Caliphate Chapter 10: Finale | New York Times Audio Series (Transcript)
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FS: From the New York Times and the team that brought you The Daily, this is Caliphate.
DT: ISIS is being dealt one brutal defeat after another. Not only are we defeating these killers, these savage killers, horrible, horribleÔøΩ you don't want to say peopleÔøΩ over there, but we sure as hell don't want them to come over here. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You know, they come back to some countries and they come in. We're making it a very difficult process. We had such weakness. They go out, kill people, then they come back and they go back home to mom and dad.
AM: All right.
RC: So, it's been a year. Walk us through what happened the morning after we left.
AH: I had just woken up hair all messy, pajamas and T-shirt. It was winter, so they were wearing their jackets, black jackets. They introduced themselves, they showed their badges and then they said, "Can we come in and have a conversation with you?" I knew why they were here right away. We sat down in my living room in my house.
AM: How did you feel in that moment?
AH: Really nervous, because it was the very first time this was happening with me. And so they just asked me about my online activity first and then they asked me about my travels and then they asked, "Were you in Syria?" And I said, "No." What's the most they can do, right? I already proved that I'm not a threat and I talked to them nicely. I was cooperating with them, so.
AM: So the next few days, were you..
AH: The next few days, I just went low-key for a few days. I just went through my Facebook and my Instagram and everything and deleted a bunch of stuff and I just stopped following a bunch of people. I didn't know to what extent they were watching me and then I was worried about what if now, I'm not going to be able to get a job in the future. And for my parents, I was worried about them too because they're thinking that, "Oh, no. Now what's going to happen? He's going to go to, like, Guantanamo or something. They're going to send him off." And so they just told me to show these people that you're concentrating on your school and your family and your work so that they know that it's a waste of time just watching you.
RC: So how much after we left do you get into university?
AH: I got in about the January after you left.
RC: January, OK.
AH: Yeah. I walked into my parents' room, they just to congratulate me. I finally did something right, so they were really happy. But you know, they're just like, "Now, maintain it," and everything. The firstÔøΩ OK, two weeks, not even the first day, it was just me running around getting lost, finding my way to class.
AM: Did you make any friends?
AH: Oh no, no, no. No, there areÔøΩ there's likeÔøΩ I didn't try to talk to anyone or hang out with any specific group. In breaks even or if I had extra time on campus, I just walk around. I can't let someone get too close to me. There has to be a distance, like, yeah, you can ask how I am and everything and I'll ask how you are, but if you're going to sit down and have a meal with me, no. That's a big no.
RC: I can see how that would be really isolating.
AH: I made a couple of new friends in Canada and some other country, but -
RC: It's all online?
AH: Yeah, it's all online. But I know of them. I Have seen pictures and everything on social media of them. They seemed to be on the same ideology and they're playing it safe as well. But here in university, again, I just go to class and go home.
AM: When was the first time you suspected that you might be being followed?
AH: Right after the first meeting. I always have, like, randomly looking at strangers and just, like, you know, on the same train as me, on the same subway as me too, same route the whole way through.
RC: This person was moving from transit to transit sitting a few seats behind you?
AH: Yeah. And then they came on their second visit. So this time, they actually did pull up pictures of me holding a gun and, you know, it was me holding a handgun and my face was clearly visible in it and everything.
RC: Was it a picture of somebody took in Syria of you?
AH: Yeah. So, it's just me holding a gun, facing my back towards camera but looking back like that. And I just have the gun up like that. So, that was kind of shocking, how they came across that.
RC: While they were showing you this picture, which you know has been taken in Syria, you're telling them that's not in Syria or that's notÔøΩ
AH: I told them it was in Pakistan and the gun was one of my uncle's guns and just went on with it. And then I told them also that I wasn't with ISIS. I was with the Tablighi Jamaat instead and we just go around in Pakistan on motorcycles and they justÔøΩ I went along. I told them the whole entire thing and then they're like, he was clearly pissed off, like..
RC: He was pissed off because he knew you were lying to him?
AH: Yeah. When he was talking to my dad after, he said, "OK, so we're done here and we're watching you. We have everything on file and record so.."