Dozens of defectors have deserted Islamic State, shattering the group’s self-proclaimed image of a “jihadist utopia”, according to a new report.
Since January last year at least 58 individuals have left the group and spoken publicly — and the number is growing, researchers based in London found.
Some fled after they were disappointed by the “quality of life” in territory controlled by IS and realised that the image of luxury goods and cars that lured them to join in the first place had failed to materialise.
Defectors were also found to have left after being outraged with the group’s brutality and disillusioned by corruption in the ranks.
The study, published by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) based at King’s College London, said reports of defections have been “sufficiently frequent to shatter IS’s image as a united, cohesive, and ideologically committed organisation”.
It added: “They demonstrate that IS is not the jihadist utopia that the group’s videos promise; and that many of its own fighters have deep concerns about the group’s strategy and tactics.”
Researchers tracked 58 individuals — 51 male and seven female — who have turned their back on IS and later spoken out. This was described as a “sizeable number but likely only a fraction of those disillusioned, ready to defect, and or willing to go public”.
The report suggests the pace of public defections has increased, with almost 60% of the cases reported in the first eight months of this year, and nearly a third in the three months to August.
In a sign of IS’s global recruitment strategy, defectors represented 17 countries, including two from Britain.
Most felt IS had not lived up to expectations, while four narratives emerging from their stories were singled out in the report: In-fighting, brutality against Muslims, corruption, and quality of life.
Defecting from IS is “complex and dangerous”, with those who succeed in fleeing the group’s territory fearing reprisals or prosecution once they return to their home country, the study said.
It urged governments to do more to remove obstacles that prevent defectors from speaking up, saying their testimony could help prevent potential new recruits from being radicalised.
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