A “Son of Raqqah” Shares: From the Heart of ISIS

September 8, 2016
Phil Johnson, Ph.D.
Global Next, LLC

For a number of years I have have known and worked with a man who calls Al-Raqqah, Syria his home. Yes, the place of the headquarters of ISIS. This “son of Raqqah” is a man with whom I am well-acquainted and in turn is well-acquainted with the leadership, ideology and the Islamist terror organization de jour – ISIS. Or simply the Islamic State.

Two days ago, after sorting his way through Syrian and Lebanese checkpoints, he and I sat down in Beirut, Lebanon to talk global issues. As usual, in these types of pieces, I will keep my opinions and thoughts to myself and let the expert share his thoughts, insights and specialized knowledge. You are free to draw your own conclusions – and argue with his conclusions. But he is in the fray – not sitting on the edges of suburbia.

Since declaring its Caliphate in June 2014, the self-proclaimed Islamic State has conducted or inspired nearly 75 terrorist attacks in 20 countries outside Iraq and Syria, where its carnage has taken a much deadlier toll. (More than 18,000 inside ISIS territory.) The attacks outside Iraq and Syria have killed at least 1,280 people and injured more than 1,770 others.

Following are the things the “son of Raqqah”and I spoke about: (His name is withheld for security purposes, both his and mine.)

  1. What’s the current strength and state of ISIS

“Until now they are still strong – strong enough to keep 1/3 of Syria and Iraq as their Caliphate State. ISIS maintains between 19,000 and 25,000 fighters. (And that’s after “10,000 U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.)  But it is harder for foreign fighters to get into Syria, so they are being directed to Libya and other growing strongholds of ISIS around the world.

“ISIS has a strong, accurate financial system to operate their Caliphate centered in Raqqah. They are bringing in at least $1 million per day from taxes, oil, selling electricity, donations and other things.

“The success that the US-led coalition strikes have had revolve around the success they’ve enjoyed in what is called the “third ring” – the outer ring area held by ISIS, mostly, tribesman. ISIS has lost some of the sides or edges of the Caliphate border – but not their central strength or their ability to continue to hold land and carry out brutal attacks.

“And one must understand that now days, if ISIS pulls out of a city, it means nothing. They learned their lesson from Kobanî where ISIS lost 600 members with at least the same number wounded. Now, when ISIS feels big pressure from the coalition forces, they simply pull back and save their people and equipment and maintain their strength and prepared to retake that town when it is convenient for them. Trust me, what the West thinks is a victory is not.

“And just putting ISIS aside for a moment – you still have to wrestle with the fact that chemical weapons are being used by Syrian President, Assad on a daily basis. Nearly half a million people have been killed in Syria by Assad’s regime.”

2. This topic has been raised by almost everyone – and the response seems to remain the same in the mainstream progressive media and from the mouths of many moderate Muslims I’ve asked: Is Islam a religion of peace? Sitting in the heart of extremists, can you tell me that ISIS and organizations similar to them are perverting Islam and are not representing true Islam? 

“Not so,” says my source who emphatically states that, “ISIS is applying the Koran accurately. I grew up as a Muslim – I studied the Koran – I know what it says and I know what it commands. What ISIS is doing is coming directly from the Koran. They are not perverting it – they are living it as authentically as it was written. Anyone who says otherwise has either not read the Koran, read a sanitized version of the Koran or they are embracing the verses on peace and purposefully ignoring the calls to actively participate in violent jihad and pursue global Islamic domination.

“And you don’t even have to speak about ISIS to be concerned about the extremeness of Islam – just factor in Saudi, Pakistan and Iran, al-Qaeda and the Taliban to mention a few.

3.  What do you say to the idea that the US or Russia or Turkey is behind  ISIS?

“There are many questions about how all of this is being handled – and actions from these military powers that is hard to explain. For example – when ISIS took Raqqah in early 2014, the Syrian regime didn’t attack any ISIS headquarters – they only bombed civilian targets. They left the headquarters of ISIS completely alone.

“When Russia got involved last year in September of 2015, they did not bomb ISIS headquarters at all. They attacked only nine civilian positions and one was an empty ISIS position – an abandoned training camp.

“The motive behind all these strange moves seems to be that Assad wants ISIS to be as radical as possible – to convince the world that the Syrian regime has nothing but radicals to fight (in other words, Syria is not battling noble Free Syrian Rebels – they are battling only the horrendous ISIS monsters).  Without ISIS, you can’t create this narrative – the story that President Assad heads a legitimate regime simply protecting itself against terrorists.

“Meanwhile, President Assad has jailed intellectuals, educators, resistance members, journalists and others while  setting free radicals, including many of the leaders of ISIS and al-Qaeda. If you don’t have an enemy to play its roll, you create one.”

4. Where does ISIS continue to get its funding? 

“In addition to their oil revenue, tax revenue and the selling of electricity, ISIS is funded through no fewer than 40 countries. With our ties to the international banking system, why have we not moved to freeze all of these assets? This is another pressing question that doesn’t seems to be easily answered. This would be one of the easier ways to strangle the operations of ISIS – if that was the goal. But nothing significant is done.”

5. Why hasn’t the US and its coalition partners gotten rid of ISIS sooner and more quickly?

“Perhaps the most striking evidence of ISIS’s covert pedigree was the way the organization engaged in a massive covert operation to infiltrate cities and take them over, long before their soldiers arrived. In Mosul, Iraq, ISIS thugs entered the city days before the main forces arrived. They shook down businesses, took inventory of what was there, and made threats. They used fear and intimidation to seize power even before their troops arrived. Why did the Iraqi (Shiite) army flee leaving behind US weapons and allow ISIS to take over Mosul and other places? Why were they free to do this? Why was no resistance applied? The US has never left usable vehicles and weapons that could possibly be used for other militaries -even in friendly countries.

“In short, I would call the motivation of the U.S. “Constructive Chaos.” Its purpose is to maintain involvement and power through creating and allowing chaos to fester. A crisis provides the perfect pretext to remain involved. Sometimes, however, the little monster you set loose to cause a little trouble ends up growing bigger than you anticipated – and showing up in places it had not been invited.”

6. What do you think of Obama’s historic deal with Iran? 

“Obama’s deal with Iran was a huge mistake. No one should be fooled, Iran will achieve nuclear capability faster than anyone imagines – as well as other advanced ballistic weapons. And you can be sure that Saudi Arabia has already purchased nuclear weapons from another country.

“The Iran deal was tragic in many ways – It was a massive error to squeeze the Sunni Islamic power by giving free reign to Iran, (Shiite Muslims) to work freely in Iraq, Syria Yemen, Bahrain,and Lebanon.  If you truly want to finish ISIS quickly, it would require giving respect to the Sunnis – I mean, by giving them their legitimate representative rights – not all the power, just their representative power – and they would be motivated to fight ISIS and eliminate them.

“There remain other unanswered questions regarding this whole scenario – that lead people to wonder what and who is in charge and what is the ultimate game plan. You have strange bed-fellows everywhere. Why are al-Qaeda leaders living in Iran? Why has ISIS never attacked Iran? Why did Iran allow Russia to use military bases in Iran to launch operations? (Even when their Constitution, Article 56 prohibits this.)”

7. What comes after ISIS

“Just more groups with the same ideology – the ideology of global Islamic domination. After ISIS it will just be more of the same. More than likely the dominant group will be the Shiite Militias from Iran.  I hear more and more talk about a “Sunni Nation” – as a response to Iran’s model of a “Shiite Nation.” The conflict will worsen.

“Within two years, you can expect all of the former southern Soviet states to be controlled by ISIS or whatever the next version of ISIS is.

“And you also have to consider Chinese involvement. Last month, China, for the first time in five years, sent a delegation to Syria to ask them how they can help them. China wants to train Syrian officers – why? And they want to send weapons to Syria. There are about 20 million Chinese Muslims living in Western China who speak Turkish. They are supported by the Turks and are often recruited by the Turks to fight in Syria. And some fight on either the ISIS side or the side of the Muslim front. It’s all very confusing with many players, many motives and many, many interest.”

8. Do you have any thoughts on the the U.S. and our upcoming elections? 

“When I was young, I supported Barak Obama – in fact I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal expressing my support. But I was wrong;  he has done nothing useful for Muslims or Arabs. Maybe he did not begin any new wars, but he enflamed the world by allowing the conditions of the Arab nations to be able to keep and expand war.

“Obama changed the world by his weakness – by his “Do Nothing” policy that has made countries like Iran, Russia and China stronger. If the next president of the U.S. is similar to Obama – there will be no defeat of ISIS because Iran will be stronger and the Sunni Muslims will be marginalized and will not bother themselves to fight ISIS.

Regarding Donald Trump, “I understand why Trumps says what he says – some people may not find it popular or may find it offense or anti-Islamic. But because I live here in Syria, I know the danger he is speaking about and it is real. The US needs to get more involved in solving this problem because the flame is coming to the US and Europe very soon. (And ISIS is opening offices in many other places.)  The flame has already started – ISIS cells are already in Europe and the US. The US should support the anti-ISIS Sunnis rather than the Shiites.

While I’m not sure if it will happen, if Donald Trump wins, he will adopt hardline policies against Iran and Russia and dictatorial regimes – it will strengthen the US and if the Sunnies are given their position, their rightful representation in Iraq and Syria – then ISIS will be gone. And Saudi will foot the bill and Syrian Sunnis can fight ISIS because they know how to deal with them.

“What does the future hold? The goal of groups like ISIS is global Islamic domination.  Not everyone may be thinking of this at the moment. And as I have said, there are many Muslims who do not desire this. They desire peace. But violent jihad is the ultimate goal and duty of anyone who is adhering to what the Koran says – it’s the undying ideology that will simply be replaced by a similar ideology  with that comes next. Most likely the Shiite Militias from Iran.”


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