“The Most Risky … Job Ever.” Reporting on “ISIS in Afghanistan” | ISIS in Afghanistan | FRONTLINE | PBS

The viciousness with which the self-proclaimed Islamic State has handled journalists is, sadly, effectively ingrained. In August 2014, the terrorist group that has claimed duty for final Friday’s horrific assault on Paris posted a video on-line displaying the beheading of kidnapped American reporter James Foley. Lower than a month later, one other video was launched of a second beheading, this time of freelance journalist Steven Sotloff.

It’s in opposition to this backdrop that Najibullah Quraishi returned dwelling to Afghanistan this previous summer time to report on the latest emergence there of the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL.

“I’ve been embedded with the Taliban many, many instances,” Quraishi says in his new FRONTLINE documentary, ISIS in Afghanistan. “However once I first heard about ISIS in Afghanistan, I used to be shocked. I used to be pondering, ‘Why ISIS in Afghanistan? What are they doing in my nation?’”

What he witnessed was as disturbing for him because it was confounding — former members of the Taliban becoming a member of ranks with militants waiving the black flag of ISIS in a number of districts throughout japanese Afghanistan and coaching a brand new era of jihadis.

Within the district of Shaigal, Quraishi discovered ISIS fighters residing among the many locals, who informed him native youngsters are educated by the Islamic State from the age of three. At one faculty he visited, he filmed an teacher displaying youngsters learn how to shoot a Kalashnikov, learn how to throw hand grenades and preaching to them concerning the methods of jihad. In Chapa Dara district, a commander launched him to 2 youngsters who he mentioned had been educated to be ISIS suicide bombers.

The work was harmful, and as Quraishi admits within the movie, “I used to be remembering my spouse, my sons … I used to be pondering, ‘Perhaps you gained’t come again once more. They could kill you. They could kidnap you. They could do one thing unsuitable.’”

Simply as horrifying, he says, is what ISIS’ emergence in Afghanistan — although nonetheless nascent — will imply for the way forward for a rustic that has already been besieged by battle for many years.

“After I noticed these younger youngsters, I used to be actually, actually upset, actually unhappy. I used to be desirous about Afghanistan’s future, Afghanistan’s subsequent era, what now we have subsequent. These youngsters who learn to kill folks, learn how to do jihad, learn how to behead, learn how to hearth, this might be Afghanistan.”

We sat down with Quraishi on Nov. 12, 2015 to speak about his reporting on ISIS in Afghanistan. That is an edited transcript of that dialog:

You’ve embedded with the Taliban many instances earlier than. How stark was the distinction between them and the militants you met who are actually aligning with ISIS?

Being with the Taliban, it’s fully totally different than being with ISIS. ISIS is extra harmful, and worse than every other terrorist community on the planet … and so they do no matter they need to. It was essentially the most dangerous and harmful job ever I’ve accomplished in my life.

When did you first begin listening to about ISIS in Afghanistan?

I heard first someday in June 2014, however at first I didn’t consider that. Why ought to ISIS be in Afghanistan? Now we have the Taliban and different terrorist networks in Afghanistan, so I assumed possibly it’s simply propaganda, and possibly it’s not true.

However later after they [killed and hanged] 12 Taliban leaders in japanese Afghanistan, then everybody in Afghanistan was pondering and saying, who’re these masked males? And later we discovered that these masked males who killed 12 Taliban had been nobody else besides ISIS, so then they started to have some house in Afghanistan.

Till final month they had been combating solely in opposition to the Taliban, and their intention was solely to get extra territory out of the Taliban, however from final month they began combating in opposition to the Afghan authorities. They’re highly effective. They’ve a number of cash, they’re rich, and so they’re making an attempt to seize extra areas in Afghanistan and attempt to make a form of base inside Afghanistan.

It’s best to keep in mind one factor — geographically, Afghanistan is an efficient place for the terrorists, as a result of it’s surrounded by mountains, and there are many villages inside mountains, so it’s straightforward for them to cover themselves, or to recruit the folks. No matter they need to do they are going to do.

What can we find out about the place they’re in Afghanistan and what their goals are?

They’re primarily on the border of Pakistan in japanese Afghanistan, and in addition they’ve moved into south Afghanistan as effectively, in Helmand province and Urozgan province. Now we have six borders with six international locations, and that’s why I believe one of many explanation why they’re in Afghanistan is due to our location. As a result of now we have six borders, with China, with Pakistan, Iran, and with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

What they’re saying, they’re mentioning [an historical region] Khorasan. After we say Khorasan, that’s the title of nations, corresponding to Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, in order that they’re intention is to go over to those international locations from Afghanistan. That is their intention.

Are the fighters you met primarily from Afghanistan? Did you meet fighters from overseas international locations as effectively?

I noticed primarily Pakistani fighters and Afghans, however they informed me that they’ve a number of foreigners too, from Chechnya, from Syria, Iraq, however they didn’t need to present me.

We see within the movie an ISIS commander saying that they’re recruiting fighters by providing them $700 a month. Is that the principle draw or are there different elements at play?

That is one thing everybody within the rural areas is aware of about. Afghanistan is a poor nation. They’ve farming, these items, so when ISIS goes by way of their contacts, they strategy village elders, saying: “Right here we’re. We’re Muslim. There isn’t any Mullah Omar, the chief of the Taliban, he has died, so now now we have solely Islamic State everywhere in the world. You’ll go to heaven, and in addition you’ll be able to earn cash.” So the persons are uneducated, in addition to poor, so when ISIS is explaining like this, saying: “That is Islam. That is how you’ll go to heaven,” in addition to $700 per thirty days, then they are saying sure, it’s a very good deal, let’s go forward. They recruit like this.

The place is the Afghan authorities and the West in all of this?

Whereas NATO was in Afghanistan, or American troops had been in Afghanistan, we hoped we might [build] a very educated era in Afghanistan. Then these fighters [who are with ISIS or the Taliban today] is likely to be one thing else. These folks had been rising up within the final decade whereas Afghanistan was receiving billions of {dollars} in help, however sadly, the federal government was corrupt, and so they didn’t construct a rustic, they didn’t construct faculties, they didn’t spend money on the agricultural areas of Afghanistan.

Our fundamental downside is schooling. Over 90 % of our inhabitants is uneducated. So what are you able to anticipate? The terrorists come from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, saying the Quran says this, Quran says that, and the Afghans consider that as a result of they converse Arabic, they suppose they know the language of Quran, and so they know Islam higher than us, let’s comply with them. In order that they merely comply with them.

The kids who’re within the movie, a few of them had been eight or 9. I used to be shocked to see such a madrassa and such lecturers, and the poor youngsters who’re studying weapons. As an alternative of grammar or math or one thing else, they had been studying what’s jihad, learn how to do jihad, learn how to kill, weapons, the way you kill folks. It was stunning for me to see inside Afghanistan, inside my nation, such issues occurring although now we have spent billions of {dollars} investing in Afghanistan. Nothing has been modified in a constructive approach. So to be sincere, I can’t see any vibrant future for the nation.

James Foley, Steven Sotloff: It goes with out saying that reporting on ISIS is without doubt one of the most harmful assignments there may be for a journalist. How apprehensive had been you about your security?

To be sincere, once you go inside one thing, then you aren’t with you. You might be within the fingers of someone else, and also you don’t know what they are going to do with you. Typically it appeared thrilling that I used to be going to satisfy essentially the most harmful group ever, however generally once I was desirous about what they’ve accomplished with different journalists in different international locations, and the way they’re behaving with different folks all over the world, then I used to be desirous about my security, and I had no hopes to come back again once more. I used to be saying this might be finish of my life … They’ll do no matter they need to. And this was my fear. I used to be carrying correct Afghani garments with a white hat on my head to indicate them I’m an extraordinary particular person, however nonetheless, there was a number of threat. However as a journalist, if you wish to discover the world, you need to take a threat.

Was there a specific second the place you had been most involved?

Sure. After I was following the 2 [teenage] suicide bombers, they went contained in the mosque, and I didn’t comprehend it was forbidden to movie them contained in the mosque. One of many fighters was shouting at me, mainly not shouting, swearing on me. My fixer got here to me and took my hand and informed me to come back out of the mosque. So after we got here out, he mentioned, “You didn’t hear the shout?” I mentioned sure, I heard one thing, however I didn’t comprehend it was for me. So once I heard this, we left the realm. I informed to my driver, simply depart the realm. We needed to spend the evening with them, then once I heard that from my fixer, I mentioned no, it’s going to be harmful for us. If we stayed in the course of the evening, he would possibly do one thing. Security was my precedence. Not solely my security, my workforce’s security. So I made a decision to depart. It was a harmful second for me.

You say that what we’re witnessing in Afghanistan now could be actually simply ISIS in its infancy. What’s the potential for his or her development there? And what must occur to cease it?

In keeping with the native journalists and a few specialists who I used to be speaking with, in the long run what they consider, both the Taliban would management some territory, ISIS would management some territory, in addition to the federal government would management some territory. So Afghanistan could be cut up into three elements. Some suppose that in some years, we won’t see any Taliban — they are going to all be part of ISIS as a result of the Taliban don’t have a correct chief anymore.

However one factor it is best to keep in mind, the Afghan inhabitants, particularly after what occurred a few days in the past — they beheaded seven folks, together with two girls and one baby — the Taliban by no means did this earlier than, so now all of the Afghans are standing in opposition to them.

In the event that they get no help from Afghan folks, particularly from the agricultural areas, then it’s laborious for them to maintain in Afghanistan. They’ve to depart Afghanistan. In the event that they get some help — once more they’ve cash. When you’ve got cash in Afghanistan, then you’ll be able to do no matter you need to do. So I believe that point will show every little thing. Proper now I can’t say something, however all I can say, in the event that they proceed like this, like what I noticed, they’d seize all Afghanistan, and there could be no Taliban, no different insurgency. They might all be part of them.

Jason M. Breslow

Jason M. Breslow, Former Digital Editor

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