“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 accountability for final Friday’s horrific assault on Paris posted a video on-line exhibiting 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 towards this backdrop that Najibullah Quraishi returned residence to Afghanistan this previous summer time to report on the latest emergence there of the Islamic State, also referred to as ISIS or ISIL.

“I’ve been embedded with the Taliban many, many occasions,” Quraishi says in his new FRONTLINE documentary, ISIS in Afghanistan. “However after I first heard about ISIS in Afghanistan, I used to be shocked. I used to be considering, ‘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 jap Afghanistan and coaching a brand new era of jihadis.

Within the district of Shaigal, Quraishi discovered ISIS fighters dwelling among the many locals, who instructed him native kids are educated by the Islamic State from the age of three. At one faculty he visited, he filmed an teacher exhibiting kids the best way to shoot a Kalashnikov, the best way to throw hand grenades and preaching to them in regards to the methods of jihad. In Chapa Dara district, a commander launched him to 2 youngsters who he stated have been skilled 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 considering, ‘Possibly you gained’t come again once more. They could kill you. They could kidnap you. They could do one thing incorrect.’”

Simply as scary, 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 conflict for many years.

“After I noticed these younger kids, I used to be actually, actually upset, actually unhappy. I used to be fascinated with Afghanistan’s future, Afghanistan’s subsequent era, what we have now subsequent. These kids who learn to kill folks, the best way to do jihad, the best way to behead, the best way 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 occasions 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 utterly totally different than being with ISIS. ISIS is extra harmful, and worse than some other terrorist community on this planet … they usually do no matter they need to. It was essentially the most dangerous and harmful job ever I’ve achieved 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 imagine that. Why ought to ISIS be in Afghanistan? We’ve got the Taliban and different terrorist networks in Afghanistan, so I assumed perhaps it’s simply propaganda, and perhaps it’s not true.

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

Till final month they have been preventing solely towards the Taliban, and their intention was solely to get extra territory out of the Taliban, however from final month they began preventing towards the Afghan authorities. They’re highly effective. They’ve a lot of cash, they’re rich, they usually’re attempting to seize extra areas in Afghanistan and attempt to make a type of base inside Afghanistan.

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

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

They’re primarily on the border of Pakistan in jap Afghanistan, and in addition they’ve moved into south Afghanistan as effectively, in Helmand province and Urozgan province. We’ve got six borders with six international locations, and that’s why I believe one of many the reason why they’re in Afghanistan is due to our location. As a result of we have now 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, akin 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 international international locations as effectively?

I noticed primarily Pakistani fighters and Afghans, however they instructed me that they’ve a lot 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 primary 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, this stuff, so when ISIS goes by means of their contacts, they method 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 we have now solely Islamic State all around the world. You’ll go to heaven, and in addition you’ll be able to earn cash.” So the individuals 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 30 days, then they are saying sure, it’s an excellent 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 have been in Afghanistan, we hoped we might [build] a extremely educated era in Afghanistan. Then these fighters [who are with ISIS or the Taliban today] is perhaps one thing else. These folks have been rising up within the final decade whereas Afghanistan was receiving billions of {dollars} in help, however sadly, the federal government was corrupt, they usually 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 training. Over 90 p.c 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 imagine that as a result of they converse Arabic, they assume they know the language of Quran, they usually know Islam higher than us, let’s observe them. So that they merely observe them.

The youngsters who’re within the movie, a few of them have been eight or 9. I used to be shocked to see such a madrassa and such academics, and the poor kids who’re studying weapons. As a substitute of grammar or math or one thing else, they have been studying what’s jihad, the best way to do jihad, the best way to kill, weapons, the way you kill folks. It was stunning for me to see inside Afghanistan, inside my nation, such issues occurring regardless that we have now spent billions of {dollars} investing in Afghanistan. Nothing has been modified in a optimistic manner. So to be sincere, I can’t see any vivid 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 frightened have been you about your security?

To be sincere, while you go inside one thing, then you aren’t with you. You’re within the arms of someone else, and also you don’t know what they may do with you. Generally it appeared thrilling that I used to be going to satisfy essentially the most harmful group ever, however generally after I was fascinated with what they’ve achieved with different journalists in different international locations, and the way they’re behaving with different folks around the globe, then I used to be fascinated with 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 sporting correct Afghani garments with a white hat on my head to point out them I’m an unusual particular person, however nonetheless, there was a lot of danger. However as a journalist, if you wish to discover the world, you need to take a danger.

Was there a selected second the place you have been most involved?

Sure. After I was following the 2 [teenage] suicide bombers, they went contained in the mosque, and I didn’t realize 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 instructed me to come back out of the mosque. So after we got here out, he stated, “You didn’t hear the shout?” I stated sure, I heard one thing, however I didn’t realize it was for me. So after I heard this, we left the world. I instructed to my driver, simply go away the world. We needed to spend the evening with them, then after I heard that from my fixer, I stated 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 group’s security. So I made a decision to go away. 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 progress there? And what must occur to cease it?

Based on the native journalists and a few specialists who I used to be speaking with, in the long run what they imagine, both the Taliban would management some territory, ISIS would management some territory, in addition to the federal government would management some territory. So Afghanistan can be cut up into three components. Some assume that in some years, we is not going to see any Taliban — they may all be part of ISIS as a result of the Taliban don’t have a correct chief anymore.

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

In the event that they get no assist from Afghan folks, particularly from the agricultural areas, then it’s arduous for them to maintain in Afghanistan. They’ve to go away Afghanistan. In the event that they get some assist — once more they’ve cash. You probably have cash in Afghanistan, then you’ll be able to do no matter you need to do. So I believe that point will show the whole lot. Proper now I can not say something, however all I can say, in the event that they proceed like this, like what I noticed, they might seize all Afghanistan, and there can be no Taliban, no different insurgency. They’d all be part of them.

Jason M. Breslow

Jason M. Breslow, Former Digital Editor

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