Is ISIS oversubscribed

An ex-jihadist unwraps

Shocked by Asad's atrocities, Kevin sought contact with the Syrian resistance via Facebook in 2013. Weeks later he is in Aleppo. "It is my duty as a Muslim to be here," he told his parents in Switzerland. But then Kevin suspects what he's got into.

Five days have passed since Kevin parked his car at Lyon Airport. Now the young French-speaking Swiss, whose real name is different, is standing in an abandoned property around 40 kilometers south of Aleppo and has to make a decision. "Do you want to die or fight as a suicide bomber?" If he chooses the first option, he will be quartered on the first floor and may spend the days leading up to the deployment as a living bomb with prayer. If he chooses the fight, he comes to one of the upper floors and is trained on the weapon. Kevin chooses option two, he doesn't want to die. At night he lies on the cold room floor in this shabby villa in a civil war country, which he only knew a few years ago where it was. The noise of battle reaches his ear from afar. It is December 24th, 2013. Kevin's gaze falls on the sleeping jihad contenders around him. Did they all travel to Syria to give their lives here? He feels panic seizing him. He knows: he has made the worst mistake of his life.

Kevin's gaze falls on the sleeping jihad contenders around him. Did they all travel to Syria to give their lives here?

Kevin was 29 years old when he left family, friends and job to fight alongside the jihadists against the Syrian ruler Bashar al-Asad. The father is a respected personality in the canton, Kevin describes his family environment as loving, secular and cosmopolitan. He is the first born of two sons, his brother has always brought home better grades. After school, Kevin takes on various apprenticeships and drops them off again. He does not have a degree. He works in the social field, his great passion is photography: He wants to be a war reporter.

He has long been attracted to Islam, which he got to know while traveling to the Middle East and North Africa. For a long time he hesitated to convert because he likes men. Homosexuality is considered a deadly sin in Islam. In the spring of 2013 he believed he had overcome this tendency and made the creed in the mosque: "There is no god but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God." He is automatically forgiven for his past misconduct. In the summer he experiences his first Ramadan on a trip to Egypt and Jerusalem and is delighted: Everywhere fellow believers, improvised food stalls, willingness to help.

"You won't go through with that anyway"

Back in Switzerland, Kevin has a stupid accident. He injured himself in a friendly fight with a buddy, fell on the edge of a sidewalk and broke the neck of his thigh. One week in hospital, then crutches, three months inability to work. He spends a lot of time on the computer and begins to be interested in the war in Syria. He is deeply shocked that Asad is believed to be responsible for the poison gas attacks on his own people. Kevin decides to travel to the conflict area to capture the suffering of the civilian population with the camera. He uses Facebook to contact people who initially pretend to be sympathizers of the Free Syrian Army. Only later do they reveal their true colors. You are ready to escort him. He thinks: "Wow, it works like clockwork." One of his chat partners is particularly accommodating. It is a French man from Thonon with the code name Abu al-Hassan, responsible for the recruitment of more than a hundred French-speaking jihad travelers.

Within a few weeks, Hassan manages to dissuade Kevin from his original plan. At first he showed great interest in the photo report. He later writes that Kevin is being trained on the weapon, of course only for self-defense. Then he asks whether Kevin, being a Muslim, is not being discriminated against in a Christian country. In Syria he could live his religion freely. Finally, he writes that every Muslim has a duty to take part in jihad.

At some point, Kevin agrees. It is now mid-December and Christmas is in the air. Hassan warns that he shouldn't talk to anyone about his departure. Kevin doesn't quite keep his word. He tells a friend about the photo project and skips the jihad thing. But he only says: "You won't go through with that anyway." Kevin wants to leave in the spring as soon as his hip has healed. Hassan thwarted his plans again. The Turkish-Syrian border could be closed soon, he said. In addition, two young French are ready to leave. He could organize a tractor for all three.

Kevin hurries on foot across a stubble field towards the Syrian border. It is the night before Christmas Eve. He flew from Lyon to Istanbul and on to Hatay in eastern Turkey. From there we took a taxi to Reyhanli - an unadorned small town through which all French-speaking jihad travelers were smuggled at the time. Informers picked up Kevin and his companions after dark in a dump called Hotel Kent and dropped them off in no man's land. Kevin gasps and limps. His injured hip hurts when walking. You descend an embankment, cross a watercourse with a self-made raft - and you are in Syria. Jihadists with Kalashnikovs slung around their necks take them in their arms: "Welcome, brothers, Allah is great, welcome home!" Kevin ended up with the self-proclaimed warriors of God of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), the forerunner organization of the Islamic State.

The group spends the rest of the night in a small house in a hilly landscape that reminds Kevin of the Jura. From here he calls his parents for the first time: “I'm in Syria. I am sorry for you, but it is my duty as a Muslim to be here. " The father swallows and says: “It is incredibly difficult for us. But you should know that we will always be there for you. " The next day they continue to the southeast, with checkpoints, beards, weapons everywhere. Before he is quartered in the abandoned villa, Kevin has to hand in his cell phone, computer, passport, camera and even the tripod. Bye-bye, photo project. His radio, which he packed at the last moment, is also confiscated. It will be his undoing later.

His radio that he packed is also confiscated. It will be his undoing later.

Everyday life in the training camp is monotonous: getting up, praying, jogging, eating, praying, sleeping. In between they have to keep watch, take apart their rifles, clean them and put them back together again. Almost like in the RS - only that nobody knows about weapons here. One day someone was fiddling with a hand grenade. He wants to show how the ignition mechanism works, but gets tangled up in the process. "I hope the guy knows how this thing works," Kevin thinks to himself. Right from the start he begs to be let go. He exaggerates his health problems and promises to be cared for in Switzerland and then come back. While jogging in the morning, he hobbles behind the others. Then a sore throat and fever set in. He feels miserable.

Finally, at the beginning of January, the redeeming news: Kevin is allowed to leave the camp and take a rest in a house on the outskirts. Let me go, he asks. "Impossible," is the answer. They are surrounded by skirmishes. The jihadists are no longer just fighting against Asad, they are also fighting for power within the opposition. One reads of bloody clashes between Isis and the other offshoot of Al Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra; one hears of attacks by the Free Syrian Army, which is increasingly losing influence, and new alliances of individual rebel groups. In the north-east of the country, the Kurds are taking up positions, while the Syria emissary of the UN and the Arab League is trying to bring the conflicting parties to the negotiating table in Geneva.

The more lush the beard, the greater the prestige

In southern Aleppo, Kevin has long conversations with a 22-year-old Canadian jihad traveler named John Maguire, who will later call for attacks in North America in IS propaganda videos. Maguire tells Kevin about his previous life, about women, sex and alcohol, about his enlightenment through Allah. And he confides in Kevin that he is ashamed of his weak beard. The more luscious the beard, the greater the reputation among the warriors of God. Maguire's cheeks are as smooth as a 10-year-old boy. Once, Kevin accompanies Maguire to a checkpoint. They duck behind a wall at a crossroads, shooting is going on around them. Despite the fear, Kevin thinks to himself: "If only I had my camera with me now."

One day suddenly it is said that an attack is imminent. They quickly pack their things, and Kevin gets into a truck with the rest of the residents. They are about to drive off when they are shot at from the air. Kevin can see the outline of the bomber. A bullet pierced the walls of the truck just five feet above his head. Had he stood upright he would be dead today. They are on the road for three nights, a convoy of over a hundred vehicles. The jihadists are leaving the Aleppo area and retreating to their stronghold of Raqqa. On June 29, 2014, they will proclaim the establishment of the caliphate and rename themselves IS.

A bullet pierced the walls of the truck above his head. Had he stood upright, he would be dead today.

The world public is still hoping that Isis is an insignificant splinter group among the opponents of the regime that can be neutralized immediately. It is now mid-January. For the second time, Kevin is told that he is allowed to leave. Again he says goodbye and gets his things back. One of his traveling companions asks him to leave the radio there. "It brings us more than you do." Kevin agrees. He is about to explain how the device works when suddenly one of the bearded people pounces on him. Seconds later, Kevin is lying in the dust with his hands tied, the barrel of a loaded Kalashnikov above him. The allegation is that he is an American spy. Kevin is pushed, beaten and kicked for hours; in his memory there is only a black hole.

His interrogation was conducted by a man who would achieve notoriety a year and a half later: Najim Laachraoui, member of the Isis secret service and one of the masterminds behind the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015. Injurious material was found on his computer, says Laachraoui. He is not only a traitor, but also homosexual. The fear tightens Kevin's throat. He says he's no longer into men. "These are sins from the past." "We'll see," says Laachraoui, "describe your dream woman to me!" Inner values ​​are more important to him, says Kevin. "Don't be shy," Laachraoui asked, "what does she look like?" She should be slim and have long, brown hair. "Which eye color?" He likes green eyes, says Kevin. Laachraoui laughs. "But you have claims!"

There is bread and jam with maggots

Kevin is put in a tiny cell with a light bulb burning day and night. Two weeks later he is housed with around ten other prisoners in a converted classroom. To eat there is flatbread, rice and apricot jam, which is interspersed with maggots. On his 30th birthday, Kevin pounds on the cell door in desperation. "When will I get out of here?" He shouldn't line up like that, said Laachraoui, he'd been sitting in Belgium much longer. After 47 days, Kevin is brought before a judge, an Algerian jihadist translates for him from Arabic to French. Kevin again protests his innocence. "Do not worry, you will soon be free," it said after the questioning. "When is soon?" Kevin wants to know. "You'll be out in a week."

For the second time in three months, Kevin crosses the Syrian-Turkish border in the middle of the night. We are now on March 14, 2014. A jeep has dropped him again in no man's land - around 300 kilometers east of where Kevin entered in December. There are also two Turkish teenagers who traveled to jihad during the holidays and are now back to school. The border consists of a barbed wire fence that can be easily held up. At the last moment, the smugglers give him all of his confiscated material: computer, cell phone, money, passport and photo bag. Even the radio with which he is said to have communicated with the Americans is pressed into his hand. Kevin barely makes any headway, his rucksacks together weigh over 30 kilograms. He decides to leave all his clothes and the pharmacy behind, he hurries on. He has long since lost touch with his companions in the dark.

Suddenly he sees a ray of light in the distance, recognizes the outline of a car. As he gets closer, he sees a group of border guards warming themselves by a fire. He runs off, screams loudly: "Help me, help me!" Kevin talks wildly and gets tangled up. In between he is shaken by fits of crying. The soldiers hardly understand a word of what the emaciated young man is saying. They give him tea, then they drive him to the barracks.

Kevin is shown in front of the commanders and the field doctor, then it goes on to the military police. Hours later he suddenly finds himself alone in a room. It is now three in the morning. He logs into Facebook and looks at what people have posted. Then Kevin calls the friend who didn't believe him back then that he would travel to the Syrian war zone. "Do your parents already know?" He asks. "No, it's the middle of the night." That doesn't give a shit now. Again it is the father who picks up the phone. "I'm sorry," stammered Kevin. "The main thing is that you live," says the father.

If he is asked today how he celebrated his 30th birthday, Kevin always says he has been traveling. Very few want to know more precisely.

When Kevin got off the plane in Geneva on March 16, 2014, not only his parents, but also the Federal Prosecutor's Office and the Federal Police were waiting for him. Kevin is the first jihad returner for Switzerland. He is detained at the airport for a night and a half, then he is allowed to go home under certain conditions. Eight months later, the federal prosecutor's office sentenced him to 600 hours of community service for membership in a criminal organization and for performing foreign military service. Among other things, he has to undergo psychotherapy as a condition of probation. He, who wanted to bring home pictures from the war, also had to produce a photo report on the subject of peace.

If he is asked by chance how he celebrated his 30th birthday, Kevin always says he has been traveling. Very few want to know more precisely.