Caliphate Chapter 4: Us vs. Them | New York Times Audio Series (Transcript)
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> Take me to the first execution.
AH: This was in June. At that time, they were celebrating a lot of the victories we‚Äôve had in Iraq and we were reaching towards Mosul pretty fast. After that, Ramadi then took me straight to Baghdad.
But what happened was Abu Nimer tribe was a local tribe that stood against‚Ä¶ They said they stood against Islam, they stood against the State, so they killed the majority of them in Iraq and they brought back the important ones back into Syria and we were the ones who would have to carry out their execution.
They said, they told us that they‚Äôre apostates from Iraq, murtadin. To me, a murtadin was like the worst thing in the world. That‚Äôs a guy who just turned away from Islam and they were being brought in to face punishment. They were being brought in for justice.
> The word murtad means an apostate, but the members of this tribe, they were Sunni Muslims, right?
AH: They were Sunni Muslims, yes.
> So their only crime was that they had contradicted ISIS.
AH: They stood up, they stopped us from getting to Baghdad.
> They stood in your way?
AH: They stood in our way. They wouldn‚Äôt let us take over their city, their village. They wouldn‚Äôt let us go any further; they stopped us. They put up resistance that we didn‚Äôt have to face, that‚Äôs what one of the guys described it as. They put stood up against us when they didn‚Äôt have to. They could have always conformed to us and lived comfortably or lived normally. They didn‚Äôt even have to go through it, but they put themselves in that situation. They killed themselves. That‚Äôs what they said.
> And you believed that?
AH: I believed that, yeah.
AM: Chapter 4: Us Versus Them.
AM: Okay, so he‚Äôs saying that it‚Äôs June now. Where is ISIS at this moment?
> In June of 2014, we are moments before the declaration of the Caliphate and we are, right now, on the cusp of ISIS becoming the group that we know it to be, to be on every page one, above the fold, on every newscast. As I‚Äôm sitting there across from Husefa in the hotel room, there are two things that jump out at me when he says this. Number one is the us versus them and the heights that ISIS takes it to. The Abu Nimer tribe is a Sunni tribe. This is the same sect as ISIS. These are the very people that ISIS calls Muslims and considers the citizens of their Caliphate, but they have now been described as apostates, as murtadin. Why? Because they stood up to ISIS. The very act of disagreeing with the Islamic State is, essentially, equivalent to disagreeing with God. And the second thing is he properly identifies the crime that ISIS assigns to this group and he‚Äôs using the correct theological terms to refer to them and that‚Äôs something that is pretty in the weeds, really specific. In addition to that, he says that leaders of the tribe were also kidnapped and taken back to Syria and this is something that suggests insider knowledge.
> How does ISIS prepare you to kill people? Is there anything‚Ä¶?
AH: They had dolls. Yeah, we had dolls to practice on. We also have cutouts of ballistic gels; it would feel a lot like human and, inside the ballistic gels, that would have sacs were major organs would be and then you could slice, practice, behead, stab, and just practice. And then we‚Äôd also fire weapons into them to see what damage a bullet would do, so it kind of felt like what a medical student would do.
> This is something you learned in the training?
AH: Yeah. You had to know how to slice the head off.
AM: When it comes to the act of violence itself, how is it‚Ä¶ Going into this. what is it that you know about how ISIS gets somebody like Huseifa, who‚Äôs kind of this awkward kid, and turns them into someone who can actually take a human life?
> So what I know from reading the interrogation records of numerous ISIS suspects who were arrested on their way home and from interviewing ISIS members myself, ISIS seems to have a series of steps that they take people through to, essentially, desensitize them to violence.
So, first of all, they practice on non-human entities. They use dolls, they use mannequins. They make them very lifelike and then they put them on kitchen duty. The ISIS fighters are told to go and slaughter the chicken or slit the throat of the lamb that they‚Äôre going to have for dinner.
The next stop is a communal killing. In the group execution, there‚Äôs some level of anonymity because you‚Äôre one of several people who are doing this and there‚Äôs a camaraderie, I hate to say it, but there‚Äôs a support system in the sense that you‚Äôre all doing it together. You‚Äôre all doing it on cue. There‚Äôs something mechanical and automatic and communal about it.