Young, Successful Brits Joining ISIS Jihad in Syria

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Reyaad Khan once dreamed of becoming the UK’s first Asian prime minister. Nasser Muthana was a star medical student who was accepted to four universities to study medicine. These are just two of the British-born jihadis who, after joining the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS), have recently been identified as the jihadis who appeared in a disturbing recruitment video aimed at young, British Muslims.

Khan and Muthana, both 20, spent the last two years of high school together at St David’s Catholic. Muthana’s younger brother Aseel, 17 and still in high school, was lured by his sibling and has joined him in Syria. Khan now can be seen holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle sitting next to his fellow British jihadis and urging his other Muslims to join them. 

“What prevents you from obtaining martyrdom and the pleasure of your lord? Ask yourself what prevents you and keeps you behind,” asks Khan in the video. “If it’s your wealth … when death reaches you and it’s a certainty, your wealth won’t be able to delay death.”

“Know that if you fear death, death will reach you anyway but it will be more painful for you. So death is what they fear for you, it will be worse … The brothers that gave their lives, their bodies will be shown in front of you. Allah will ask, ‘Where were you?’ “

South Whales police confirmed that both travelled to Syria with two other men. Police have since arrested the other two, who returned to the UK, but believe that Khan and Muthana are still in Syria.

British authorities estimate that more than 500 young Brits who become radicalized in the UK have travelled to join the jihadis in Syria. Possibly more concerning is that close to two-thirds have returned, with most having escaped the eyes of the authorities. Avoiding police is easy. Young, radicalized Brits travel through Turkey, a common vacation destination, which arouses no suspicion.

“We are increasingly concerned about the numbers of young people who have or are intending to travel to Syria to join the conflict,” said an official from the South Whales police. “Travelling abroad for the purpose of engaging in terrorist related activity is an offense and we will seek to prosecute anyone engaged in this type of activity.”

Khan, who was recognized on the video by his school friends, described him as an A student who loved sports. ‘‘He was clever and loved watching his sports, which is why we got on well. He was a Muslim but nothing this extreme, although over the last couple of years you could see he was becoming more of a stronger Muslim through his Facebook posts.”

Muthana disappeared last November after asking father for some pocket money and saying that he was going to a Muslim seminary in Shrewbury to attend a meeting from a visiting imam.  After five days of not hearing from his son, Ahmed Muthana, originally from Yemen, went to the police and reported his son missing.

A few days later, the police told Ahmed that they had tracked Nasser down to Turkey. Ahmed thought he had run away to get married. What he didn’t know was that Nasser then crossed into Syria to join the jihadis.

Later, police came to show him the video and asked him to identify his son. “I was shaking and in tears,” Ahmed said. “My wife fainted and has not recovered from what she saw … I feel sick and devastated that my son is caught up in this. He was brought up to love and respect my country which is Britain.”

“They don't represent me now and I don't want to see them again,” Ahmed said angrily about his sons, adding. “I would love to see them go to jail if they return to the UK alive, if they ever come back.”

Ahmed has purged the house of all the family pictures of his sons, throwing them in the garbage. “It's a Muslim thing,” he says. “You don't keep the devil in your house.”

As a father, Ahmed says he is naturally worried about the safety of his sons, “But I am also worried about the evil messages he is spreading in this video. I am concerned that other boys may follow him there.”

Ahmed believes his sons become radicalized after they started attending a different mosque than him, although he doesn’t knew which mosque they began attending. Both grew beards. “Both my sons have been influenced by outsiders, I don't know by who.”

Ahmed described Nasser as “a calm boy, very bright and a high achiever … why he left his family I don't know. It's devastating for me and my family.” 

His younger son, Aseel, was studying for his matriculation exams and had dreamed of becoming an English teacher.

One day, three months after his older brother left for Syria, Aseel left the house, telling his father he was going to a friend’s house for the night. Ahmed later found out that Aseel had procured a fake passport with an older age, had travelled to Cyprus and from there, to Syria.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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