Life with ISIS is hard and full of violence

People from the Netherlands who travel to ISIS territory are knowingly opting to join a terrorist group and in doing so they support the violent struggle for an Islamic state. But life in ISIS-controlled territory is hard and ISIS is more and more becoming a totalitarian regime. These are some of the conclusions presented in the latest AIVD publication Life with ISIS: the Myth Unravelled.

ISIS propaganda describes life in the “caliphate” as idyllic, but nothing could be further from the truth. Intelligence research shows that conditions are, in fact, abominable. The attraction that the caliphate exerts, however, is kept alive by propaganda. This aim of this publication is to give professionals confronted with this subject something to balance that attraction.

The atrocities of men

Men who travel to ISIS territory have to swear allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They receive military training and have to be ready at all times to defend the caliphate by force. It is not uncommon that they resort to executions, torture and rape.

Women also play their part

Women are expected to marry and have children as soon as possible. Medical facilities, however, are inadequate. Another important task for women is the recruitment of other women, often family members or friends. Some are also active in the Al Khansaa brigade, ISIS’ religious police force.

Children are confronted with death and destruction from a very young age

It is estimated that there are at least 70 Dutch children in Syria and Iraq, a third of whom were born there. These children see death and destruction on a daily basis. ISIS does not shy away from using children in propaganda material, in which they witness or even carry out executions. Boys are trained in the use of weapons from age nine. Girls at that age have to wear a veil in public.

ISIS regime exhibits totalitarian traits

It is only rarely that negative reports about life in the caliphate reach Western aspiring jihadists. ISIS goes to great lengths to keep up the idyllic representation of the caliphate and strictly controls all outgoing information. Leaving the area has become practically impossible and there is a great deal of mutual distrust within ISIS.

The AIVD based this report on intelligence gathered since June 2014, the proclamation of the caliphate. With this publication the service wants to show that jihadists that travel to ISIS-occupied territory are well aware of the fact that they are expected to support terrorist violence. Once they arrive in the land of ISIS, however, they are often gravely disappointed by the terrible state of things.