An Australian member of Islamic State (IS) has begged to come home, describing “rivers of blood” flowing inside the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate and a life of horror and misery.
- Several Australians who went to Syria to join Islamic State are now asking for help to return
- Mahir Absar Alam claims he never fought for IS and tried to escape the caliphate
- The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces declared an end to the caliphate in March
Mahir Absar Alam, who was born in Sydney and went to high school in Loxton in country South Australia, urged Muslims around the world not to believe IS’s propaganda and to stay in their home countries.
He was captured with his Syrian wife and two children in March by Kurdish-led forces outside the village of Baghouz, the last hold-out of IS militants.
The 26-year-old former Swinburne University accounting student said he left Melbourne and went to Syria in July 2014, soon after IS’s leader proclaimed a new caliphate.
“It all started the day Abu Bakr al Baghdadi came on television and he was giving that speech in that [mosque] in Mosul and then we unfortunately took his call and came to here,” he said.
But his quest ended amid the fear and squalor of the caliphate’s retreat.
“You try to run but you just can’t … you look left and right and you don’t see nothing but death,” he said.
“You look forward, you die; you look backwards, you die; you look left and right, you die. You’re stuck.”
Accounting student among first foreign recruits
When Alam went to Syria to join the group, IS had already conquered Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city.
It would shortly conquer towns in the country’s north, killing the men and enslaving women from the minority Yazidi community.
The group also began beheading western journalists and aid workers soon after Alam’s arrival, although he said he did not go to Iraq and had no role in IS’s well-publicised atrocities.
“People need to understand that we didn’t rape, we didn’t kill, I didn’t set anyone on fire,” he said.
Like many captured IS members, Alam said he did not fight for IS.
“They asked me to fight, yeah. They normally force people to fight but I really pushed it — I couldn’t fight,” he said.
“Everyone is saying they’re not a fighter … [but] I wasn’t an actual fighter.
“I’m stuck between all these people who are saying the same story, so I’m screwed now.”
Alam said instead he worked as a nurse at IS hospitals, sometimes alongside Australian doctor Tareq Kamleh.
He also saw notorious Australian terrorists Khaled Sharrouf and Mohammed Elomar.
“I’ve seen Abu Zarqawi, which is Khaled Sharrouf, you see him and his kids in the hospital. You see a few other Aussies that come in … they have kids and they need treatment,” he said.
Alam said he witnessed horrible cases in the hospitals and described the brutality of life under IS.
“I’ve seen rivers of blood flow, I’ve seen … innocent women and children killed for nothing but going shopping, nothing but sitting at home trying to feed their family,” he said.
“Can you imagine that? One minute you’re sitting at home, the next minute you’ve lost a leg and an arm, you come out burnt. It’s something you can’t explain.”
Other recruits who have left IS or been captured have denounced it, saying they were misled by false promises in the group’s promotional material.
Alam had a similar message for any remaining supporters.
“Know that their propaganda’s wrong — they’ve never done anything decent for anyone, apart for themselves, apart for each other,” Alam said.
“So I’d tell them stay at home, stay at home, stay in your country.”
Alam in trouble over Game of Thrones
Alam fell foul of the terror group’s feared morality police, the hisbah, who found a hard drive of movies he had downloaded.
“On a Friday I’d go watch a movie with my wife at home, chuck a movie on. I used to watch Game of Thrones back in Raqqa [but] I did get in trouble, I got in big trouble,” he said.
“They put me on a charge for distributing movies, so that was horrible, they destroyed my hard drive full of my precious movies.”
Alam said he was imprisoned for trying to escape IS after he was caught trying to pass a checkpoint by IS security services.
Like other Australians captured and imprisoned in Syria, he wants to come home.
“I’m willing to face punishment,” he said.
“I’m willing to do literally anything to come back to Oz right now. I’ve been willing to come back for a long time but it’s just been very difficult to come back.”
He denied he would be a danger to Australians if he returned.
“We’re not that majority that’s going to come stab someone with a knife; we’re not going to do anything horrible like that,” he said.
“We just want to go back home, even stay with our parents, I don’t even want to go outside the house.
“Even if they take me to Antarctica to live there, I just want to be as far away from here as possible.”
Up to 200 Australians are thought to have joined IS, along with hundreds of others from Europe and North America.
The Kurdish-led fighters that are holding these men and women — and their children — want Western governments to take their citizens back.
That is something the Australian Government is fiercely resisting.
At the very least, Alam would likely face charges in Australia of entering a declared area and providing support for a terrorist organisation.
But prison in Australia would still be better than the other options for foreign members of IS.
Some have been sent to neighbouring Iraq and sentenced to death.