ISIS mufti Hussam Naji, who was captured in late 2014 by Iraqi security forces, tells Al Arabiya how he met the militant group’s leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in US prison in 2004.
Naji told Al Arabiya News Channel’s correspondent Majid Hameed in Baghdad in an interview for the weekly “Death Making” program that the ISIS leader was an “isolationist” who “did not talk very much” during their time in prison in Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.
The full Interview will be aired on Friday May 12.
“He was keen to pray and when he gives speeches, he talks about pure religious matters,” Naji explained.
Camp Bucca, built in 2003 by the US near the southern port Iraqi city of Umm Qasr, was a detention facility for Iraqi prisoners of war. In 2011, the camp was shut down.
When Naji initially met Baghdadi, the future-ISIS mufti was “a fresh graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Arabic.”
The fresh graduate used his knowledge to “give speeches, lectures and religious lessons to prisoners.”
Unlike Baghdadi, who did not remain in prison for long and was released in the same year on Dec. 8 after spending almost 11 months, Naji stayed behind bars until 2007.
After his release, Naji stated that he started delivering sermons for Friday prayers at a local mosque.
“One day I found Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and another leader named Manaf Al-Rawi sitting and praying behind me…Then we sat together, he [Baghdadi] offered me to work with him,” he said. “I was then preparing myself to study masters in Islamic Sharia, but he insisted that he has other plans for me.”
Unlike his quiet demeanor at Camp Bucca, Naji said Baghdadi’s “personality was different.”
“He became sharp-tempered, aggressive and no longer the introvert I used to knew in Bucca,” adding: “He drove a fancy car.”
When Naji accepted Baghdadi’s offer, he was appointed as ISIS’s deputy judge.
But “conflict” surfaced between Naji and the judge regarding jiza money.
Historically, jizya is tax levied by Islamic states on non-Muslim subjects adhering to Abrahamic religions such as Christians and Jews in return for protection.
“Our dispute was that the jizya should be in exchange for protection for minorities, as well as the issue of taxes collected from the markets and enslaving women.”
Irrespective of jizya, ISIS inflicted harm on Christians and their places of worship. Also, for ISIS the jizya money was not applicable to the Yazidis as they were not followers of an Abrahamic religion and had thousands of their women enslaved and raped, and their men killed in what they call as “genocide.”
However, as a mufti, Naji was behind whatever religious edicts or fatwas issued by ISIS aimed at destroying Iraqi antiquities, religious sites and killing innocent civilians especially non-Muslims in the northern province of Nineveh in Iraq.
Naji also talked about disagreements between extremist groups, which he described as not major.
“The disputes between the leaders of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups is just small and not the core of the issue,” he explained.
He said ISIS is “convinced” that the ruler who rules “without God’s law is an tyrant infidel, who must be fought.”
He added: “The disagreement with Al-Qaeda’s Jordanian leader Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi was based on the declaration of the caliphate state rather than on ISIS practices.”
The mufti also claimed that Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had been arrested and that this was one of the reasons that made ISIS split from the extremist group.
Asked about Tahran, Naji said “ISIS tried to make a truce with Iran to eliminate having multiple enemies at the same time.”
ISIS is currently missing any grassroots supports due to the horrendous crimes the group has committed, Naji said.
Oddly, Naji was born as a Shiite Muslim but converted to Sunni Islam and later joined the radical group, who considers the former group of Muslims as apostates and must be eliminated to maintain Islam’s purity.
- Where is ISIS leader Baghdadi? The US isn’t quite sure
- ‘Cousin’ of ISIS leader Baghdadi arrested in Iraq’s Mosul
- Has ISIS leader Baghdadi abandoned Mosul fight to field commanders?
- Baghdadi reportedly flees Mosul as ISIS tears down cell towers
- Mosul scenarios: Where can Baghdadi run to?
- Here are the 3 possible hideouts for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
- ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi acknowledges defeat in Iraq