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From the Mouth of a Deserter: The Truth About the Islamic State

By Friday, June 9, 2017

They speak under cover of darkness, their voices distorted so as to not be identifiable or recognizable – and yet their stories come at a tremendous cost. They hide in fear of what they have escaped, and yet they wrestle with the incessant demons of what they once were.

These are the deserters of the Islamic State. Their stories are told in the Amazon Video documentary ISIS: Deserters Speak Out, directed by Thomas Dandois.

Each man interviewed in this film gives a new perspective into the inner workings of one of the most ruthless militant groups in human history. The deserters share stories of torture, terrorism and brutal executions against men, women and children. All of those despicable acts were committed in service to the Islamic State. But the interviewees’ experience with ISIS didn’t start out that way. Seduced by the militant group’s ideology – which preached a true Islamic state for all Muslims – each one came to the organization with a shared desired to join what they thought was a noble cause.

“We were convinced Islamic State was on the right path,” said Abo Hozaifa, a deserter from Syria. “The situation in Raqqa was very good. No more thefts – the women wore modest clothing. There was prayer and security had been reestablished. At first, everything was going well.”

After years of other governmental and military regimes’ rising and falling in power, this new group presented something the people of the region were desperate for: stability.

“They had reestablished order,” said Syrian deserter Abo Osama, who joined ISIS after the group took control of Raqqa. “There was electricity and clean water. The bread was good and the prices fair. They were doing good things in the province.”

The new recruits were warmly accepted and treated well. But in the days to follow, the Islamic State’s true colors began to show. The recruits were indoctrinated with the militants’ ideologies. They spent weeks being trained on the ins and outs of the theological pillars of what the group believes. They also learned fighting skills and other elements of modern warfare. Upon completion of their training, they were sent to fight in the different regions of the group’s far reaches. As they went out, they carried the ideology of ISIS with them.

The various Islamic State factions began to rule in a gang-like manner. Those who opposed the group or spoke out against the militants were killed on the spot. The executions were gruesome and public, so as to show the civilians of the city who was in charge. But ISIS took it even further, ensuring that the victims suffered in the executions. In ISIS: Deserters Speak Out, the deserters described emirs’ using dull blades in beheadings and letting victims bleed out for hours to prolong the suffering. Thousands of bodies were hurled into mass graves. Young girls were taken as slaves and raped – some as young as 7 years old. This callousness for the value of human life poured over into the ISIS regime as wounded fighters were left to die on the battlefield.

As they witnessed these atrocities, many of the group’s members began to question their involvement. But they were forced to tread cautiously, as deserters were ensured a sentence of torture and execution. Still, the men interviewed in ISIS: Deserters Speak Out could not continue to be part of such a heinous organization.

“I heard the cries of those being tortured,” said deserter Abo Ali. “The noises, the cries – it’s not like on a film. It’s terrifying.”

With seemingly nowhere to turn, the men found a way to escape the grips of the Islamic State, thanks to Thuwwar Raqqa, an organization founded to help ISIS militants defect. These operations are extremely risky and dangerous, as the organization must sift through those who are legitimately trying to leave and those who would seek to infiltrate the group and serve as informants for the Islamic State. Getting out is only one step in the difficult process of deserting, as many former ISIS fighters are not welcomed back into their home countries. Still, Thuwwar Raqqa continues to try to help those who want to escape the tight grip of the Islamic militant group.

ISIS: Deserters Speak Out sheds a new light onto the Islamic State’s abominable acts. The inner workings of the group are told by those who took up arms and fought for a perverted ideology that sought to spread hate and fear with the desire for conquest. But as allied forces have fought back, ISIS continues to be weakened in the Middle East. As the group’s impending doom draws nearer, deserters know that the group’s heinous acts will soon be exposed for all the world to see.

“The day will come when the Islamic State will fall,” said Syrian deserter Abo Osama Al-Shami. “Then they will see that I was telling the truth.”

ISIS: Deserters Speak Out runs for 52 minutes and is available to watch on Amazon. It is rated PG-13.

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