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Druckversion - 'I'm Not a Butcher': An Interview...

07/16/2015 11:22 AM

'I 'm Not a Bu tc h er '

An Interview with Islamic State's Architect of Death

By Christoph Reuter

For on e a n d a h a l f yea r s , Ab u Ab d u l l a h wa s r es p on s i b l e for or ga n i zi n g I s l a mi c

Sta te's s u i c i d e b o mb i n gs i n Ba gh d a d . He i s o n e o f th e or ga n i za on 's r a r e
l ea d i n g gu r es to b e c a ptu r ed a l i ve. SP I EGEL met wi th h i m i n a h i gh -s ec u r i ty
p r i s on i n Ba gh d a d .

The heavy gate slowly opened, but only aer the guards had called in to headquarters to
conrm the identy of the SPIEGEL team and its 10 p.m. appointment. Inside was an
obstacle course of four-meter-high (13 feet) concrete walls with Humvees, equipped with
mounted machine guns, parked at two dierent corners. Only then did the actual prison
gate appear.

The high-security facility is in Baghdad, but its name and exact locaon cannot be
revealed. These were the condions for an interview with its most prominent inmate: a
gaunt man in his late 30s known by his nom de guerre, Abu Abdullah. For one and a half
years, he was the head logiscian for suicide aacks carried out by Islamic State in
Baghdad. Abu Abdullah is one of the few Islamic State leaders to have been taken into
custody alive. Most either blow themselves up or swallow the capsules of poison many of
them carry so as to avoid capture. Or they die in a reght. Being captured alive is not part
of the terror group's plan.

But Abu Abdullah was overpowered so quickly that he had no me to kill himself. He had
been under surveillance for some me before he was arrested in late July 2014, and his
bomb factory, camouaged as an automove garage, was taken intact by the authories.
Surprisingly, the man himself is also talking from prison.

His name repeatedly surfaced during months of research into the leadership structure of
Islamic State. Furthermore, invesgators from the Iraqi police, the secret service of the
Interior Ministry and other ocials all provided details from his tesmony to SPIEGEL.

Those fragments were consistent with the image of Islamic State as an organizaon in
which responsibilies are divided, and even sealed o internally. People only know as
much about its operaons as they need to -- like numerous small gears on a piece of
machinery that can immediately be replaced when they break. Even if they wanted to, most
Islamic State members can provide but lile informaon about its overall structure. Abu
Abdullah, though, occupied a key posion in Baghdad, one vital for the ongoing terror
aacks in the city. He was the one who chose the locaons for the aacks, who equipped
the suicide bombers and who accompanied them up unl shortly before their detonaon.

'Wor ks of Ar t'

We were only allowed to speak with him personally aer Iraqi authories interrogated him

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for several months. The interview had to take place in the evening because of the reduced
trac and, by extension, a lower risk that a suicide bomber might take aim at the prison
gate, as has happened oen in the past. Ocials were also at pains to keep his locaon
and the meline of his movements secret. "Abu Abdullah and other important prisoners
rotate constantly from prison to prison in order to prevent aempts to allow them to
escape," said Captain Safar of the criminal police.

During the administraon of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in parcular,

corrupon was so omnipresent that even the most dangerous Islamic State terrorists
frequently escaped from prison in addion to several mass escapes. Corrupt judges,
policians and police ocers, who accepted bribes from Islamic State, were also a
problem. "At the me, we wanted to have imprisoned terrorists executed as quickly as
possible so as to prevent them from simply walking out of jail," a secret service
invesgator recalls. He says that the situaon has improved under new Prime Minister
Haider al-Abadi and that some of the corrupt ocials have been suspended. They, however,
are challenging their suspensions in courts that have likewise been open to bribery.

According to one of the invesgators, the bale of the Iraqi police and the secret service
against Islamic State is more like war than it is combang crime. Islamic State assailants
blow themselves up in waves, somemes several at a me, in Baghdad -- in mosques, in
marketplaces, in front of checkpoints and restaurants. When invesgators talk about
aack organizers, there is no small element of cynicism in their voices. "They were works
of art," said police captain Safar about the car bombs of a certain Abu Samir. "They were so
sophiscated that they destroyed everything; there was nothing le of the car and nothing
to invesgate how the explosive charge was assembled."

In their eyes, the only reason not to execute arrested Islamic State members is that they can
provide informaon. If they talk, that is, like Abu Abdullah. "He names names, knows
details about suspects, cooperates -- in doses, but sll," said the invesgator. As long as he
speaks, he will not be sentenced to death.

The police and the secret service both insist they didn't use torture to make him confess.
"We had already been following him," said Safar, "and we had videos of his meengs with
people who carried out aacks and other contact people. He cooperated from the start.
Talking with us is his life insurance."

Abu Abdullah also told us he has been treated decently, but it cannot be conrmed. As for
the content of what he says, it corresponds with forensic invesgaons into the explosives
used in aacks. Invesgators believe Abu Abdullah's tesmony is an accurate portrayal of
what he did.

His interrogators describe him as a levelheaded fanac -- one who organized at least one
and a half dozen suicide aacks with hundreds of vicms. He selected the targets and sent
forth bombers with ed suicide vests or car bombs.

Does he regret what he did? "No, not really," said one invesgator, who added that wasn't
really the point. "You can ask him yourself shortly." The interview took place in an empty
cell with the door open and and a police ocer standing watch. When Abu Abdullah was
led in, he wore a brown blindfold that he only removed aer sing down on the cell's
folding chair. For part of the conversaon, he held the blindfold in his handcued hands,

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kneading it as he spoke in monotone, oering up details of the internal, Islamic State

power apparatus.

SP I EGEL: What criteria did you use when selecng the locaons of your aacks?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : It was about hing as many people as possible -- especially police

ocers, soldiers and Shiites.

SP I EGEL: What kind of places were they?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : Police checkpoints, markets, mosques -- but only Shiite ones.

SP I EGEL: Have you regreed killing these people?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : They were indels! Shiites are indels, I was convinced of that.

SP I EGEL: But they are Muslims like you.

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : Which is why they had the opportunity to repent and become Sunni.

SP I EGEL: How many aacks did you organize in total? And where did you get the
explosives for them?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : I can't remember all of them, but in the last quarter of a year before my
arrest, there were 15. For car bombs, we used C4 plasc explosives and explosives out of
arllery shells. But for suicide belts, I mostly drilled open the shells of an-aircra guns,
the eect of the powder was more intense. Then I prepared the belts and vests in dierent

Even late in the evening, it's sll brutally hot, and a fan is raling somewhere in the
hallway. Abu Abdullah wipes the sweat from his forehead with the blindfold. He pauses
briey, then says that he counted again and that it had been 19 aacks in the three months,
not 15. He talks with a calm voice, concentrated and clearly trying not to leave out any

SP I EGEL: How did you select the men who were to blow themselves up?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : I didn't select them. That was the duty of the military planners, who were
above me in the hierarchy. The men were brought to me, most came from Fallujah. I was
only responsible for the last part of the operaon, and that meant preparing the men in my
workshop and then bringing them to the right locaon. I received the person's
measurements in advance from the leadership in order to be able to make a well-ng
belt. But I always had belts in dierent sizes prepared.

SP I EGEL: Were the families of the bombers noed aer their deaths?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : That was not my responsibility either. The person who sends him also
looks aer the family.

SP I EGEL: Where did the men come from?

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Ab u Ab d u l l a h : Most of them came from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, about one-in-10
was Iraqi. And there were two Westerners, one Australian and a German, Abu al-Qaqa al-

Ahmet C. from Ennepetal, North Rhine-Westphalia, a 21-year-old German of Turkish

descent, fought for Islamic State under this name. In the space of just a few months, the
high school student had changed radically. He handed out the Koran in pedestrian zones of
German cies and then traveled to Syria via Turkey. From there he was brought by Islamic
State into Iraq. He carried out one of the at least ve aacks that hit police and army
checkpoints, among other targets, on July 19, 2014. "Two knights of Islam and heroes of the
caliphate were launched," read an IS proclamaon about him and another suicide bomber,
as though they themselves were weapons.

SP I EGEL: The German bomber spoke no Arabic, and you don't speak any English. How did
you communicate?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : He understood a few words, but we mostly used gestures. It was my

shortest operaon; the place in which I picked him up was close to the detonaon site. He
was in Baghdad for the rst me in his life, and 45 minutes later he was dead. I thought:
Now even people from Germany are coming here in order to blow themselves up. It gave me
a feeling of exhilaraon to meet a Chrisan who converted to Islam and sacriced himself.
I felt close to him, because I also only found the true faith later in life.

Abu Abdullah is mistaken, Ahmet C. had not been a Chrisan. He was a German Muslim.
Abu Abdullah himself converted from Shiite to Sunni at the age of 16 or 17, aer being
recruited by a preacher. He came from an old Shiite family in Baghdad and is related to a
leader of the radical Shiite Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq milia, the so-called League of the Righteous,
that for years perpetrated aacks on US troops in Iraq. Today, the group ghts against
Islamic State on several fronts.

SP I EGEL: Did any of the men you accompanied have doubts about their mission?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : No, then they would have failed to carry them out. They were prepared for
their assignments for a long me. When they came to me, they were calm, somemes even
joyful. When they put on the belt they would say, for example, "Fits well!" Abu Mohsen
Qasimi, a young Syrian, was sll making jokes two minutes before his deployment, and
then, when he drove o by himself, he bid a friendly farewell. With one young Saudi
Arabian, I was wondering how we could inconspicuously change spots, because I was
sing behind the wheel at rst. We pretended to have car trouble, both got out and then
pushed the vehicle for a bit. Nobody noced anything. We both laughed.

SP I EGEL: You are blushing as you relate that story. Apparently these are pleasant
memories. Would you do everything over again?

This is the only moment in the one-and-a-half hour conversaon when Abu Abdullah
inches. He turns pale, as though he had been caught red-handed. Then he says that he
cannot answer the queson.

SP I EGEL: Didn't the steady stream of new visitors to your auto repair shop aract

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Ab u Ab d u l l a h : We made sure that they looked like normal young men, no full beard, a
T-shirt, combed and gelled hair. I had a team of drivers; mines could also be picked up at
my shop, though I wasn't directly responsible for them. Just for the belts of the men who
blew themselves up.

SP I EGEL: How old were the bombers?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : The youngest was 21, the oldest around 30.

The power cuts out, and the cell is thrown into darkness unl the mobile phones belonging
to the photographer and the guards oer a pale light. Even in a high-security prison, the
electricity frequently goes out for several minutes. Abu Abdullah connues talking.

SP I EGEL: How did you become the head logiscian in Baghdad?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : I was selected by Islamic State's military planners. And I quickly proved

that I can do it. I wasn't simply a follower, I was a planner, a thinker.

SP I EGEL: And you knew your way around Baghdad quite well.

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : Yes, this here is my city. I was born here.

SP I EGEL: What is your earliest memory of Baghdad?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : When I was a kid I frequently went to the Saura Park, the Baghdad zoo,
with my parents on weekends. My father oen bought me an ice cream. Somemes we also
went to the markets of Shorjah.

SP I EGEL: Are they good memories?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : Yes, it was nice.

SP I EGEL: How can you indiscriminately kill people in your own city? Did you avoid places
that you had personal memories of?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : No, absolutely not! That played no role whatsoever. I didn't do it because I

am bloodthirsty. It was jihad. I thought, at some point these Shiites would convert or leave
the city. I'm not a butcher. I was carrying out a plan.

SP I EGEL: But the plan never worked, no maer how many people died. It just amplied the

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : I thought that people who experienced an explosion would start to think

and that they would be afraid...

SP I EGEL: Yet it didn't work.

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : That didn't maer. My idea was to connue unl all of them converted. Or
emigrated. It didn't maer when. It didn't maer!

His voice takes on the agitated tone of someone who must repeatedly explain a simple
concept to a fool.

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SP I EGEL: Would you have blown yourself up too?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : I've never thought about it. It wasn't my job. I was chosen to plan the
operaons, not to carry them out myself. I was a coordinator, not an executor.

SP I EGEL: How do you see your future?

Ab u Ab d u l l a h : It's uncertain.



Rel a ted SP I EGEL O NLI NE l i n ks :

Photo Gallery: Islamic State's Baghdad Bomb Czar

Relentless Terror: The Everyday Horrors of the Islamic State (07/01/2015)
Emrah and his Brothers: Germany's Struggle for the Soul of Returning Islamists (05/20
Interview with Iranian Foreign Minister: 'We Will Have Dierences with US No Maer
What' (05/16/2015)
The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State (04/18/2015)
Interview with Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Abadi: 'The Liberaon of Tikrit Is Very Encouraging'


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