When we think of people who join ISIS, we may envision someone living in the Middle East who is revolting because of poverty or lack of intelligence. This man does not fit any of those typecasts. NBC News interviewed an American man from New York City who had attending a distinguished university, who threw his future away to join the Islamic State.
An anonymous man who asked to be named as “Mo,” appeared on “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” and Dateline’s “On Assignment” to explain how he could leave everything behind and travel to the other side of the world to fight for ISIS.
Mo became entranced by the Islamic State and its promise of a global caliphate through videos and articles. He lived in New York City and attended Columbia University, where tuition is $65,000. Then he used all of his savings to fly to Turkey in June 2014.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who runs the security firm The Soufan Group, said that at that time ISIS had not revealed their monstrous brutality. They were just one of the groups that were vying for power at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War.
“In the spring of 2014, still a lot of people were not convinced that ISIS is a bad terrorist organization,” Soufan said.
Mo knew on the very first night of being a part of ISIS that he had made an egregious mistake. He was introduced to Sharia law, suicide belts and Daesh training camps. He recalls seeing a man being arrested for smoking.
“At one point towards the end as things were getting more and more serious, I did see severed heads placed on spiked poles,” the 27-year-old told NBC News. “Like a lot of things, I just blocked it out.”
By the fall of 2014, he deserted ISIL, fled from Syria and went to the U.S. consulate in Turkey.
“It was a tremendous relief,” Mo said. “When I got to the door of the consulate, I literally just banged on the door and I’m like, ‘Let me in.'”
He was arrested once inside the consulate. He was flown back to the United States where he signed a cooperation agreement and pleaded guilty to two charges: providing material support to a terrorist organization and receiving military training from a terrorist organization, the FBI said. The charges carry between 10 and 25 years in prison, however sentencing is on hold while he assists authorities.
Now Mo is in federal custody and cooperating fully with the U.S. government to take down ISIS. Because of his cooperation, he could get a lighter sentence.
“Mo has provided reliable information about the identities and activities of other ISIS members,” the FBI said in a statement to NBC News.
“I’m helping in every sense that I can to help rid the world of the evil that I saw,” Mo said. “And it’s an arrow in my quiver every time I help.”
Mo wanted his face to be shown during the interview because he wanted to prevent others from joining ISIS and not to listen to the terrorist group’s propaganda.
“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.
“People go because they have something inside them that makes them attracted to these kinds of groups and these kinds of people, Soufan said. So these people are not innocent 100 percent.”
“It’s obviously the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Mo said.
You can see the interview here.
New Jersey Garbage Truck Explosion