Italian journalist Gabriele del Grande risked everything to write his narrative inquiry on ISIL, titled "Dawla – The story of the Islamic State told by its deserters," that was just released in Italian bookshops.
He was arrested in Turkey in April last year where he was travelling to find material for his book in the southeast province of Hatay. Del Grande spent two weeks in a Turkish prison without knowing what exactly he was accused of and started a hunger strike to demand his freedom.
As research for the book, del Grande did 66 interviews and recorded 200 hours of conversation, in Arabic, with former intelligence and army officers, former political prisoners, smugglers, activists, Arabs, Kurds, Shiites, Christians, and Alawites, Syrian and Iraqi journalists, displaced persons of war and ordinary people.
Del Grande’s book, which was financed through a Crowdfunding campaign that raised almost €50,000, tells the unprecedented story of three renegades and a political prisoner of ISIL, shining a light on how the organisation works.
The journalist wrote in the book’s introduction that in hindsight, the two weeks he spent behind bars in a Turkish prison helped him in his research because “it is easy to judge from the outside,” as a Syrian partisan in Aleppo once told him.
Euronews interviewed Del Grande about his book.
How and why does someone become an ISIL soldier?
"The protagonist of the book is a boy who initially protests peacefully against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and is then arrested, loses one of his best friends in prison through torture, and once out, decides that the only possible means of achieving dignity, justice and freedom is through the 'armed struggle'. Initially, he signs up with the Free Syrian Army brigades. Then he finds out about corruption within these brigades and finds an ideal of purity, a kind of utopia, in the Islamist ideology of the Islamic State. That is the problem — as long oppression and injustice prevail in these countries and until the moment where there isn't a revolutionary ideology, these ideas will continue to fascinate an oppressed generation."
"ISIL won’t cease to exist until you kill its secret service," said del Grande.
"The Islamic State has not been defeated, it has simply withdrawn from its strongholds. Chaos and war situations are always favourable for this type of organisation to creep back out. It is an organisation that in recent years has accumulated a lot of capital and many weapons. There are still many affiliates holding the real power linked to the security structure of this organisation."
ISIL intelligence is organised into three levels:
1) Internal security, which is essentially concerned with anti-espionage. They identify infiltrators by foreign secret services.
2) External security works like intelligence agencies in foreign countries — it collects information abroad about the enemy.
3) Secret security is made up of agents beyond suspicion who travel with European passports and often European citizens. They wander around between the Gulf, Turkey and Europe with the objective of identifying and planning attacks that are later carried out by young boys, sometimes recruited directly in Paris or in Belgium. These boys don't know the chain of command, they act as simple performers; by ending the operation with their death they leave no witnesses behind.