Why fighters are quitting ISIS.

Sep 30, 2015

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at Kings College London points to the ways that many thousands of recruits who journeyed to Iraq and Syria may now be regretting their decisions. The more defectors speak out, the more the ISIS cause will suffer. The ICSR Report Executive Summary follows.  John Menadue.

Executive Summary

• Defectors from the so-called Islamic State (IS) are a new and growing phenomenon. Since January 2014, at least 58 individuals have left the group and publicly spoken about their defection. They represent a small fraction of the many disillusioned fighters who have turned against IS.

• The defectors provide unique insight into life in the Islamic State. But their stories can also be used as a potentially powerful tool in the fight against it. The defectors’ very existence shatters the image of unity and determination that IS seeks to convey. Their narratives highlight the group’s contradictions and hypocrisies. Their example encourages members to leave the group. And their experience and credibility can help deter others from joining.

• The defectors’ reasons for leaving may be as complex as the reasons they joined. Not everyone has become a fervent supporter of liberal democracy. Some may have committed crimes. They joined the most violent and totalitarian organization of our age, yet they are now its worst enemies.

• Among the stories of the 58 defectors, we identified four key narratives:
1) ‘IS is more interested in fighting fellow (Sunni) Muslims than the Assad government
2) ‘IS is involved in brutality and atrocities against (Sunni) Muslims.’
3) ‘IS is corrupt and un-Islamic.’ 4) ‘Life under IS is harsh and disappointing.’

• Defecting from IS is complex and dangerous. Wannabe defectors are faced with numerous obstacles. Their first challenge is to separate from IS and make their way into non-IS held territory. But even those who succeed are not necessarily safe. What prevents them from speaking out is the fear of reprisals and the worry that prosecutors may use their openness against them.

• Our recommendations are for governments and activists to recognize the value and credibility of defector narratives; provide defectors with opportunities to speak out; assist them in resettlement and ensure their safety; and remove legal disincentives that prevent them from going public.

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