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The following interview by Doğu Eroğlu with a Turkish citizen who has fought with ISIL appeared in the Birgün newspaper on 8 and 9 July 2015. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

The Confessions of a Jihadist

Doğu Eroğlu

Twenty-nine year old C.D. was born and bred in Ankara Hacıbayram and is a resident of the İsmet Paşa Quarter. Influenced by the Salafist organisation in his midst, he joined ISIL in February 2014 and, coming and going on two occasions, fought in Syria and Iraq for nine months. After finishing middle school, C.A. went into sales and worked in a supermarket. After he turned to drugs, everything in his life became different.

“Once my mind turned to drugs, I gave up on everything. I started heroin in 2002. One thing leads to another, see? First I took up pills, then cocaine. I kept upping the dose and finally ended up on heroin. Well, in the past five months I gave it up in Raqqa.” C.A. began to be known in the organisation by the name “head chopper”. C.A., who was apprehended while crossing into Turkey through Kilis Elbeyli and was released under a legal protection measure when brought before a judge, may rejoin ISIL. C.A. spoke to BirGün about coming into contact with the Salafist organisation, joining ISIL, the training he received, the battles he took part in and how Turkey is seen from within ISIL.

> How did the Salafist structure in Hacıbayram emerge?
At the beginning of the 2000’s somebody called Süha from Adapazarı came and proclaimed Salafism. And our elders, who adopted Salafism, told us about it. They pointed to verse 44 of the Al-Ma'idah surah: “And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the disbelievers.” They said, “After listening to these verses, think about it – who judges by what Allah has revealed and who imposes their own laws?” I also took up Salafism but in stops and starts. I would give up performing prayers, although I knew how to.

> Which particular edicts of Salafism appeared different to you? When you encountered the Sunni faith as commonly practiced in Turkey, were you uncomfortable with aspects of it?
If there has to be Sharia, everything must be guided by the Quran. One glance told us that we, heaven forbid, were living divorced from Allah and in search of worldly pleasure. We had become distant from our Lord. Until we accepted Salafism, we made do with saying, “We don’t know”. Then our way of looking at people changed. We were living in a place where Allah’s revelations didn’t apply and in a place where there were people’s laws, not Allah’s. For example, we don’t send out kids to school, because there is secularism and not religious education.

> How did you decide to join ISIL? Al-Qaeda was influential in the Syrian Civil War but, until ISIL appeared, we know that there was no flow from Hacıbayram to the area. What changed?
Salafists in the quarter were recruited into Al-Qaeda operations in the past, anyhow. They used to keep themselves to themselves, performing prayer and living in accordance with their faith, but they had no links with ISIL. They were in contact with Al-Qaeda but they dispensed with Al-Qaeda and gave their allegiance to Islamic State. I only knew as much about ISIL as I saw on the television. They kept on showing those beheadings on the television. I mean, those beheadings are in retaliation, in any case. The edicts written in the Quran… From what I saw on the television, I gave my allegiance. The people in the quarter gave their support as well, saying, “Adopt Allah’s religion and perform your prayers. Jihad is taking place on that soil and if you go you’ll be purified.” Plenty of people from the quarter went, both before me and after me. Some have been shot or taken prisoner.

> There are a lot of people in Hacıbayram who, even though they had embraced Alevism, adopted Salafism. Are you one of those?
I also used to call myself Alevi. When we learnt these things, we abandoned the sect. Up until I was twenty, I went to the Hacıbektaş festival and licked the doorsteps and ground. We were ignorant and knew no better. Later, our eyes opened. My interactions with my Alevi relatives changed after I found the faith.
We don’t like one another. My family doesn’t support Salafism, either. When I said I was going, my mother said, “Shall I turn you in?“ I said, “Fine, turn me in. You’ll be the first person I shoot.“

> How did you arrange your journey? Who did you get help from to cross into Islamic State?
There is somebody who knows about this stuff in the quarter. I went to him in February 2014 and said, “Make me a passage.“ He told me to go to Antep and with the help of the people he lined up I crossed into Islamic State from Kilis-Elbeyli.

> How are these things arranged for people who are going to join ISIL?
There are separate discussions with the smuggler who’ll get you over the border and with the person who’ll meet you inside. For instance, news goes to the Dawla (Islamic State) border official and when he informs the smugglers, the job gets done.

> On crossing the border, did you encounter no policemen or soldiers?
Turkey yields to the Dawla. On my first crossing, I came up against the gendarmes, man. They see you and ignore it. But, coming this time, well, I got caught. Things have tightened up on the border. And the Dawla is laying mines to stop its own jihadists from escaping to Turkey. After six months you can go home on leave, but the Caliphate has closed the borders. Because Turkey is a country of infidelity, they don’t want to let you go, thinking you’ll slip up and go back to your old ways.

> How did you get in the first time?
I got on a bus in Ankara and went to Antep. At the bus station in Antep, I called the number they gave me. A bit later a taxi came and took me to the border, to point zero. At the border, the smuggler came in another car and picked me up. In the evening, I went as far as Raqqa with an Azeri and a few days later my Sharia training in Tabqa started.

> What was in the Sharia training?
The Dawla (ISIL)’s teachers give the lessons. You learn about the verses and hadiths and what you are fighting for. These lessons were all in Turkish because our teacher was Azeri and the books were in Turkish. After the Sharia training, we started weapon training.

> Had you previously taken up arms apart from on your military service? What was included in the weapon training?
I was mad about guns anyway. To stop our weapon training from being visible from satellite, I did it along with at most 200-300 people. At the time I was doing training, there was an airstrike on a camp on the other side of the Euphrates and 80 people were martyred. After that, we continued weapon training inside houses. You do a five-kilometre run and then you pick up a weapon, up and down … One thing different from the military service we’re used to is that you really shoot, see? For example, you’re on the ground and they put you to the test. The commanders come and fire off bang bang next to you, so your ear gets used to it and you don’t get startled by the noise. While you’re asleep at night, they come to the house and chuck sound bombs.

> How are suicide bombers trained? How does it feel to spend time with them?
Their faith is really strong. They want to join up with Allah and be martyred immediately. They line up to blow themselves up along with a car. There was a twenty year old from Kobane with us. There was also a Tajik of the same age who had declared his faith. We did our morning prayers and then slept, but they would carry on reading the Quran for four or five hours. The Tajik went on a suicide attack against the refineries at Baiji in Iraq so that Allah would accept his declaration of faith. They stayed away from us and kept themselves to themselves. They were more at one with Allah. They performed prayers and read the Quran. They seemed peculiar to us, as well.

> After the forces capture a place in battle, how are the spoils split up?
The spoils are collected and 5% goes to the Dawla. They calculate who deserves what from the remainder. For example, you get 1000-2000 dollars in cash. Maybe a car, maybe a gun, maybe a motorbike. I mean, this way, you get whatever you deserve.

> Who are the tactical details laid down by? How do operations take place?
We usually sneak in at daybreak. And if the weather is rainy, that’s just great. I mean, for avoiding airstrikes. When it’s foggy, this really gives us the edge. It’s impossible to halt ISIL from the ground.

> How did your first return to Turkey come about? You were now a trained and battle-experienced jihadi – what made them sure you’d come back?
The first time, I got permission from the commander. He made up a leave paper. He asked how many days I wanted. Then he left the return date empty and said, ”When you want to come back, put your own date on the paper and come here.”

> If you had been able to set up an acceptable life for yourself would you not have returned to Islamic State?
Actually, there is a reason for everything out there but we do not realise it out of ignorance. I saw some things that I didn’t approve of in ISIL. Why should I hide that which Allah knows – a wish inside me said, “Oh, let me go to Turkey and take heroin and take cocaine.” Drugs were also a bit of a pull for me. On the night I came to Ankara, I went and got drugs, anyway. Because I had no work, after a bit I became restless. And the drug mire beckoned. When I got the chance, I went back to Syria.

> In the final analysis, however much you chance with death, you also think about worldly life. What passed through your mind in battle?
Of course there is some fear. When the battle is on, Satan enters your mind and you ask yourself what you’re doing there. You can’t put your head up and of course you’re afraid. Allah will grant you martyrdom but you’re human and it’s how you’re made; of course you’re afraid. You think about your family, as well. My mother said, “It’s enough that you come here and serve out your sentence where I can see you. If you die there, which grave will I visit and cry at?” Corpses don’t come back; they stay there. Their remains are buried there.

> Do you know how many people you have killed in battle?
I really don’t know. It happened. I didn’t count. We shot people. This was during war, anyhow. If you want to live you will kill without mercy.

> There is talk that ISIL militants may take action in Turkey. Is there any truth in this?
The Dawla likes Turkey. This is a fact. There is a liking for Turkey because it has made things easy on the border and it has permitted people of all nationalities to pass with ease. Despite this, in the Dawla, the jihadi combatants consider Turkey to be a false idol because it is not governed by what Allah has revealed. ISIL does not contemplate war or action against Turkey. Turkey yields to us mainly because we fight the PKK. With the grace of Allah, let there be no airstrikes and let them yield to the Dawla for a month and the PKK will be beaten.

> What do you think about Islamic State’s approach to justice?
As they judge by what Allah has revealed, the Dawla’s approach to justice is really great. It is a just, equal order. The rules may be a bit severe, but this is what Allah has revealed. For example, in Raqqa, a doctor who had committed adultery came and confessed to this and said he would consent to what was handed down. The book also tells us that: “If he has stolen, his hand shall be cut off. If he has committed adultery, he shall be stoned.”

> There is debate about women and children under ISIL occupation being considered spoils of war and practices such as their being sold as sex slaves. Is the situation inside Islamic State different from what we find in the international press?
They say “Women are sold in the market.” Well, I stayed in Raqqa for five months and I didn’t see chicks in the market. OK, there is a female slave market. The thing I call a market is a house; it is not like they display the goods in the open. You go to the house, take your fancy, pay your money and buy one. You go through a religious marriage and then she is under your protection. If you like, you can give her away or, if you like, you can free her.

> Did you try to start a family or acquire a female slave?
I was going to marry a twenty five year old woman in Iraq with three children. She had said, “The person I’ll marry most certainly must be a migrant and a Turk.” Can you get a better Turk than me? Then, when she found out I was married, she didn‘t want me. The Dawla makes a sacrifice, distributes food, sets up a home and pays the 1,500 dollar dowry to be given to the wife. You don’t put your hand in your pocket. Here women are given dowries, such as putting gold jewellery on them. There the dowry is the woman’s.

> Practices such as throwing gays off roofs have attracted opprobrium worldwide. Did you witness punishments of this kind?
I did’t see a gay punished, but I saw a drug dealer having his head cut off. In any case, my Lord said in a verse, “When you see infidels, cut off their heads.” We do not practice torture; we either shoot them in the head or, as Allah said, chop off their heads. This is retaliation.

> Was the captured Jordanian pilot burnt to death in a similar act of retaliation?
Everybody says, “They burnt the man alive” to badmouth ISIL. They have nothing to say about the Jordanian dropping bombs from a plane and burning women and children. What did they do to him? They burnt him in a cage, tipped rubble over him and ran a grader over him. Retaliation was taken for the women and children and those left behind under buildings. So, this is judging by what Allah has revealed. My Lord says, “In retaliation there is life for you.”

> The execution of unarmed prisoners captured in battle is another disputed matter? Do you find this to be fitting?
They don’t accept your religion. First you call for submission and make a proclamation. The guy just doesn’t get it; it doesn’t register.

> Is a proclamation made without fail?
Yes, for sure. If they can be of use to you, you want to get them in among you, anyway. But, you’re faced with someone who doesn’t get it. He doesn’t want you. He is judged as a kafir. I mean, he is a kafir, anyhow. He doesn’t want to be judged as Allah has revealed.

> Have you executed a prisoner of war? Or have you witnessed an execution?
One of the two friends of mine from the quarter who I was together with in Iraq was Dochka-toter (The Soviet-made DShK heavy machine gun) and the other Bixi-toter (the Soviet-made heavy machine gun known as the PKM or PKS). They knew me as “head chopper”. I carried out an execution once – that’s where the name comes from.

> Where and under what circumstances did the decapitation occur?
It was in the Nineveh province in Iraq, in Sultan Abdullah. But, in the name of God, no lying, the man fell prey to me. It was nighttime and I was at the duty point. I saw a Peshmerga. The guy was strolling around. I said to my friend, “If something happens; I mean if I can’t drive the prey forward, shoot even if it‘s me as well.” He watched me from that duty point and we communicated by wireless. Dochka-toter covered where I went. The bullets it fires can cut a man you fire at in half down the middle! The Peshmerga came and came and came… Allah flushed him out in front of me. He took aim with his gun, but the Bixi was also pointed at him; if anything happened, they would both go for their guns. I went round behind the man and grabbed him; I tied his eyes and hands. I took him by chance. I lead him back – there was jubilation. Our crowd sing my praises to one another. It‘s not everyone who can sneak in and grab a bloke!

> How was the final decision about the prisoner taken?
The commander said, “It’s up to you to judge him.” He said that I must first proclaim my religion and he if he didn’t accept it, cut off his head. I speak to the man and say, “Look, mate, this is the path of righteousness - your path is wrong.” “No,” he says. I go on speaking for two hours. Finally, I‘d had it. I said to the commander, “There’s nothing more I can do. You have a talk.” The Islamic judge came and he also made a proclamation. The Peshmerga didn’t take the judge seriously and laughed. He said, “Your edict carries no weight. Your talk cuts no ice with me.” I say, “Man, you’ll lose your head. Submit.” “No,” he says. I felt sorry for him. Actually, my Lord says, “Do not take pity while carrying out my laws.” I am not one who is more merciful than my Lord; If my Lord does not take pity, why should I? I really did not want to cut his head off. OK, why not shoot him? … At last, the commander came and said, “He’s yours. You’ll do the chopping.” I said, “I can’t do it. Am I slaughtering a sheep or a hen?” Now the commander got angry and said, “If you don’t agree, you’ll be dubbed a spy.” He said, “Obeying orders is obeying the Prophet. Obeying the Prophet is obeying Allah. You must do the chopping.” I turned and looked at my friends, and agreed. We brought him into the throng, and I pulled my cap my over my face. I took a chop.

> Do you remember anything about your prisoner? Has the execution affected you?
Since he was from the Peshmerga, he was Kurdish. We spoke through an interpreter. He had an Abdullah Öcalan tattoo on his arm. He said, ”I’ve been part of this organisation for so many years knowing that I will die. I’m going to die, but I‘ll die disappointed. If only I’d been able to see Öcalan.” I found out the man‘s name but I can‘t remember it now. He was from Kirkuk. For ten or fifteen days after that I couldn’t get over it; I couldn’t sleep. A hen had some worth there, but a person was worthless. The sight of human corpses started to seem normal to us. But, you’re at war. Either the kafir shoots you or you shoot the kafir.

> With the İsmet Paşa Quarter being an urban transformation area within Hacıbayram and the school being demolished even though plenty of families and children live there, has this accelerated the flow of jihadists? Have people in the quarter succumbed to the thought that “life here has finished?”
They don’t want you there. They don’t want you to live in İsmet Paşa. Buy homes from people cheaply and sell them to others for millions. Is this justice? We didn’t recognise the state, anyhow. This was pouring salt on the wound. If I had my own child, I wouldn’t send it there, but I was also against the school being demolished.

> So far, have any policemen, intelligence officers or National Intelligence Organisation people come and questioned you and gathered information?
No, it’s all starting. Two days ago Police Intelligence summoned one of my friends to the headman’s office. “Get used to it,” they said. I think I’m being followed. If something happens in Ankara; if somebody blows themself up in Ankara, we’re the first people they’ll bring in.

> What are you going to do now in Turkey?
I’ve found a job now. A car park job, seemingly. And I also want to make things up with my wife. I’ll live together with her again.

> If life here doesn’t turn out as you wish, do you think you’ll return to Islamic State?
That’s the idea. But if we go this time, we won’t come back.

> Can you readjust to Turkey?
We can’t adapt to this place. Things here don’t fire us up. As you see, the people are extroverted. We’ve got used to reserved people. Turkey, where I was born and bred, now seems strange to me. I feel as if I was born in Iraq or Syria. Because we’ve got used to things there, it’s tough here. And, now, we’ve got used to going off to fight…

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton