He spent a year in Syria, protecting one of Islamic State’s most wanted leaders, but later managed to escape. Hiding his identity and in fear for his life, the former fighter sat down with RT and recounted the terror he witnessed.
Calling himself Zurab, he says he was initially seduced by the slick propaganda videos that IS spread all over the internet.
“We watched promo videos of women, children and elderly people crying out, 'where are you, Muslims? Why are you hiding? When Muslim blood is being spilled, you decide you want to be a pacifist?' I had feelings of guilt, compassion and responsibility. We went there not because we knew the facts but because of our emotions,” he told RT.
“We bought a ticket to Istanbul where we were met by a man from Dagestan. He put us on a bus to the Syrian border. At night we crossed over. They met us and took us to a 'Sharia house' where we waited to be transported to the training camp. It was in the village of Atme,” he recalls.
Located in northern Syria, close to the border with Turkey, IS captured Atme from the Free Syrian Army in late 2013. From the village, Zurab was sent to the IS training camp. Two months after his arrival in Syria, he was on the frontline.
However, he soon understood the nightmare that he was in, describing it as “worse than the tyranny of the government forces.”
“They were extremely brutal, killing women and the elderly who did not obey them. They abused and mutilated their dead bodies. They cut up the corpses, tied them to the back of the cars and dragged them along,”Zurab said.
Christians were killed on the spot, without a word spoken, he added.
“They would find them and publically execute them. I witnessed many executions,” Zurab recounted.
He understood he had to flee the horror of IS, so his decision was to win the terrorists' trust. This is how Zurab became a bodyguard for one of the most notorious IS leaders, Abu Omar al-Shishani.
Who is al-Shishani and what is known about him?
Dubbed the 'minister of war' by the Pentagon, the US has set a $5 million bounty on al-Shishani’a head. Rumors that he was killed spread in March, but two months later, IS denied them.
It took Zurab months to get al-Shishani convinced enough of his loyalty to plan his escape. He told the IS leader that he had to see his mother, and even received some money from the terrorists, promising to give it back upon his return.
“I said I could bring stuff back with me. Omar gave me money, and asked me to get him some things,” he says.
When Zurab returned to Ingushetia, he turned himself in to authorities, was tried and found guilty, claiming that he never killed civilians. The court gave him a five-year suspended sentence.
But there is a harsher punishment he fears: That which could come from IS. “They think I'm a renegade,” Zurab explained.