Muslim Convert 'Jihadi Jack' Not a Jihadi Anymore, Escapes Daesh

Published June 4th, 2017 - 09:10 GMT
Jack Letts, in a picture he posted on Facebook, near the Tabqa Dam in Syria. (Facebook)
Jack Letts, in a picture he posted on Facebook, near the Tabqa Dam in Syria. (Facebook)

Jack Letts, the Muslim convert from Oxford dubbed 'Jihadi Jack', has made an astonishing escape from war-ravaged Raqqa, the Syrian capital of Daesh "ISIS", having been guided to safety by an anti-ISIS resistance network.

The Mail on Sunday can today reveal that Letts, 21, was earlier locked up in nine successive ISIS jails and put on trial in an ISIS court after denouncing the group as 'un-Islamic'.

He escaped after months of hiding in basement boltholes inside Raqqa, dodging both ISIS secret police and US airstrikes. After almost three years in ISIS territory, he managed to evade the frontline military positions of both ISIS and its enemies, before finding refuge in Rojava, the enclave run by the Kurdish YPG militia – ISIS's deadliest foe.
Last week, during exclusive interviews with this newspaper, Jack's parents John and Sally shared texts and sound files sent by Jack from Syria, both before and after his escape. They also recalled some of their hurried and fearful phone conversations with him conducted after he told them he was in the country in September 2014.

It has therefore been possible to piece together some of his extraordinary story in his own words. The MoS can reveal:

Having first travelled to ISIS territory because he believed it was trying to create a genuine, Islamic caliphate, Jack became appalled by their brutality and lack of adherence to Islam – and has been trying to escape for the past 19 months;

  • After he told his parents ISIS were 'un-Islamic' thugs, he was harassed and arrested multiple times, and held for days and weeks at a time in a total of nine prisons;
  • He escaped from Raqqa by motorbike, and later had to walk more than 20 miles in single file, following his resistance guide through minefields;
  • John and Sally, who are being prosecuted and were jailed for a week last summer for trying to send money to their son, told this newspaper a year ago that the only reason they did so was to pay for his escape, which could have taken place much earlier if the money had got through;
  • Their claim is confirmed by text messages that can only be published now, because doing so before Jack reached safety would have led to him being executed;
  • Jack may be safe, but he is now a prisoner of the YPG – and although he escaped a month ago, the Foreign Office has so far done nothing to fulfil a promise to John and Sally to help him once he was out of ISIS territory.
As The Mail on Sunday first reported last summer, there was nothing in Jack's upbringing which points to the drama and anguish of the past three years. John Letts, 56, is an organic farmer who grows ancient wheat strains in Buckinghamshire. Sally, 55, is a book editor.
The family lives in Grandpont, a prosperous Oxford suburb bordered by Thames-side meadows, which is said to have Britain's highest concentration of residents with PhDs. A bright, extrovert child who often starred in school plays, Jack did well in his GCSEs.
Afterwards, his mental health deteriorated. He was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, did poorly in some of his AS levels, left school to enrol at a local college, but then dropped out.

At first, Islam – to which he converted aged 16, after attending a Muslim prayer group – appeared to offer him new purpose.

He learnt Arabic, and, according to John, strove to become 'a perfect Muslim'. Encouraged by his progress, his parents supported him when he went on holiday to Jordan to stay with a Muslim friend from Oxford in May 2014, and then again when he told them he had decided to prolong his trip by studying Arabic in Kuwait.

But on September 2 of that year, he called on a crackly phone line to tell Sally he was in Syria. It would soon become clear that by this, he meant ISIS territory. At the time, he said nothing about how he got there. 

But since reaching Rojava, he has given a detailed account of how he approached the Syrian border with Turkey as part of a group of 30 people via a series of trenches: 'We had to run in the direction of the fence. The Turks saw us, they started firing. The people smuggler just said, 'Run'! Some of them were arrested. They shot at us close, at the border, with pistols. Getting shot at was quite interesting.'

Jack's parents insist he was never an ISIS fighter – and in many of the messages seen by the MoS, he repeats this assertion, saying he has 'not actually done anything' violent. 'He really thought they were trying to create an Islamic state,' John said, 'and whatever you might think about that, he wanted to see what this might be like.'

In early phone conversations, Sally said, she and John challenged him about ISIS atrocities, such as the beheading of Western journalists and the rape of Yazidi slave girls. 'He didn't know what I was talking about. It seems this news wasn't getting to him. And he also insisted the rape stories couldn't be true, because no true Muslim would force himself sexually on a woman.'

But eventually, the truth began to penetrate. Since his escape, he has revealed he got to know several people later tortured and murdered by ISIS. The messages show that by the autumn of 2015, Jack was admitting he had made a terrible error. He was still a devout Muslim – but had come to believe that ISIS was flagrantly ignoring key religious tenets, by sponsoring rapes and murders which had nothing to do with Sharia Islamic law.

For now, Jack seems stuck in limbo: 'chilling in prison' as he puts it, and observing 'wars' between the centipedes and millipedes in his cell. On the other hand, this does represent an improvement: 'The elation is overwhelming,' Sally said. 'This news was what I'd been waiting for three years. He's with Britain's allies, people who offer him cigarettes. My whole world has changed.'   

This article has been edited from its original source. 

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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