This is the full transcript of Al Arabiya's exclusive interview with ex-ISIS fighter Bin Laden al-Italy in Syria's Baghouz.
How did you come to know about ISIS?
I was living a normal life. Then I started seeing ISIS all over the news and YouTube. I started searching for their videos. Honestly, they gave the impression that they’ll help people and that they’re the good against the evil. I’m a person who likes to experiment, and I thought maybe I’ll become a hero.
I came to know that you were an atheist before?
Yes, in beginning I used to say that justice doesn’t have to do with religion. I believed that religions are mere myths and I believed in the Big Bang. So I lived my life accordingly. Then I got introduced to ISIS through the internet. I saw videos and then I came here.
When did you come here?
How were you able to get in touch with people to take you to ISIS?
It was very easy in 2015. Through Facebook, when my support of ISIS was obvious, I was approached by an Egyptian. He told me it’s better if I go there and put me in touch with someone in Istanbul. And then it was very easy for me to make the mistake. Even when I entered Syria, I couldn’t comprehend where I am.
You said you got in touch with an Egyptian guy?
On Facebook he was called Mohammed Mohammed. When I got to Istanbul, there was a guy who claimed he’s Syrian, but he’s actually Egyptian. We went to the hotel for a couple of hours, then we took a bus to Urfa and then from Urfa to Tell Abyad. That’s how we entered.
How did you cross the borders?
It was very easy. When I entered, I heard gunshots from the Turkish Gendarmerie General Command. I saw a lot of people entering, and it was an open road. I thought it was weird.
I couldn’t understand. They saw us. That time I wanted to go back, but the guys with me talked me out of it. I saw immigrants from Britain and France. I later understood, along with other immigrants, that this had to do with politics. They were using young men that have good intentions and want an Islamic state. Because a lot of the ones who come from Europe, don’t really understand religion.So we wanted an Islamic state, and I think it’s our right. But then when we got here, they explained to us some things in religion. For example, I didn’t know we could have sex slaves until I came to Syria. I entered Syria, and a masked guy approached me, he asked where I’m from, then told me: Good news, there are sex slaves. I asked what do you mean? They said they’re infidels, and I didn’t fully understand back then.
What did you mean when you said it had to do with politics? Did you mean the Turkish authorities were letting young men into Syria?
I’m sure Turkey knows. Thousands came in through Turkey.
How is it that they didn’t know?
It’s obvious that they knew.
How come the road was open? Did you hear about any cooperation between ISIS leaders and Turkey to allow people to come in?
People say that, yes. Many people know that.
What did you hear exactly?
They say there are common interests between Turkey and ISIS. Because ISIS were capable of doing an attack in Turkey, many of ISIS’ people were in Turkey before.
So why didn’t they do anything in Turkey? What did ISIS militants do in Turkey?
Coordination work, when people come to join, when there are money transfers.
What did you wear? What did you eat? Where did the goods come from? How did you get money?
This was an administration role, they used to bring us food and clothes. It’s all from Turkey. All through the Turkish border.
When you reached the city of Tabqah, you participated in the first battle?
No, not in Tabqah. I stayed in Tabqah for a while, then I got married. My wife now is in the camp, and I have two children. This month we’re having a new baby, by God’s will.
Did families have their privacy? Or were you all serving ISIS?
They used to say that there will be coordination with the families, but that wasn’t true.
What do you mean by coordination?
They used to tell me that they will take care of my family if I go to fight, but that wasn’t true, they just wanted us to fight.
Where is your wife from?
No, she has Kurdish origins. But she was living in Raqqa for a long time.
Who did you deal with directly from the group? What was the hierarchy?
The Emirs knew each other, they were in Iraq before, in prisons. They chose the emirs they knew.
And you worked under one of the Emirs?
Yes, each one of us worked for a certain place.
How did you spend on your family?
In the beginning, they gave us money. Then my mother transferred money to me.
How did you receive money transfer?
There were wire transfer offices in Raqqa, in Tabqah. Or my mother would transfer the money to Turkey, someone would take it from there and it would be given to me in Syria. Or the same process in Lebanon. I also received it through ISIS many times, through an Uzbek-Turkish man.
How do you think the group got funding?
Either from Iraq’s oil, or gold in Iraq.
But who did they sell them to?
Oil used to go to Turkey, everything was in Turkey, it all passes through Turkey.
Oil was sold to Turkey?
Yes, ISIS sold oil to Turkey, everybody knows that.
Where did you get arms?
They used to buy, God knows better, but they used to buy arms from the whole region. From the Free Syrian Army, from the Syrian regime, and it would enter from Turkey.
Did you ever meet al-Baghdadi?
No, no one sees al-Baghdadi other than his tight group. In the beginnings, before the coalition comes in, he used to show up, but after that, not at all.
You didn’t receive letters or orders from him?
Yes, he would send letters to the soldiers telling them to go die.
When did you first fight?
In Aleppo. South of Aleppo.
Who did you fight?
I don’t want to say that on camera, but it’s in that area in 2015. After staying at a military camp for three months, they take us to the battle.
Where did you fight after Aleppo?
I don’t want to say.
Did you turn yourself in or get arrested?
I turned myself in near Sousa, the villages near Baghouz.
Is it true that around September, there was a coup attempt against Baghdadi? We heard that Moroccans were responsible for it and that the coup failed and the fighters who attempted it were executed.
That’s true. Near an area called Kashmah, near al-Shaafa, they attempted a coup, and there was fighting. They weren’t Moroccans, they were from Libya, Russia, Tunisia, and Morocco, it was a big group. But a lot of them were Libyan and Russian.
When was that?
Maybe some five to six months ago.
Why did they attempt a coup?
We heard many things honestly. ISIS said that they are Khawarij.
But what was the actual reason?
Their narrative was that they were being used and betrayed. The truth is, ISIS always lied to use us.
So they attempted a coup near al-Shaafa, does that mean al-Baghdadi was there?
I don’t know, I’m sure he wasn’t. It’s impossible for Baghdadi to be there.
Where do you think he is?
Honestly, I would tell you if I knew his place. But I know he is not there. He might be in Turkey or in Iraq. Some place that doesn’t have fighting.
What happened to those who attempted the coup?
They were killed. They were first imprisoned, then ISIS would pull them out to execute them.
How did they kill them?
They killed them in the street.
Did you watch the executions?
No I didn’t, but they didn’t kill them all, they brought two or three and killed them, the rest they kept them in prison.
Do you want to go back to Milano?
Yes I do want to go back, I’m waiting, and I want my family to come with me. They told me they will help me, and I’m waiting for that, by God’s will.
You told me you turned yourself in three months ago, but how did you get injured?
It was caused by an airstrike.
After which you turned yourself in?
No, before that, around six months ago.
Where were you when this happened?
I was walking in the street, looking for food. The Syrian regime was hitting us, hitting a souk, a bakery, where women were, they purposefully hit those areas. Unlike the US-led coalition. The US would hit a military point only, while the Syrian regime would hit the whole area. Wherever there’s a gathering of women, who are out to get bread from the bakery, they would hit them. The whole world knew this.
Where are the leaders of ISIS? They didn’t find anyone in Baghouz. How did they plan to flee?
They took the money and the gold, they secured themselves and their families, and they ran away and left the young men. They only tell us to fight, and that our enemies are blasphemous and atheists. They used us and ran away.
How did they secure themselves?
I’m sure they buy houses elsewhere and take the money. Then they live in their new place with money.
Weren’t you afraid for your children in Baghouz? The whole area has landmines, how did you live through this?
Many young men and women were killed by the landmines. ISIS even does that on purpose.
So that people don’t leave that area. For the soldiers who don’t want to fight not to leave. There were even mines in the houses, many have died. That was a nightmare.