"When they're ordered to attack, for example, an airport or a supermarket, then they just do it."

Defecting ISIS commander: There will be more terror attacks

ISIS capital Raqqa falls.

The terrorist sect is collapsing in Syria and Iraq.

But the threat against Europe is far from over.

"ISIS sleeper cells are ready. When they're ordered to attack, for example, an airport or a supermarket, then they just do it," says defecting ISIS Emir Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi.

In an exclusive interview with Expressen's Kassem Hamadé, al-Raqqawi talks about the recruitment of future terrorists, about torture under ISIS and about how their terrorism is being part-financed by organ trafficking and stolen antiquities.

Publicerad 13 okt 2017 kl 18.10

Expressen's Kassem Hamadé is the world's first ever reporter to interview a senior commander of ISIS, who calls himself Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi.

Foreign jihadists are playing a key role in ISIS's plans to continue to wage war even after the caliphate in Iraq and Syria has been defeated.

"From within the caliphate, they're recruiting sleeper cells in Western countries. They're recruiting friends and family," says al-Raqqawi.

When suspected terrorist Rakhmat Akilov was questioned about the terrorist attack in Stockholm, he said he had received orders from Raqqa. Similar information emerged during investigations into the terrorist attacks in Paris, London, Barcelona and Beirut.

For the first time since ISIS announced the establishment of its caliphate in the late summer of 2014, a former Emir has now come forward to talk about his life inside the caliphate.

"Migrants inside the caliphate are in touch with their friends in the Western world. Their friends and family in Sweden, in Germany, in France, in the UK, in Turkey, in Azerbaijan or in other parts of the world. From within the caliphate, they're recruiting sleeper cells in the Western world," explains al-Raqqawi.


7 April 2017: Uzbek Rakhmat Akilov hijacks a truck and ploughs down innocent pedestrians on Drottninggatan in Stockholm. Five people are killed in the attack, which closely follows the terrorist sect's manual on how to carry out terrorist attacks using simple means. During questioning, Akilov says he received orders from ISIS leaders in Raqqa. For a long period of time, ISIS had been encouraging their sympathisers and members to carry out terrorist attacks using any means necessary, but specifically mentioned the option of hijacking cars or trucks.

Foto: Rob Schoenbaum /IBL POLARIS


One of the people in charge of foreign recruitment is from France. Few people know his true identity, but in Raqqa he goes by the name of Abu Mosaab al-Farancy.

"He speaks several languages and runs the Sharia camps. When foreign jihadists come to the caliphate, they're sent to Sharia camps for a month. Abu Mosaab is in charge of these camps and he's the person who makes sure everyone takes Sharia courses," says al-Raqqawi.

There has been speculation that Abu Mosaab al-Farancy was killed in an airstrike on Raqqa a couple of years ago. Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi met him just a few months ago.

"You communicate over the internet. The person being recruited receives publications – videos and documents that encourage jihad and that show Muslims being killed in Syria and Iraq, and videos demonstrating ISIS strength," says al-Raqqawi.

During the Battle for Kobane, ISIS wanted to bomb Kobane using chemical warfare.


3 June: A van ploughs into a crowd of pedestrians on London Bridge, killing eight people. Three terrorists are wearing fake suicide belts. The police shoot all three dead. ISIS claims responsibility and applauds the terrorists via their propaganda channel. In several speeches, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani encourages sympathisers and members to carry out terrorist attacks in their own countries rather than moving to the "caliphate".

Foto: Matt Dunham / AP

"Sleeper cells are awaiting orders"

During the first year, ISIS was interested in recruiting members to join the caliphate. When Turkey closed its border, due to pressure from the rest of the world, and began to stop foreign jihadists from crossing into Syria, they encouraged sympathisers in the West to remain where they were and perform acts of terrorism.

"When they're ordered to attack, for example, an airport or a supermarket, then they just do it. There will be more attacks. Even if they're collapsing and are weaker now, sleeper cells are awaiting orders," says al-Raqqawi.

Terrorist sect ISIS is one of the groups believed to have carried out chemical warfare attacks in Syria and Iraq. Al-Raqqawi had heard that ISIS was holding chemical weapons, but he has not seen any.

"During the Battle for Kobane, ISIS wanted to bomb Kobane using chemical warfare. The attack was stopped at the last minute. It was Abu Mohammad al-Adnani who stopped it," says al-Raqqawi.

"In the West, they carry out attacks using explosive belts and normal firearms. As far as I know, they don't have access to chemical weapons in the West," says al-Raqqawi.


17 August 2017: The scenes from Drottninggatan are replicated along popular pedestrian esplanade La Rambla in Barcelona. Travelling at high speed, with a terrorist behind the wheel, a van ploughs through the crowds, killing 13 people and injuring 100. ISIS claims responsibility for the attack.

Foto: Quique García / EPA TT

Appeal aimed at doctors

According to al-Raqqawi, ISIS has financed some of its terrorism using proceeds from human organ trafficking and stolen art and antiquities from plundered museums and sacred sites.

During the late summer of 2014, supreme leader of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi encouraged Muslims from around the world to move to the caliphate in Syria and Iraq. His appeal was particularly aimed at doctors.

"We've had doctors from Mauritania, the UK and France. Several of them were surgeons. They carried out plastic surgery on seriously injured ISIS members, but they also dealt with bodies being transported to Turkey," says al-Raqqawi.


What they did not film was valuable antiquities being stolen.


Another major source of income, according to al-Raqqawi, was the trade of antiquities that had been looted from museums and sacred sites.

Footage of ISIS terrorists demolishing thousand-year-old statues with sledgehammers and blowing up sacred sites have been shown around the world.

But according to al-Raqqawi, it was mainly put on for show. What they did not film was valuable antiquities being stolen from museums or dug up in Syria and Iraq, to be sold on the black market.

"They dug up antiquities, mosaics, antique objects and ancient writings. Everything was transported to Turkey and sold on the black market. It was one of ISIS's most important sources of income," says al-Raqqawi.


12 November 2015: Less than 24 hours before the attacks in Paris, two suicide bombers blow themselves up while surrounded by civilians in Bourj al-Barajneh in southern Beirut. At least 41 people are killed in the attacks and ISIS claims responsibility.

Foto: Wael Hamzeh / EPA


MORE TO READ: World-exclusive: ISIS commander on the run tells of the terror inside the terrorist sect


Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi during his time in ISIS.

ISIS had people who were experts in the antique trade, as well as people with a wide network of contacts. Turkey was an important market as a transit country.

"The Moroccans dealt with the antiquities. All antiques dealing was handled by them. They were in Deir al-Zawr, Halabiye and Zalabiye or al-Jisr al-Harbi in Jarabulus, and even in Palmyra and areas of Iraq," says al-Raqqawi.


You were an Emir of the Islamic State, but now you are saying that they are not true Muslims.

"Yes, they're not Muslims."

Nevertheless, you were involved in establishing ISIS and you helped them?

"That's correct. I joined ISIS and stayed with them for a while, but I couldn't protest when they did something that was wrong. All it would have taken is one person testifying against me, that I'd criticised ISIS, and I'd have been slaughtered."

Al-Raqqawi claims that he has not taken part in any executions and that he has not killed anyone.


MORE TO READ: Defecting commander: ISIS is saving its army of children to fight against the West


FACT Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi

Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi was an ISIS commander in Raqqa, Syria. He joined ISIS voluntarily after they seized Raqqa and claimed it as the terrorist organisation's capital three years ago.

He held several high-ranking positions within the Islamic religious police force, al-Hisbah, in Raqqa. Including Emir of ISIS's logistics committee and of a unit within the migration police. He says he was in command of more than 50 men.

Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi claims that, despite being an ISIS commander, he is not responsible for executions or torture. During the interview, however, he does confirm that he attended executions as part of his training in the Sharia camps.

Today he has escaped from Raqqa and is living elsewhere with his four wives. Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi is not his real name, but he has agreed to Expressen publishing photographs of him in connection with the interview.

Translator: Laura Åkerblom