Al Arabiya exclusively interviewed four boys who were living under ISIS and representative of a center who aims to rehabilitate them. The children revealed details about the reality of life under the extremist group and how they came to join them as well as highlighting their military training procedures and the ideology that sustained the ISIS grip on power.
This is the full transcript of Al Arabiya's exclusive interview with former ISIS child fighter Faisal.
Faisal – Abu Aisha, you’re from the residents of Deir ez-zor?
How did you join ISIS?
ISIS came to Syria, and they controlled our area. So we wanted to go to this group and know who they are. We went, and we took up military and Sharia training. We learned Quran, and they taught us some military things.
What did they teach you in the Quran? What was religion to them?
That you should kill the people who enjoy freedom.
Had you seen me a month and a half before today, what would you have done?
According to what they taught me, you should die.
What about now?
Now I feel like you should be completely free, and live your life.
What was the military training like? What did you learn?
How to use weapons. The science of weapons.
What kind of weapons?
Kalashnikovs, guns, PKC, that’s what we learned.
Did you master them?
Yeah, I learned well.
How long was the training?
What do you do after the training is done?
They take us to frontlines, to their bases.
What did you do when they took you to the frontline?
We used to sit in the frontline to deal with anyone who gets close to us.
How many did you deal with?
During my mission, we weren’t subjected to any attacks.
Did your father join ISIS’ lines as well?
No, my father was outside Syria.
Where was he?
He left Syria.
He left you?
Who did you stay with in Syria?
Me and my friends, from my hometown.
Where are your mother and siblings?
So your father left Syria and you, your mother, and your siblings stayed in Deir ez-zor. Where’s your father? In which country?
Did you use to communicate with him?
How did you spend without income?
They used to give us aid when we need it.
Who gives you aid? ISIS?
What did they give you?
Food. They give us food when we need it.
It’s prayer time, would you like to pray before we continue?
Those who pray and those who don’t are the same. When I was with ISIS, I used to pray. They used to tell us to pray, so I used to pray.
But here if you want to pray, that’s fine, and if you don’t, it’s your call. You can do whatever you want.
So you chose to do what makes you comfortable?
You’ve been here for a month and a half, how did you get here?
The Syrian Democratic Forces arrested me.
On which frontline?
Al-Baghouz frontline. They brought me here.
Are you and your family from al-Baghouz?
No, we’re not from al-Baghouz.
How did you get to al-Baghouz?
ISIS used to withdraw, and we would go with them. Wherever they go, we go.
We wanted to stay with them to see what will happen. We left al-Baghouz to the SDF, and they brought me here. I went to al-Baghouz, it was a horrible situation, how did you live there? We had hard dark days.
Where did you get food? How did you even leave your houses with all those landmines?
We used to always be careful of any landmines.
How did you do that?
They taught us what to do if there are planes or landmines.
Did you use to help them in making explosive belts?
No, I don’t know how to do that.
What about food and drinks?
We used to help each other. Whoever has some would give the other.
Where were the leaders of ISIS? They left?
They left us, we don’t know where they went.
You don’t know anything at all?
Who used to dig the tunnels?
The leadership of ISIS.
What do you plan to do when you grow up?
I want to be a teacher.
What do you want to teach?
I want to teach children everything that I know, when I grow up.
How did you accept women here? You haven’t been here for long.
They welcomed me here in the center, and we started taking lessons and doing sports. They told us women should be equal to you, she should enjoy her freedom, you shouldn’t force her to do anything. She can do whatever she pleases.
Did you accept this in the beginning?
Yes I did, because if women had power over men, I would not like it if she controlled me. So, I told myself that women have to be free. No one should force her to do anything.
What do you think about ISIS’ sex slaves?
They used to kidnap them from their families and bring them. This shouldn’t happen.
Why would they take her away from her family and do this? What else did ISIS members talk about?
They said they should control the world. Whatever we want, should happen. Everyone should respect their limits.
Did they tell you that you should blow yourself up?
Yes, they said I should be a suicide bomber to open the road for them to continue.
Were you convinced of that?
I used to think to myself: “Why should I die so that they continue a road which I don’t know the end to?” How did they convince people to do those things?
They used a nice way with them. They used to trick them with simple words. They used to say that religion tells you to do this, but that’s not true. We found out that it’s all not true.
Which age were you allowed to go to the frontlines?
Everyone who’s 15 and above. At the beginning it was 17 or 19, then they said even 15 year-olds should go.