From a neighborhoods in Britain’s Birmingham to al-Haramiyeh neighborhood in Syria’s Raqqa, then finally to al-Baghouz, the Islamic State’s (ISIS) last bastion in Deir ez-Zor, northeastern Syria, the Belgian jihadi of Moroccan descent traveled with his wife Julie Mice, and their four children, whom he knows nothing about since he surrendered within the second batch of the group's jihadists in al-Baghouz in March.
Anwar Haddouchi, 35 years old, also known as “Abu Suleiman al-Balgiki”, smiles whenever someone tells him that he is known in the media as the "executioner of ISIS". He is one of the thousands of foreign detainees in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) high-security detention center, of which its media center allowed North-Press to meet him in a detention center in Hasakah, northeastern Syria.
Anwar Haddouchi studied accounting and worked as a taxi driver in Birmingham, where he arrived in 2009 after leaving his homeland Belgium and his divided family because of his parents' divorce. He was a breakdance dancer before his commitment to Islam.
Haddouchi was not an executioner this time but was like any prisoner hit by shrapnel in a prison, telling stories of his fighting alongside ISIS, he was an ordinary person with normal clothes and natural features. ISIS executioner was just a detainee this time, no more no less.
An imagined executioner
"I was nothing”, Haddouchi said, smiling every time he's reminded that he was an "ISIS executioner” as if he was mocking all the accusations against him and that they are "unfounded and groundless”, according to him. He rejected the accusations by the Belgian press that he had beheaded about 100 people in Raqqa by saying, "I understand the Belgian government, as it has the right to ask and investigate, but to accuse me in this way? No, there must be justice and fairness”. "I don't want to be called an executioner, or that I've killed women or children”, he said.
Expressing his comfort regarding this matter as he claimed that he is "uninvolved”, and that if he had ever wanted to do such heinous acts, he would have done it in Europe. “How did they recognize the executioner; did they see him in a video?" He wondered and asked about the evidence which proves him to be the one, pointing out that all the charges against him have taken place once he was sent some money.
Haddouchi is accused of financing suicide bombings and attacks that hit Paris (November 13, 2015) and Brussels (March 22, 2016), which killed more than 160 people.
"Might became al-Baghdadi"
Haddouchi, who appears for the first time in a video interview after seven months of prison life, links between being accused an executioner by the transfer of money from Britain, which he considered as the main reason for those charges against him.
Haddouchi admits that he had received an amount of €3,000 by a money transfer office in Raqqa, after he asked for help from his friend Mohamed in Britain, to send some of his money in his bank account, to support his family, he claimed.
However, the jihadist tried to simplify the matter by saying that "all that happened was the result of the money I had requested to live in the group’s territories, as I heard that this money was used in terrorist acts”, denying his acquaintance of anything related to “Mohamed Abrini”, one of the masterminds of Brussels and Paris terrorist attacks, or even how did the money reach him.
The money transfer office in Raqqa, from which Haddouchi did receive the money, was owned by a civilian, he thought that he would receive the money naturally like everyone else and other foreigners.
"I might be al-Baghdadi”, he said angrily pressing both hands against one another, when he revealed that all the charges against him stemmed from his request for money, claiming that it is nonsense and illogical for an organization like ISIS to be in need for his money, for the sake of financing terrorist acts.
Mohamed, the one who sent money to Haddouchi, was a gardener at his own house in Birmingham, and he met his friend's request to help him, according to him. He is now in a Belgian prison for sending money to Haddouchi, who confessed to implicating his friend.
Between ISIS and Turkey
Haddouchi traveled through Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to Adana airport, southern Turkey, with his wife and two friends, in 2014. He went to Gaziantep after contacting a smuggler who got them crossed the borders on the same day into Syria, to begin his three-week Sharia course, he said.
He claimed that he had worked in a registration office for Syrian civilians who crossed the Turkish-Syrian borders in the city of Tal Abyad after the group apportioned its smugglers to control the smuggling of "wealth", as he said, at a time ISIS was advancing in the eastern and southern villages of Kobani.
Syrian civilians were required to show their identity papers in order to be given a number, and be sent to a smuggler who would take the children and women registered by Haddouchi into Turkey, who said that this route was forbidden to “al-Muhajireen” (foreign jihadis), fearing that they would be spies for intelligence services among them.
While the escaping "lands of the caliphate" was not difficult, according to Haddouchi, the group was in control of vast border areas, which was facilitating smuggling out, citing an example of his two friends' escape (he refused to mention their names) and returned to Belgium.
Life inside ISIS territories
Haddouchi's presence in Tal Abyad didn't last long until he went to Raqqa after ISIS emptied the headquarters, where the US-led Global Coalition officially started the war against them. He worked in Raqqa, as he claimed, to revise and correct the mistakes in the recorded recitations of the Quran, describing himself as coming to Syria on a "visit" and not as for "jihad". According to him, ISIS wasn't interfering in his affairs, to gradually withdraw with the group remaining forces, little by little, to al-Baghouz.
He described life in the Islamic State group's territories as "normal”, for instance, he was going with his family to buy the needs of the house, saying that he witnessed only one execution process of an Iraqi police officer in al-Dallah square in the city of Raqqa.
While responding to North-Press's questions, Haddouchi was pressing his hands hard to say, "I didn't want to be a jihadist, I just wanted to emigrate”, saying that he would never return to the Islamic State for any reason, considering himself as "imprisoned", when he was in the group’s territories.
He didn’t expect ISIS to be able to rise again, because it has lost its popularity as a result of "injustice, and the desire of all people to return to their homes”.
Haddouchi attributed his arrival to Syria to the role of media of persuading him at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, as the Islamic State emerged on which Haddouchi researched before joining to discover the presence of schools and police, where he expected to be good signs.
He classified himself into a category, called "Scientific Salafist”, a branch of Salafi movement, a moderate, peaceful faction with a scientific and preaching thesis mainly to teach people all things about Islam, or in short, they are scholars or students of science whose advocates focus their efforts on seeking knowledge to achieve the doctrine of monotheism, according to him.
Haddouchi affirmed his lack of contact with other members of the group, the "Salafi-jihadi" group, stressing that what motivated him to join ISIS is not even the curriculum or faith, but the enthusiasm to see the "lands of the caliphate", which he then regretted to come to.
The Belgian jihadist repeated his remorse once again, by saying “when you reach the lands of the caliphate you are deceived by beautiful propaganda, only to find out later that what you lived wasn't as claimed”.
"The caliphate was not good, you don’t need a long time to find out”, he stressed, referring to the different ideological orientations of the organization. "In some respects, the organization applied Islamic law, and in some others, it didn't”.
When North-Press reporter showed him pictures of his house in Birmingham and a picture of him and his child, Haddouchi showed no reaction. He just explained when the photo was taken, by saying: “Did this house also become a terrorist?"
The Belgian jihadi concluded his lengthy talk which contradicted all the charges against him while asking to be trialed in Belgium, which he considered as a place for human rights.