2:47     and Ahrar al-Sham [a militant coalition].

2:52     Some people gave up and escaped.

2:58     They immediately killed the ones who got caught. No mercy.

3:04     Once, something happened that scared me a lot.

3:07     It is when they beheaded a man just in front of my eyes.

3:11     They threw his head in a container and they hung up his body and left it hanging.

3:17     This is what scared me the most.  So, I fled.

3:25     I can never forget how they beheaded a man right in front of me. It can’t be forgotten.

3:31     Sometimes, when someone talks about ISIS, I just get into such a state that I cry.

3:41     I get into a state of confusion and I shiver. I fear them. It’s because of what they did to us.

3:48     [I stayed with ISIS] for seven months.

3:50     They are murtadeen [apostates], not us.

3:56     They know nothing about religion.

4:01     They take innocent people, who have done nothing wrong, and force them to join.

4:14     Don’t come. Don’t join ISIS.

4:20     Don’t be impressed by them, because they are not righteous.

4:26     The Truth Behind the Islamic State

4:29     Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

4:34     See more at

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=78) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. 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. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website  Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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