disillusioned, he divorced his wife and made his way to Syria
to join ISIS in a bid to ‘be a good Muslim’. Life in the
group however was not as advertised. He began to have
doubts after being made to watch the horrific execution of
fellow Jordanian Moaz al-Kasasbeh, a pilot who was burnt to
death in a steel cage after his plane came down in ISIS
Ali’s dalliance with the group and Hus daring escape is
documented in a book by Robert Worth titled A Rage For
Order. It won’t be released till September but here is a
lengthy extract culled from dailymail.
“One morning in mid-January 2015, a small, furtive-looking
man in a black hooded parka stood alone on the Turkish side
of the Akçakale border crossing with Syria.
The man glanced around uneasily, and finally approached a
street sweeper in a blue jumpsuit. ‘I want to cross to the
other side,’ he said. ‘What can I do?’ The street sweeper
demanded 75 Turkish lira and pointed to a small hole in the
fence, not far from the main gate.
The man paid him but hesitated. He had come a long way,
and was now barely 10 metres from his destination: the
dusty brown hills of northern Syria, where the Islamic State
began. ‘What about the guards?’ he said. ‘No problem,’ the
street sweeper replied. ‘Just go.’
The man walked towards the hole in the gate. He bent down
and squeezed through. On the other side, he began to run.
One of the Turkish guards saw him and shouted. He did not
The newcomer’s name was Abu Ali, 38, from Jordan. He had
another name and another life, but like most migrants to
the Islamic State, he had cast it off. He wanted to be born
After an hour or so, a car appeared, and an Isis man drove
Abu Ali to a reception house not far away. It was a large,
one-storey building with a garden out back, and about a
dozen other new arrivals were getting acclimatised.
‘It was like an airport,’ Abu Ali told me. ‘I saw Americans,
English, French, people from other countries – there was
only one Syrian.’
For the next five days, he slept on a mattress and talked
endlessly with the other migrants, who mostly spoke English.
The Isis officials told them they were investigating their
There were chickens in the garden out back, and the emir
insisted that only the Americans and Europeans be allowed
to slaughter them. It was training for killing infidels, he
At the end of five days, the new recruits were told it was
time to leave. Abu Ali got into a minibus with about 15
others into the Bel’as mountains, a dry, craggy range of
dun-coloured peaks to the east of the city of Homs.
For the next two weeks, all of the men would be woken up
before dawn. They would perform the dawn prayer, then go
outside for running and press-ups before the sharia lessons
began at first light. The lessons were very basic, focusing on
the difference between Muslims and non-Muslims, and the
requirement to fight infidels and apostates.
One night the emir in charge of the training course, a bald
Syrian with pale skin who, in his previous life, had been a
history teacher in Homs, said there was a special event in
Once the men were all seated on the cave floor, the emir
turned on the projector and a video flickered on the cave
wall: an Arab man in an orange jumpsuit in a cage. Flames
licked towards the cage, following a trail of petrol, and
engulfed the man.
A voiceover intoned that this was the Jordanian pilot Moaz
al-Kasasbeh, who had been captured after his plane
crashed. His grotesque execution by fire, in February 2015,
was seizing the world’s attention at that moment, and even
some jihadis were denouncing it as an immoral act.
The emir stood up and explained that this pilot had dropped
bombs on Muslims, and his execution by fire was a just
retribution under Islamic law. The men listened in silence.
Abu Ali soon sensed dozens of eyes turning in his direction.
He was the only Jordanian there, and they all knew it. He
had not said anything, but his horror at the video must have
been visible on his face. The emir also stared at him.
This was clearly some sort of loyalty test. Abu Ali felt their
eyes on him, and he began to shake. He had been taught as
a child that burning a man to death was forbidden in Islam.
The images had sickened him. He heard himself say, ‘May
God help me.’
Two Isis guards took him by the arms and led him out of the
cave. The emir followed later. He sat down on the rocks with
Abu Ali and asked him why he had spoken those words. Did
he question what Isis had done? Abu Ali said no. He had only
spoken out because people were provoking him.
The emir seemed satisfied. ‘At the beginning of this course
you were a kafir (an unbeliever),’ he said. ‘Now you are
becoming a Muslim.’
Abu Ali was intensely relieved. He had escaped punishment.
But from that moment on, he told me, ‘I began to suspect
everything around me.’
He had joined Isis in the hopes of getting a desk job and
making himself into a good Muslim.
In his previous life he had frequented bars and clubs and
partied several nights a week, despite his wife’s constant
haranguing. She was infertile, and the absence of children
made their days especially empty.
By 2012 his father’s government work had stopped after
the rebel Free Syrian Army entered Aleppo and his
profligate life began tilting towards despair.
He was living off handouts from other family members
abroad. Abu Ali declared that he was divorcing his wife. In
Islamic law, that’s all it takes. She moved out.
After that, Abu Ali felt he had nothing left to lose.
When the two-week sharia course was over, most of the men
were transported to another group of damp mountain caves
a few miles away. They now started the military training
class. Abu Ali, with his smoker’s lungs, would just sit down on
the rocks when he got tired.
The trainers shouted at him, and he would hold up his hand
and shout back: ‘I’m doing administration, not combat.’ He
was already getting a reputation as a laggard.
On the last day of the course, the men were summoned from
their cave in the morning and asked to recite an oath of
loyalty. Abu Ali found himself standing with about three
dozen other men near a bus.
A Syrian commander in battle fatigues told them they were
going to the frontlines in Iraq. ‘Sir, I don’t want to go to
the frontline,’ Abu Ali told the commander. ‘They said I
could do administration in Raqqa.’
The commander looked at him, stone-faced. ‘You swore an
oath,’ he said. ‘You must listen and obey now. The penalty
could be death.’ Abu Ali stood for a moment, registering the
shock, then he walked towards the bus.
After a few days of travel, Abu Ali arrived in Garma, a
village just west of Baghdad near the frontline.
He and another recruit dragged wounded men from the
battlefield. It was terrifying work. They could hear and feel
bullets whizzing past them in the pre-dawn darkness, and
some of the men they dragged – there were no stretchers –
were screaming in pain.
On the morning of the third day, Abu Ali and a new friend
named Abu Hassan walked together into the headquarters in
Garma and confronted the Iraqi commander.
‘We don’t want to fight any more. You are leaving dead and
wounded men behind.
‘The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not force
men to fight against their will.’ He knew he was taking a
Abu Ali was packed on to a bus bound for Syria. The men on
board knew they were likely to be punished.
Arriving back in Raqqa, they were taken to a soccer stadium,
known as Point 11: a notorious Isis prison and security
A man arrived and addressed them. ‘Brothers, do not say, ‘I
will not fight any more.’ Just say, ‘I prefer to fight in
Syria.’ You will be given one more chance.’
A few days later, Abu Ali found himself alone in a house in
the town of Manbij, not far from the front. There was an
internet cafe next door, and to his delight, he heard the
chime of a WhatsApp message on his phone. He looked at it
and his heart leapt: it was his wife.
She had written an old expression that they both liked: ‘If
you love something, let it go. If it doesn’t come back, it
wasn’t meant for you. But if it does, it will be yours
Abu Ali found himself shaking with emotion. He apologised
for his mistakes. He told her he wanted to come back.
Abu Ali said: ‘The second I saw her first message I started
hating them all. I said to myself: What have I done?’
He had heard a rumour that one of his comrades in the Iraq
battle, a man from Morocco, had escaped to Turkey. He sent
him a WhatsApp message.
The Moroccan wrote back quickly. He said: ‘Go to Raqqa’.
Equipped with a sick-leave document, Abu Ali got on a
civilian bus early the next morning. He was wearing an
Afghan-style cloak that identified him as a member of Isis,
and no one gave him any trouble.
By the time he arrived in Tal Abyad it was 9pm, well past
dark. He found an internet cafe and went inside to wait for
the next message. As he looked around, it became clear that
everyone in the cafe was Isis: long beards, AKs on the
shoulders, Afghan robes.
Abu Ali felt himself shaking. He tried not to look at anyone,
but one man was eyeing him suspiciously. The meeting time
came and went. It was almost 11pm, and the cafe would
soon be closing. He said to himself: that’s it, I’m done for.
Finally, just before 11pm, two motorcycles pulled up just
outside, and one of the riders shouted through the cafe
door at Abu Ali: ‘The food’s ready, sorry we’re late.’ Abu Ali
got up to go.
As he did so, the Isis man who had been staring at him in
the cafe stepped forward. ‘Where are you from?’ he said.
Abu Ali replied in an Aleppo accent – he figured a local by
himself was less suspicious than a foreigner: ‘I’m sorry, I’m
late, I have to go.’
He walked out the door and got on the back of one of the
motorcycles, scarcely breathing. But the bike took off down
the road and no one followed.
The next day, after a sleepless night in a nearby house, the
men who had rescued him from the cafe accompanied him to
a remote stretch on the border.
Abu Ali crawled through a hole in the border fence to
freedom on the night of 25 May 2015, just over four months
after he had entered Isis territory.