Inside the Mind of a British Suicide Bomber

Ahmed Kabir
Briton Ahmed Kabir, who used the name Abu Sammyh after heading to Syria, is believed to have killed himself and eight police officers in a suicide bomb attack in Beiji, north of Baghdad. Rui Viera/PA

If Kabir Ahmed is dead, as suspected, he will have become Britain’s first ISIS suicide bomber. For those struggling to understand why a 30-year-old with a wife and three children would end his life in an ISIS attack on an army convoy in a small town north of Baghdad, he left an extensive record. In several interviews over the summer of this year, he told Newsweek how he came to join ISIS and why, in the end, he wanted to give his life to the terrorist cause.

He feared his family would struggle with his choice. “I don’t know if my wife will understand to be honest – even my mother, who I have a good relationship with. They are going to hate me, maybe,” he said in a phone interview from Raqqa, Syria.

“It is for the sake of their religion and their honour. We are not for his life but but the afterlife.”

An American journalist friend put me in touch with Ahmed in early June, introducing him by his ‘kunya’ or nom de guerre Abu Sammyh al-Britani. Abu Sammyh was rarely online, so it was difficult for us to talk for any length of time. By the time we did schedule an interview, in late June, I was in Gaziantep and interviewing the same ‘Free Syrian Army’ rebels who were fighting against him. In the afternoon heat of a Gaziantep hotel room, I spoke to him for nearly two hours about his motivations for travel to Syria, his thoughts on David Cameron, his fractured relationship with his mother, his wife and children, and the atrocities which seemed to be piling up in the wake of the Islamic State’s blitzkrieg through Western Iraq.

He was then in Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, and only a few hours drive away. But we didn’t make any arrangements to meet – he had lost his passport, and had no interest in travelling to the Turkish border. He clearly enjoyed using a gun, and the camaraderie of battle. It was clear that, for him, his voyage was a one-way trip.

Only a month later did I find out his real name, when local police and the Daily Mail outed him as 30-year-old Kabir Ahmed, from an inner-city suburb in the East Midlands. He claimed he hadn’t been particularly religious growing up, but that he was radicalised in prison in the UK. “I don’t like fighting or war,” Ahmed said. “I did it to protect our religion, and our people from oppression. I used to pray a little, and observe Ramadan, and my mother used to tell me stories about Islam: the five pillars and the Prophets. But I wouldn’t say I was very religious. I went to University, but Islam had begun to reveal itself to me. I began to propagate my own vision of what Islam is, and I was arrested for the propagation of my religion. The police intimidated me, raided my home: They charged me and I spent two months in prison.”

The prison term Ahmed talked about having suffered for his religion was, in turned out, in return for inciting hatred against gay people and calling for their execution. In ISIS-controlled Syria homosexuals are indeed subject to arbitrary execution, and almost every young man carries a gun – on his long one-way trip from the East Midlands to a self-styled Islamic State in Northern Syria, Kabir Ahmed had found his natural home.

In prison, he said, “I learned about the Koran, about what was happening to the Muslims around the world, like in Myanmar. The thinkers I like are Sayyid Qutb, Anwar al-Awlaki, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri. I respect them all, I love them.”

Al-Shishani Al-Shishani, one of hundreds of Chechens who have been among the toughest jihadi fighters in Syria, has emerged as the face of ISIS, appearing frequently in its online videos. AP/PA

To join the jihadist cause was easy, Ahmed said, “I simply walked across the Turkish border on my own, with no help, a year ago and ISIS was the first group I came across. They picked me up. I’d never heard of them; I had only heard of Jabhat Al Nusra, the official al-Qaida affiliate in Syria. Those were the days everyone was free to walk around.” This was Ahmed’s first contact with ISIS, and he was sent for military training under the tutelage of a senior ISIS leader, known as Shishani the Chechen.

“I don’t want to go back to the UK: it is Dar Al Kuffar, the land of the Infidels. I dont want to come home because Syria is this amazing place,” Ahmed said. “I lost my passport, but that doesn’t matter to us. I look forward to a new era of passportless travel in the land of Sham (across the borders of Iraq and Syria) and beyond.” Ahmed described fighting alongside jihadis from war zones all over the world. “There are Tunisians, Brazilians, Swedish, Chinese, Mexicans, Brits, Algerians, all kinds of other Europeans. We are breaking borders, we are breaking racism.” he said. “It’s like a dream: one day we eat Eritrean, the next we eat Pakistani. I’ve met many Americans; including one from NYC. There are no communication problems; English is the universal language for the meantime, but the language of the state will be Arabic, and I’m learning it.”

Ahmed kept in touch until mid-August, and I asked him repeatedly whether he planned to go to Mosul, the Islamic State’s new trophy in Iraq. But the last time we spoke he was still in Raqqa. Britani’s Twitter account, was one of several jihadi accounts suspended by Twitter last week following intervention by Western governments. He insisted that ISIS was providing much-needed services to the people under its control. “There is free medical and dental and eye care, the doctors are all absolutely free,” he said. “And patients are given a stamp from ISIS which they take to the pharmacy to get free prescriptions. There is even free housing benefit: the poor are given an allowance of 10,000 lira a month towards housing costs: so if you pay 15,000, then you only have to pay 5000 from your own pocket. For orphans, widows and fighters it is completely free. These allowances are irrespective of whether you are a Muslim or a. Christian. It is justice for everyone.”

Then, at least, Ahmed’s intentions were not to return home to practise home-grown terror. “I have one message to the British government: stop your oppression of British Muslims. I read in the papers what UKIP and Britain First say. They are adding fuel to the fire, and there are going to be repercussions. This is not a threat, but there is going to be a backlash.

I read about a UKIP councillor asking British Muslims to sign a contract about the Koran and Britain. And David Cameron asking Muslims to respect British society. And Mr Cameron: my message to you is that it’s not Muslims who need to understand you, but you who needs to understand British Muslims. We understand and tolerate your values, we even abide by them, but if you are going to oppress us and add fuel to the fire you are going to face a backlash. The Muslims are being cornered: they are cornering us.”

As Newsweek went to print last week, the Foreign Office was investigating reports that Ahmed killed himself and eight other people in a suicide bombing in the town of Baiji, north of Baghdad, on November 7th, when a truck packed with explosives was driven into an army convoy. It appears that Ahmed had been killed along with seven other police officers and that 15 more had been wounded.