The so-called Islamic State is even worse than you thought

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. Here’s a cheery thought for the end of the year: ISIS is even more dangerous than you thought they were. That conclusion courtesy of German journalist Juergen Todenhoefer. There haven’t been many reporters who have been able to safely access areas controlled by the so-called Islamic State, but recently Todenhoefer managed it. It took him months negotiating with a German jihadist, but eventually he was allowed into the Iraqi city of Mosul. ISIS has controlled Mosul since June. Todenhoefer spent six days there with his cameraman in the ISIS version of a reporter embed, he saw what ISIS wanted him to see. Their leader even gave him a safety guarantee. Now, 74-year-old Todenhoefer is no stranger to trouble spots. Over his long career as a reporter, activist, and politician, he spent time in lots of them. But he tells the BBC that nothing prepared him for the Islamic State.


Juergen Todenhoefer: I don’t see anybody who has a real chance to stop them.


Werman: ISIS impressed Todenhoefer on two counts--one, how strong they’ve become in Mosul, and two, their unbridled enthusiasm for what they’re doing.


Todenhoefer: There is an enthusiasm that I personally cannot understand, which I have never seen in war zones.


Werman: And Todenhoefer says the militants he spoke with are certain they’re going to win.


Todenhoefer: They are so sure that they will win this war, that they will win the whole Middle East, every day hundreds of new fighters arrive and these people were not losers, how we may think--many of them were clever, intelligent people. For example, a guy from an island near the United States, he just passed his law exam and he refused a great job offer because he wanted to fight for the Islamic State.


Werman: Todenhoefer met a lot of foreign fighters in Mosul from places like Sweden, Britain, and the US, and he found the Sunni population of Mosul tolerating ISIS to some degree. Maybe that’s because the Islamic State are also Sunni and Sunnis have faced so much discrimination in post-war Iraq. But here is the most disturbing thing that Todenhoefer found during his six days in Mosul.


Todenhoefer: That people can be enthusiastic about killing hundreds of millions of people. Listen, I have read the Koran several times and 113 of the 114 surahs start with 'In the name of Allah, the merciful, the most merciful' and I say, where is the mercy? For example, Pol Pot is nothing in comparison with them and al-Qaeda is peanuts in comparison to ISIS.


Werman: Yes, he says the goal of ISIS is to kill hundreds of millions of people. So, what to do when ISIS pays no attention to surahs in the Koran that talk about mercy? Todenhoefer isn’t hopeful. He says maybe the moderate Sunnis of Mosul in Anbar have a chance against the Islamic State.


Todenhoefer: They have fought down the Islamic State in Iraq which exists after the invasion of George W. Bush. They have thought them down in 2007. But at this time, this Islamic State, which was only an Iraqi Islamic State, was much weaker than they are today. Modern Sunnis are not ready to fight because they are not integrated in their country, they have no rights in their country. But if they would integrate them, if they would make a political effort, then there would be a chance to stop the Islamic State. Only Arabs can stop the Islamic State. The Western countries will never stop the Islamic State.


Werman: That’s Juergen Todenhoefer speaking to the BBC.