ISIS Bigwig Says Group Exists Thanks to U.S. Prison Camp

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Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The world’s most feared terrorist group was apparently born in a U.S.-run prison. A high-ranking but disillusioned ISIS leader told The Guardian that American detention camps were the perfect breeding ground for radicalism, and that they gave ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and others the contacts necessary to wage an even more organized jihad back in the outside world.

Abu Ahmed, as he is known in the piece, was incarcerated with Baghdadi at a camp known as Bucca. He describes Baghdadi as quiet but dignified in the beginning, avoiding scuffles and brokering deals with the Americans while claiming a lineage that led back to the prophet Muhammad. But then, eventually, Baghdadi became the center of arguments, using a strategy Abu Ahmed now calls “conquer and divide to get what he wanted, which was status.”

He was respected very much by the US army,” Abu Ahmed told journalist Martin Chulov. “If he wanted to visit people in another camp he could, but we couldn’t. And all the while, a new strategy, which he was leading, was rising under their noses, and that was to build the Islamic State. If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.”

After they got out of prison, the core of what would become ISIS got back together through contact information they wrote on the elastic of their boxers. Chulov’s frightening account shows that U.S. prisons did little to neutralize radical sentiments — his source, Abu Ahmed, says he rejoined jihad immediately upon his release.

The enthralling narrative goes on to detail the movement of mujahideen from Syria to Iraq, and alleged cooperation between ousted Ba’athists, Assad’s government, and Al Qaeda in Iraq to undermine the new Iraqi government. Baghdadi gained power after the deaths of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of America’s most-wanted men, and his successor Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

Perhaps most telling, Abu Omar agreed to tell Chulov the story of the group and mentioned that he no longer believes so fervently in its goals. Yet, just like low-ranking members who join from overseas, he doesn’t see a way to leave. “If I leave, I am dead,” he says.