Egyptians on social media were abuzz over the weekend expressing bewilderment over a young man named Islam Yaken, who according to social media posts, had led a cosmopolitan lifestyle before teaming up with the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“Islam Yaken’s story is freaking scary! He used to be with me in high school,” one shocked Egyptian woman wrote on Twitter.
In one picture posted on social media, Yaken is seen brandishing a sword while mounted on a horse as an ISIS member in Syria.
Older posts found on his Facebook page reveal a young man who was proud of his physique. In one picture, he is seen displaying his toned upper body.
A friend of Yaken, who spoke to Al Arabiya News on condition of anonymity, said he had known him for more than two years before losing contact with him all of a sudden.
“He is a very respectful person, helpful,” the friend said, adding that Yaken “was really funny, always making jokes, always a smile on his face.”
The friend acknowledged Yaken had been a fitness buff and had worked at a Cairo gym.
“He was always sharing useful stuff on his profile about the gym and fitness routine,” Yaken’s friend said, referring to the Balance GYM in Cairo’s Massaken al Sheraton district.
Ahmed Ali, a sales person at the fitness center, confirmed to Al Arabiya News that Yaken used to work at the gym but declined to give any further information about the young man.
Asked how he had learned of Yaken’s departure to Syria, the friend said: “Yaken deactivated his Facebook personal page for a little while and then activated it again for a few days.”
“He wrote a status about his trip and he uploaded a video on YouTube for fitness stuff before he reached this district where he lives in now.”
Yaken’s Facebook and YouTube pages of are now deactivated.
The friend was surprised about the discovery.
Yaken had never posted anything related to jihad or fighting in Syria, the friend said.
Yaken, the friend said, had at one stage been a supporter of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi who was ousted in 2013 by the military. The movement from which Mursi emerged, the Muslim Brotherhood, was subsequently listed as a terrorist organization by the ensuing administration.
“He said to me actually [recently] that Muslim Brothers are infidels,” the friend said.
UAE-based political commentator Sultan al-Qassemi wrote on his Facebook page: “Egyptian social media chatter in the past 24 hours is all about this young kid called Islam Yaken.”
According to the commentator, Yaken went to high school at the French Lycée la Liberté in Héliopolis and graduated in 2009.
As a multilingual student, he then went to Ain Shams University for a Law degree, which he completed in 2013.
“Yaken liked all sorts of music including trance, house and rap,” Qassemi said.
Yaken’s refined education has caught the attention of Egyptians, with some saying he had actually studied engineering.
“The guy [Yaken] is Egyptian studied engineering in Ain Shams, and God blessed him when he became terrorists fighting with ISIS in Syria,” one Egyptian wrote.
While another Egyptian twitter user said “the guy [Yaken] studied engineering in Ain Shams, traveled to Syria to join ISIS. Ain Sham is an incubator [for jihadist activity],” another wrote.
Despite the seriousness of the story, some were skeptical of its authenticity.
“People are actually buying the Islam Yaken c**p?” one said, and another added “the whole Islam Yaken story is too d**n funny/scary.”SHOW MORE