El Shafee Elsheikh, a member of the British ISIS cell known as the "Beatles," which became notorious for its beheading videos of foreign hostages, gave an interview to journalist Jenan Moussa of Alaan TV from his cell. Elsheikh, who refused to answer questions regarding the charges against him, citing the "ongoing legal process," said that he did not agree with everything ISIS did. When pressed by Moussa as to what things he opposed, he responded: "Traffic tickets... such things that have no basis in the law of Allah." With regard to the enslavement of Yazidi women, Elsheikh said: "I don't denounce slavery... Just because America decided to abolish something... It does not mean that every person has to run behind America and say: This is now an abominable act." He further said that he decided to travel to Syria because of the oppression of Muslims worldwide. "Every environment has corruption, but nothing beats the West," he said. The Sudanese-born Elsheikh, who was raised in London, is being held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces since his capture in January in eastern Syria, along with another member of the ISIS cell.
Jenan Moussa: "I want to start by asking about your time here in Kurdish jail. You've been arrested since January. Can you tell us a little bit [about] how you have been treated since then?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Fine. Not bad."
Jenan Moussa: "Can you describe a little bit your life in jail, what are you doing, what kind of jail is it, who are you with?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "It's just like any other jail. You eat, you sleep. You wait to be interrogated."
Jenan Moussa: "Can you tell us what kind of interrogation are you going through, who is investigating you, and talk a little bit about that?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "American government, SDF officials. That's it. No British people."
Jenan Moussa: "How many hours a day, how many times have you been interrogated? And have you been offered any kind of deal?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "No. I have been offered no deals."
Jenan Moussa: "How is the interrogation going?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I think it's finished, maybe. I haven't been interrogated for some days now. Before it was the Department of Defense, they were okay. Some of them were some respectable people. Then they brought some less respectable people. Then they brought the FBI, who are the least respectable out of the bunch. That's it."
Jenan Moussa: "I want to talk about the Beatles now."
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I don't listen to music, so I'd rather not speak about a rock band."
Jenan Moussa: "You don't listen to any music? Rolling Stones maybe?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "No. No music."
Jenan Moussa: "When was the first time that you heard that you guys were called 'The Beatles?'"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Sometime in Raqqa I saw a news report."
Jenan Moussa: "How was your response to that?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "John Lennon wouldn't like it much."
Jenan Moussa: "Sorry?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I don't think John Lennon would like it much."
Jenan Moussa: "Did you see it on TV? Did you read it in the paper? How did you come across it?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I don't remember. It's not a significant part of my life. It's just some media blabber that some fool has said. That's it."
Jenan Moussa: "Which name were you given?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I don't even know."
Jenan Moussa: "You don't know or you don't want to say?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I don't know."
Jenan Moussa: "Former hostages have said that you personally have beaten them, and you've waterboarded them, and you've even carried out mock executions. There are witnesses who are still alive, and they say that about you. What do you want to say to that?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I say that there's an ongoing legal process, and when they decide to get along with it, then we can talk about any accusations made against me or anyone else. So I just want to make a clear distinction between being part of an organization or a state or group and agreeing with everything they do."
Jenan Moussa: "So what are the things you didn't agree to?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "What are the things I didn't agree to? Traffic tickets, such things that have no basis in the law of Allah."
Jenan Moussa: "Did you agree to the enslavement of Yazidi women?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I never met a Yazidi woman, so..."
Jenan Moussa: "No, but the practice. Did you agree with that practice or do you denounce it now on camera?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Do I denounce what, slavery? I don't denounce slavery, no. You have to understand that just because America decided to abolish something – I don't know what year it was – anyways, does not mean that every person has to run behind America and say: 'This is now an abominable act that nobody can do.' The reality is that slavery is something that's been around as long as it's, as long as humans have been around. Islamic texts have spoken about slavery and the rights of the slave, and there's a whole jurisprudence about slavery and the rights of slaves and the rights of slaveowners."
Jenan Moussa: "So did you like your time in Raqqa? You don't want to say what you did with ISIS. Can you tell us a little bit about your stay in Raqqa? What kind of people did you meet, what kind of things were you... What were you doing during your time there?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Life in Raqqa is like life anywhere else. It's normal. You do normal stuff."
Jenan Moussa: "Like what?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Like everything that normal people do. They go to the gym. They eat in restaurants. They play in the park with their kids. Life in Raqqa is like life anywhere else."
Jenan Moussa: "Looking back, when you sit with yourself and you remember your time, are you proud, are you regretful, are you... How do you feel about it?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Again, it's not the... doesn't concern anybody but myself. I reserve anything about my time in ISIS for the legal process."
Jenan Moussa: "The foreign hostages that were taken by ISIS, did they get a fair trial?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Like I said, anything regarding any accusations about me, I reserve for the legal process."
Jenan Moussa: "But you saw that journalists were killed, you saw that a pilot was burned, you saw that aid workers were killed, do you think that they got a fair trial to get that kind of punishment?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Do you think they got a fair trial?"
Jenan Moussa: "I'm asking you."
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I'm asking you. Do you think they got a fair trial?"
Jenan Moussa: "You were part of ISIS. I wasn't. So you being part of that group, seeing what that group is doing, and you are part of it, do you agree? Do you think that's a fair treatment to them?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Just because I was part of ISIS doesn't mean I know whether people had legal... fair legal trials or not. I'm just as in the dark as you about that."
Jenan Moussa: "When you saw the videos that ISIS produced and they showed the beheadings and the killings, were you against that, and did you say anything about it? Did you express your opinion that you were against it?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I personally don't like to watch such videos."
Jenan Moussa: "So you have never seen these videos?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "No, I've come across them. But I personally don't like to watch them. It's not something I enjoy seeing."
Jenan Moussa: "Why did you join ISIS? Why did you leave Britain and come to Syria to join ISIS?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "I wasn't always a Muslim in the UK. I wasn't always a practicing Muslim. So when I started to practice Islam, I automatically realized that there's obligation upon you, in the light of other Muslims in the world, they don't have the privilege of growing up in the West, never needing as much. You feel an obligation to do something for people who are oppressed. And in 2011 or 2012 there was no place that needed any help more than Syria. So I came to Syria."
Jenan Moussa: "Who did you contact? How did you get here? Did you just get on a plane and come yourself? Or did you call somebody in Britain? Did you call a certain imam? Were you influenced by a certain imam? Can you tell me more about... No, I'm really interested in knowing what really went through your head and why would a guy who is living in Britain... I mean you see most Syrians, they want to go to Europe, they want to leave the country because of the war, while you made the trip in the opposite direction. So please tell me why would you do that?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "Syrians, they want to go to Europe because they don't know the realities of Europe. They don't understand that people who come from Europe to the countryside of Aleppo, they're jealous of the life that they live. They're self-sufficient, they keep close to their families, there's not as much evil and corruption in their societies. But they look at buildings and opportunities and money, and they want to go over there. And they end up breaking ties with their families, learning corruption, moving in an opposite direction. So the people here want to go over there because they don't know the realities of living in that corrupt environment. Every environment has corruption, but nothing beats the West. I didn't contact no imam, I didn't contact anybody. I just knew some people who were already here. I arranged with them and I came."
Jenan Moussa: "You keep on speaking about your own rights, about getting a fair trial. Don't I have the right to ask you about giving fair trials to others when you were in charge?"
El Shafee Elsheikh: "You need to be unbiased in how you conduct your interview, and you need to differentiate between individuals and organizations. That's what you need to do. Because I didn't burn anybody, nor did I give anybody a trial, nor did I chop anybody's head off, so... That's an accusation. That's an accusation that needs to be proved."
Jenan Moussa: "You know that none of this is on video, I mean you made sure that none of this is documented, because you know if there is no visual evidence, you might get away with it."
El Shafee Elsheikh: "So am I going for a trial right now? Are you, like, putting me on trial in front of the Arab world? Telling me why and how I covered my tracks when I committed such-and-such crime? I think we're done. Enough."