Daesh propaganda tricked me, says Latvian who joined Jihad

"I've become a victim of Islamic State propaganda," says 22-year-old Mārtiņš, accused of participating in the armed conflict in Syria and currently in the Rīga Central Prison. An interview with him appeared on Latvian Television December 23.

Mārtiņš potentially faces a life sentence.

His involvement with Daesh began about two and a half years ago when he met Islamic State supporters online and eventually left Latvia for Syria. 

– I started reading the Quran as I was interested in all these things.

– But what was it that interested you in the Quran?

– Well, finding the truth. And then I thought I've found the truth there.

At that time Daesh had already grabbed large territories in Syria and Iraq and proclaimed a state of their own, the so-called caliphate, where life would flow according to medieval Sunni tradition. It had greatly impressed Mārtiņš.

– What was the most inspiring in the idea of a caliphate?

– That a state is supposedly being made for Muslims. A state where there's justice and so forth. They said they need people who can help in different areas – civil works and so on, to help with computers, people who aren't involved in war in any way. Just regular people.

– What was the job you were hoping when you went there? What could you have done?

– Well, I thought I could help people do something, as they're doing now in Aleppo, like firemen and so on, that are saving people. 

– But when you were looking for information on the Islamic State, you must have noticed that they really are, in this day and age, hacking peoples' heads off, didn't you?

– I didn't know that it's so insane. [I didn't know] what was the real situation.

After telling his parents that he's going to Turkey for travel, he bought a plane ticket to Stambul. Later, crossing the border between Syria and Turkey, he was met by recruiters at Gaziantep and sent to Jarabulus.

– The Islamic State lead me forward, took away my passport, documents, and devices.

– Didn't that make you alarmed?

– Yes, but I couldn't do anything. Of course I couldn't do anything. They said that I had to undergo training. Military training. I could not avoid that. There was, of course, no choice, as not complying poses a threat to your life.

Together with about 300 other recruits he learned to fire a gun and practiced surrounding towns. The recruits underwent religious and ideological indoctrination too. Mārtiņš said he became more and more sure that he wants to return home.

– I was disappointed in all of that from the get go and started thinking about how to get out, as it's not simple leaving if you're in an unknown place, a very scary place. You can be put to death for running away.

Later when they were went to Al-Raqqah - the capital of the Islamic State - he had started playing truant and, having found an internet cafe, tried contacting someone who would help. He was caught soon after.

– They came inside to check... and then I was arrested.

He said he went to prison where he spent five months.

– There were very many people there... thousands who wanted to leave the place. But most of them couldn't find a way out. Most people were very disappointed in all of that.

– What were the biggest disappointments about?

– Well, I don't know. You could say everything was one big disappointment. That they're doing insane things, that their ideology is so extreme, that they mistreat even their own people, fighting on their side. They kill many other people of their own. You could say for trivial things or things that could be counted as trivial.

– But did you see someone being put to death?

– I didn't see anyone killed. But I saw a person being lashed. I don't know why he was being whipped, but it was a civilian whose back was being beaten with a whip. Yes, and a crowd was around and he was being punished for something.

It was planned that Mārtiņš would be punished with the other inmates by being treated as cannon fodder.

– Taking people to the very hottest spots is their strategy - to places from where no one returns. They lead people to death by taking them to places being heavily bombarded and where the enemies of the Islamic State use special forces.

However as they were transported, Mārtiņš and five other inmates managed to escape. Mārtiņš says he made it to the Turkish border where he was seized by Turkish authorities. There, after spending months in Syria, he asked for help in making it back to Latvia.

– What was it that happened to you? How would you call it?

– Well, it's ambiguous. Of course people tricked me. And the caliphate is of course a huge problem. The Islamic State is itself a huge problem. And the people who tricked me...

– Do you think that people who replied to you on the internet tricked you?

– Yes.

– And in what way did they trick you?

– [They said] that it's very good and just there. That there's everything there...

– And what turned out to be the case?

– Well, it was just the opposite...

– What would you tell other people who might be sitting at their computers and thinking that maybe they could be departing to help the Islamic State?

– I would tell them - never go there, it's all a trick. And that it's just their propaganda. That nothing is really taking place as they say it. And of course - I've been there and I have seen that nothing is really taking place as they tell it. It's the opposite. I say that no one should go there and that this organization should be opposed.

– Did you see any Latvians there?

– No.

– You're being accused of fighting on the side of Daesh.

– I haven't partaken in war. That is, I haven't used a gun or fired shots at anyone.

– But can you picture that you might have to spend the rest of your life in prison?

– I cannot.

Read more about Mārtiņš' story HERE.

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