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Saudi jihadi recounts his time with ISIS



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Suleiman al Sabi'ee on Saudi TV earlier this month. Photograph from Al Shorfa.

Suleiman al Sabi'ee, a 25-year-old Saudi, grabbed the attention of Saudi society after describing his experience fighting alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on a well-known television program earlier this month. In his confessional interview, al Sabi'ee explained how he went to Syria and "found himself fighting in the ranks of ISIS." He said that a smuggler had helped him enter Syria by way of Turkey, a route commonly taken by foreign fighters seeking to join the Syrian jihad. Interestingly, he mentioned that upon arrival in Turkey, he contacted jihadi fighters in Syria via Twitter who put him in touch with the smuggler.

Al Sabi'ee had decided to head to Syria after his brother was killed while fighting alongside the Syrian rebels. In the Saudi TV interview, al Sabi'ee revealed that during his time fighting with ISIS, he found that the group's leadership was comprised mainly of Iraqis and Syrians, and that its foot soldiers were mostly Libyan and Tunisian. He also said that the Saudi recruits, who had come to Syria to fight against the Assad regime forces, grew concerned and uneasy when clashes erupted between ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.

While in Syria, al Sabi'ee, who has a strong social media presence and large following on sites such as Twitter and Keek, quickly discovered that ISIS was interested in using his social media accounts as a platform for spreading the group's message. Al Sabi'ee alleged that ISIS members took over his accounts and exploited his large following to call others to participate in jihad. He also claimed that ISIS members used his accounts to attack the Saudi royal family and incite followers against the Saudi government. According to al Sabi'ee, ISIS members threatened his life after he asked them to cease using his social media accounts.

Al Sabi'ee managed to return to Saudi Arabia in late January following efforts by his father to reach out to the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey. Although it is unclear whether al Sabi'ee's televised "confessions" on a government-owned channel are all true, his statements speak to ISIS' concern with its public image and the exploitation of its recruits in service of its interests. And ISIS' concern over its image has undoubtedly grown since al Qaeda's disavowal of the group in February.



READER COMMENTS: "Saudi jihadi recounts his time with ISIS "

Posted by Tinu at March 22, 2014 7:31 AM ET:

One gets confused regarding the differences between various Jihadi groups. For instance is there any big difference between the philosophy, goals and targets of the groups like ISIS and Al Sabi'ee? If there are similarities than why are they fighting each other? Further their main ideology often is opposite to the humanities' basic values and ethics, and still people follow their ideology, why?

Posted by Birbal Dhar at March 23, 2014 8:21 AM ET:

@Tinu - It basically comes down to who wants to control the money, supply and essential items, irrespective if they believe in the same thing. I guess some people join these groups, because it makes them think that they are important, a bit like people joining gangs. It doesn't matter whether you are educated or not or wealthy or not, it's all about the sense of belonging. Some choose belonging to peaceful ideologies, others may prefer violent ones.

Posted by Neonmeat at March 24, 2014 5:49 AM ET:

They fight each other because ISIS wants power and territory and control IMO.

Al Baghdadi wants his group, ISIS, to be the leading proponent of Militant Jihad, he wants IMO to carve out his own area of influence in both Iraq and Syria which he can use as a base of operations, for camps, hospitals, training, respite etc. safe from NATO intervention.

He disagrees with AQ, again IMO, simply for the reason that he wants his group to be seen as, and be, the leaders. He doesn’t want to compete for recruits or religious legitimacy, and he wants ISIS to dictate the course of the Jihad, not Zawahiri who is so removed from the actual fighting it is laughable.

In regards to it being against the basic ethics of humanity, we are talking here about the basic ethics of militant Salafi Islam. Alas, the two have very few things in common. Further to that, Al Baghdadi and his fellow leaders in ISIS are mainly ex-Iraqi Military Officers. Which means that at some point in their careers they were (at least as a front) hardcore Ba’athists. So why the sudden conversion to militant Islam? Well the cynicals might say they are using the ‘faithful’ for their own goals under the pretence of obligatory jihad.