Aseel Muthana

Aseel Muthana is a British foreign fighter who left for Syria at the age of 17 and became a translator for other ISIS foreign fighters.Thomas Deacon, “‘My sons left home to become terrorists and I don’t know if they’re alive or dead,’” Wales Online, March 31, 2019, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/my-sons-left-home-become-16028202. In September 2019, British media discovered Muthana in a Syrian prison. Muthana has since declared that he wants to return to the United Kingdom.Tim Stickings, “Inside a filthy Syrian prison camp where thousands of orange-jumpsuited ISIS extremists - including British jihadists - are locked up after the ‘caliphate’ fell to pieces,” Daily Mail (London), October 3, 2019, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7532865/Inside-filthy-Syrian-prison-camp-ISIS-fighters-kept.html; “Aseel Muthana: Imprisoned Cardiff jihadist wants to return,” BBC News, November 15, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-50433354.

Muthana’s older brother Nasser Muthana left Cardiff, United Kingdom, in November 2013 for Syria.Thomas Deacon, “‘My sons left home to become terrorists and I don’t know if they’re alive or dead,’” Wales Online, March 31, 2019, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/my-sons-left-home-become-16028202. Aseel Muthana sought to emulate his older brother. He filmed himself and coworker Kristen Brekke shooting BB guns pretending to be on missions in Syria.“Treasury Sanctions Individuals Affiliated With Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Caucasus Emirate,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 5, 2015, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0199.aspx. Brekke worked with Muthanna at the Ice Cream Passion parlor in Cardiff. Muthana used Brekke’s computer for research ahead of his own departure. Brekke also bought combat clothing for Muthana on eBay.Steven Morris, “Three men found guilty of helping teenage jihadi travel from UK to Syria,” Guardian (London), February 10, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/10/kristen-brekke-adeel-ulhaq-forhad-rahman-guilty-aseel-muthana-syria-isis.

In February 2014, then-17-year-old Muthana quit his job at the ice cream parlor and followed his older brother to Syria. In addition to Brekke, two other British individuals aided Muthana in reaching Syria. Adeel Ulhaq and Forhad Rahman were reportedly part of an online network that also included the English brothers Tuhin Shahensha and Mustaqim Jaman. Rahman used contacts in Syria to help Muthana arrange and finance his travel from London to Cyprus.Steven Morris, “Three men found guilty of helping teenage jihadi travel from UK to Syria,” Guardian (London), February 10, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/10/kristen-brekke-adeel-ulhaq-forhad-rahman-guilty-aseel-muthana-syria-isis. Rahman and Muthana sent each other text messages.“Who is Aseel Muthana and how did he become radicalized?,” ITV, September 30, 2019, https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2019-09-30/who-is-aseel-muthana-and-how-did-he-become-radicalised/. Rahman also introduced Muthana to Ulhaq, who used contacts in Syria to help Muthana in the final stages of his trip. Brekke, Ulhaq, and Rahman were convicted in 2016 of preparing acts of terrorism and funding terrorism.Steven Morris, “Three men found guilty of helping teenage jihadi travel from UK to Syria,” Guardian (London), February 10, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/10/kristen-brekke-adeel-ulhaq-forhad-rahman-guilty-aseel-muthana-syria-isis. Muthana exchanged what the court deemed to be flirtatious text messages with the three prior to leaving in February 2014. According to the courts, Muthana called Brekke and Ulhaq terms such as babe, cutie, and habibi—Arabic for darling. The messages were revealed during the trial but Muthana’s identity was initially kept anonymous out of concern that ISIS would kill Muthana for being gay.John Simpson, Duncan Gardham, and Will Humphries, “Police hid identity of ‘gay’ Isis fighter,” The Times (London), February 11, 2016, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/police-hid-identity-of-gay-isis-fighter-08q6l95vlpk.

In March 2014, Nasser Muthana tweeted that his younger brother had arrived in Syria and if a 17-year-old could do it, so could all Muslims. According to their brother Amin Muthana, both Aseel and Nasser “felt guilty” about the war in Syria and wanted to help.Tam Hussein, “Joining ISIS: My Meeting With Aseel Muthana,” Huffington Post, last updated August 22, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tam-hussein/isis-aseel-muthana_b_5520231.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAN5_7J1tiFhdxKCCi2d1UROizQu1K_hSZToR7uT8Zi3g68j3ubhPIN-GNPILQSWgEtx_e_OBY-GTjj643D_yhWKB5JtOhUBGimKfge1W_MXL_zOEjMQ73vB8mdRBHoyb_9SIv8cg3e6sDzJaTR4KP5SgkfVz73-4wdiarLK5Dwy4. Aseel Muthana participated in multiple interviews with British media after he arrived in Syria and talked about his reasons. In a July 2014 interview from Syria with ITV, Muthana denied that he had been radicalized at his local mosque. Instead, he said Nasser Muthana had taught him about jihad when he was young. Muthana told ITV he had no intentions of returning to Great Britain. He said he had pledged allegiance to ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and would stay in Syria until Baghdadi told him to go elsewhere.“British jihadist in Syria tells ITV News he was not radicalised by local mosque,” ITV, July 4, 2014, https://www.itv.com/news/2014-07-04/kik-interview-isis-british-cardiff-fighter/.

In one interview, Muthana said he had always been “pro-jihad” but never spoke about it with his parents or local imams.“British jihadist in Syria tells ITV News he was not radicalised by local mosque,” ITV, July 4, 2014, https://www.itv.com/news/2014-07-04/kik-interview-isis-british-cardiff-fighter/. The Muthana brothers’ father, Ahmed Muthana, told British media that he believed his sons radicalized after someone gave them the first-person shooter videogame Call of Duty. The elder Muthana blamed whoever purchased the game for them for also encouraging them to go to Syria.Mia De Graaf, “British brothers fighting for Isis in Syria were groomed by extremists using Call of Duty, claims their father,” Daily Mail (London), July 30, 2014, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2710478/British-brothers-fighting-Isis-Syria-groomed-extremists-using-Call-Duty-claims-father.html. In 2015, Ahmed Muthana raised concerns that his sons were on a government hitlist in Syria. He further blamed the British government for not doing enough to stop Aseel from going to Syria.“Father fears IS fighter sons are on government ‘hitlist,’” ITV, September 8, 2015, https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2015-09-08/father-fears-is-fighter-sons-are-on-government-hitlist/; “Who is Aseel Muthana and how did he become radicalized?,” ITV, September 30, 2019, https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2019-09-30/who-is-aseel-muthana-and-how-did-he-become-radicalised/.

Because of their English and Arabic language skills, the Muthana brothers worked as translators between Arabic and Western ISIS fighters. According to his father, Nasser Muthana married a Bangladeshi woman who had also left England. Nasser Muthana reportedly told his father that ISIS had forced both him and his brother to marry and move into houses in Raqqa, then ISIS’s declared capital. Nasser Muthana and his wife had two sons. Aseel Muthana married a Somalian woman from Glasgow, Scotland, and had at least one child.Thomas Deacon, “‘My sons left home to become terrorists and I don’t know if they’re alive or dead,’” Wales Online, March 31, 2019, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/my-sons-left-home-become-16028202. In November 2014, an ISIS militant identified only as Abu Fariss held a question-and-answer session about life in the caliphate on social network Ask.fm. The U.S. government lists Abu Fariss as Muthana’s nom de guerre and credits Muthana with conducting the information session and encouraging one participant to travel to Syria.“Counter Terrorism Designation,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 2, 2015, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20151002.aspx; “‘I Want To Wage Jihad But I Don’t Have A Thing To Wear’ -- Western IS Wannabes Ask Burning Questions,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, November 12, 2014, https://www.rferl.org/a/islamic-state-questions-askfm-western-militant-wannabes/26686817.html.

As of March 2019, Ahmed Muthana had not heard from his sons in two years.Thomas Deacon, “‘My sons left home to become terrorists and I don’t know if they’re alive or dead,’” Wales Online, March 31, 2019, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/my-sons-left-home-become-16028202. In September 2019, Britain’s ITV found Aseel Muthana in a Syrian prison holding ISIS fighters. Muthana told ITV that he had been lured to Syria thinking he would be helping the country’s poor.Rohit Kachroo, “One of first British men to join so-called Islamic State traced to prison in northern Syria by ITV News,” ITV, September 30, 2019, https://www.itv.com/news/2019-09-30/jihadist-cardiff-man-locked-in-secret-syrian-jail-accused-of-living-under-so-called-islamic-state/. He also claimed he had traveled to Syria before the brutality of ISIS was widely known and wanted to return home. Muthana and his brother arrived in Syria before “all of these beheading videos, before all of the burnings happened” when “Isis propaganda and Isis media was all about helping the poor, helping the Syrian people.”Tim Stickings, “Inside a filthy Syrian prison camp where thousands of orange-jumpsuited ISIS extremists - including British jihadists - are locked up after the ‘caliphate’ fell to pieces,” Daily Mail (London), October 3, 2019, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7532865/Inside-filthy-Syrian-prison-camp-ISIS-fighters-kept.html; “Aseel Muthana: Imprisoned Cardiff jihadist wants to return,” BBC News, November 15, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-50433354. Muthana claimed in a November 2019 interview with BBC News that there was “too much vengeance, too much rage, too much anger” in ISIS.“Aseel Muthana: Cardiff Islamic State jihadist wants to return,” BBC News, November 15, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-wales-50437771/aseel-muthana-cardiff-islamic-state-jihadist-wants-to-return. These interviews seemingly contradicted a July 2014 interview Muthana gave with ITV in which he declared his allegiance to ISIS leader Baghdadi.“British jihadist in Syria tells ITV News he was not radicalised by local mosque,” ITV, July 4, 2014, https://www.itv.com/news/2014-07-04/kik-interview-isis-british-cardiff-fighter/. Muthana’s mother, Umm Amin, has called on British authorities to let him return.Marcus Hughes, “Aseel Muthana: Teenager who fled Cardiff to join Islamic State ‘traced to Syrian prison,’” Wales Online, September 30, 2019, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/aseel-muthana-teenager-who-fled-17008764. Muthana did not mention whether his brother was still alive.

United States

The Department of the Treasury designated Aseel Muthana as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for acting for or on behalf of ISIS on October 2, 2015.“Treasury Sanctions Individuals Affiliated With Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Caucasus Emirate,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 5, 2015, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0199.aspx; “Counter Terrorism Designation,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 2, 2015, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20151002.aspx.

United Nations

The United Nations Security Council added Nasser Ahmed Muthanna to its Al-Qaida Sanctions List of individuals on September 30, 2015.“Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Adds Name of One Individual to Its Sanctions List,” United Nations, September 30, 2015, https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12066.doc.htm.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom added Aseel Muthana to its Consolidated List of Financial Sanctions Targets on October 9, 2015.“Consolidated List of Financial Sanctions Targets in the UK,” HM Treasury, last updated February 13, 2020, https://ofsistorage.blob.core.windows.net/publishlive/ConList.html.

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