For all the attention paid to ISIS, relatively little is known about its inner workings. But a man claiming to be a member of the so-called Islamic State’s security services has stepped forward to provide that inside view. This series is based on days of interviews with this ISIS spy. Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.
ISTANBUL — Abu Khaled looked at me across the outdoor hookah café table in the touristy Laleli district of Istanbul. Across the street cars nearly careened into each other every other second in a busy interaction, semi-subterranean shops, their windows half-buried by the pavement, advertised everything from cellphones to toothpaste to the latest designer women’s fashions—or, at any rate, cheap knockoffs for those who didn’t know the difference or much care. Amid the din of an international city at rush hour was the scheduled call of the muezzin, leading the call to prayer, and an unremitting stream of awful European pop music being pumped through the café’s loudspeakers, which we’d asked in vain to have turned down.
Even though ISIS terror had struck inside Turkey the week before, the organization calling itself the Islamic State, al-Dawla al-Islamiya, felt very far away. Truly, Abu Khaled told me, the people who run it want their subjects to live as if in a world of their own, captive minds in a closed society. But the real world is a small place, and this defector from the ISIS intelligence services said he was not the only one who had grown restive.
“People started feeling bad about all the lying,” he said. “If you read the news…There’s no TV, just an ISIS newspaper, Akhbar Dawli Islamiya. It says we’re still in Kobani,” a Kurdish city retaken from ISIS with the help of U.S.-led bombing raids last year.
The pervasive mendacity in the caliphate competes with a climate of ceaseless recrimination and denunciation: Two Minutes of Hate directed every day, at everyone. And typically the accusers are not Syrians but the muhajireen, the foreign fighters, who haven’t spent 1 percent of the time most residents of al-Bab have spent in Syria. They are an arrogant and unruly gang, increasingly seen, according to Abu Khaled, as colonial occupiers.