An American man who joined ISIS has come forward to give interviews for the first time, describing how he was recruited by the notorious terror group, telling why he left, and how he’s now helping the FBI.
It is the first-ever U.S. television interview with an American-born ISIS defector. The 27-year-old New York Man, who asked to be identified only as “Mo,” lasted only five months in the terrorist organization before deciding to flee to Turkey and turning himself in at the U.S. consulate there.
“At one point towards the end as things were getting more and more serious, I did see severed heads placed on spiked poles,” Mo said in an exclusive interview with NBC News, recalling the moment he decided to needed to leave. “Like a lot of things, I just blocked it out.”
Mo told Richard Engel of NBC that he was indoctrinated through the internet in 2014 while he was a student at elite Columbia University. He was raised in a Muslim family, but his upbringing was not strict or fundamentalist. He was lured to leave the United States for Syria through the promise of spreading Islam and helping to create a pure Islamic State.
“In a course called Muslims in Diaspora, he watched the controversial Dutch film ‘Submission,’ which depicts a woman in a sheer burqa with passages from the Koran written on her nude body. The man, who is being identified only as Mo, told NBC News that he found the video ‘really humiliating’ and he turned to the Internet for answers to his questions about Islam.”
He became enthralled with Islamic State propaganda videos and articles he found online and their promise of establishing a global caliphate. After the FBI showed up to discuss his online activities, he dropped out of university and used his personal savings to travel to Turkey in June 2014, where he crossed into Syria. Soon, he joined the Islamic militant organization and witnessed firsthand the brutal regime of ISIS. Mo attended an ISIS training camp where recruits were indoctrinated with the group’s version of Sharia law and trained in basic military tactics. He soon realized he’d made a terrible mistake, according to The Week.
“Mo told Engel his fellow recruits had ‘madness’ in their eyes, and he was horrified to see severed heads on poles. When one ISIS member brought in a suicide vest, trainees were ‘in awe of it,’ Mo said, and ran up to get a closer look.”
He then went on to see appalling violence in intimidation under the Islamic State regime – in one story, he saw a civilian arrested in the street just for smoking. The final straw came when he witnessed brutal mass executions straight out of the Middle Ages.
“The Islamic State is not bringing Islam to the world, and people need to know that. And I’ll say that…till the day I die,” he said to NBC’s Engel.
In the fall of 2014, Mo decided to make a dangerous escape from the so-called caliphate. He fled Syria into Turkey and was arrested at the U.S. consulate. An employee at the consulate contacted the FBI, and federal prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant. He was detained and eventually brought back to the United States. Mo immediately agreed to cooperate with federal authorities and wants to share his story in the hopes he may deter others from joining ISIS. Not surprisingly, he told NBC that joining the Islamic State was “the worst decision” he ever made.
“It’s obviously the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life,” he told NBC. “I’m helping in every sense that I can to help rid the world of the evil that I saw. And it’s an arrow in my quiver every time I help.”
Mo is currently in federal custody. He pleaded guilty to two charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization and receiving military training from a terrorist organization and is facing 15 to 25 years in jail. He decided to cooperate with authorities and become a witness for the FBI.
“I’ve let my family down. I’ve let my nation down and I’ve let God down and I have a lot to make up for,” Mo said to NBC.
For the past year and a half, he has been working with the U.S. government, providing intelligence on combating terrorism.
[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]