Just before ISIS’s offensive into Iraq in June, a number of Western hostages in Syria, mostly journalists, were released from captivity, renewing hope that long-held hostages like Jim and others might yet be freed. Sadly, if it was once difficult to conceive of people capable of such unfathomable cruelty, it is no longer. Yesterday’s guerrillas have given way to terrorists, and now terrorists have given way to this new band, who are something like serial killers. ISIS, an organization of thugs, is the Middle East’s answer to the psycho-killer narco gang Los Zetas, trying to out-bad their enemies, to frighten them into submission, and to somehow draw themselves into an ugly cartoon of evil.
Last week, I met with Faisal Ali Waraabe, a politician in the Justice and Welfare Party, from Somaliland. He is a candidate in next year’s Presidential elections. As a younger man, he was a socialist and a devotee of Che Guevara. Last year, he lost his twenty-two-year-old son Sayid, who was born and raised in Finland, to the dark enticements of ISIS. His son had also persuaded his young, new wife to join him, and the two now live, according to his father, near the town of Raqqa, ISIS’s main urban stronghold in Syria. Faisal showed me a recent video of his son, posted on an ISIS Web site, on his smartphone; it shows a black-turbaned young man mounted on a horse, talking in heavily accented Finnish, and smiling into the camera. Calling himself Abu Shuaib al Somali, Sayid says, “The rule of Sharia will even come to Finland, and if you get called then, alhamdulillah, you’ll enter Jannah”—paradise—“inshallah and Allah will take care of the ones you’ve left behind.” I asked Faisal what he thought of ISIS, and about what his son is doing. He shook his head sadly, raised his hands helplessly in the air, and said, “They are the new barbarians.”