Simon Cottee

Academic and Author

Vice

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Back - Minus the Bling and Bluster

When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last appeared on video, nearly five years ago, in the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq, he was all swagger and poetic bluster: a veritable don proclaiming the historic establishment of the caliphate. His talk was big and bold, as was the silver watch he was wearing for the occasion. How different he now looks in his latest appearance on celluloid: a chubby, diminutive old geezer with a badly dyed beard – a faded orange – and not a watch in sight.

The ‘ISIS Matchmaker’ Wants to Return to the UK

At the end of last week, the Rojava Information Center in Syria contacted me to assist them in identifying a woman they believed to be Tooba Gondal, a 25-year-old east Londoner who joined ISIS in early 2015. I'd spent over 18 months tracking her since she left the UK, and had in my possession an audio tape of her voice. On Monday the Center issued a statement via Twitter confirming that "Tooba Gondal – AKA 'the ISIS matchmaker' – is alive, in a North East Syria refugee camp", adding that "she wishes to be repatriated to the UK".

ISIS and the Fish and Chip-Loving Jihadists

The litany of excuses given by captured western ISIS members is, by now, all-too familiar. I was tricked into going. I was just a cook. I was brainwashed. I didn't know what ISIS was. I went there by accident. I was drugged. I went to help.

28th Jan 2019

Inside Europol's Online War Against ISIS

In January I travelled to Europol's heavily fortified HQ in The Hague to interview members of the EU's Internet Referral Unit (IRU), an innocuous-sounding name for a group that spends most of its time trawling the internet for beheadings, bomb-making manuals, hysterical incitements and all the rest of it.

10th Apr 2018

Why Jihadists Want to Kill

On Saturday night, seven people were brutally murdered in a jihadist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market. Scores more were critically injured. It is the third terrorist attack in the UK in as many months. "Things need to change," said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a speech the morning after the carnage of the night before. May is right about that. But everything she said was a regurgitation of the same old script:

Why ISIS Are Using So Many Children in Their Propaganda Videos

The so-called Islamic State has seemingly done the impossible: earlier this month it released what is arguably its most shocking and abhorrent atrocity video yet. This is quite a statement, of course: ISIS has made a lot of truly shocking and abhorrent atrocity videos. Some of these depict mass beheadings, burnings, drownings and stonings – all in horrible high definition close-up. The new video, titled "Made Me Alive with His Own Blood", features the murder of a broken and defenceless man at the hands of a three-year-old boy. A. Three. Year. Old.

31st Jan 2017

How a British College Student Became an ISIS Matchmaker

In March of last year, less than two months after arriving in Syria, Umm Muthanna al-Britannia tweeted a picture of herself wearing a burqa and brandishing an AK-47. It was captioned: "Living the life of real freedom." Yet not so long ago she was enjoying a very different kind of freedom, hooking up with guys, wearing make-up, and listing her favorite activities online as: "Jamin wid my gyalsz, Sleepin, Munchin, & SmoOkiin."

20th Dec 2016

What It Feels Like to Lose Your Kids to ISIS

In February of 2015, three east London schoolgirls absconded to Syria and vanished into the block caps of international headline news. Less than three months earlier, in November of 2014, Qadirah and Muhammad Roach just vanished. The three east London schoolgirls prompted a global outcry, and not a little hysteria about the power and potency of Islamic State propaganda. But Qadirah and Muhammad – whose journey to Syria began from the Caribbean Island of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) – didn't even make it onto the front page.

13th Oct 2016

Tracking the Online Life of a Female British ISIS Recruiter

Who is the woman in black brandishing an AK-47? She goes by the nom de guerre Umm Muthanna al-Britannia – Umm being an honorific Arabic word for mother, despite the fact it seems Umm Muthanna herself is childless.
I have been tracing her online footprint for almost a year, and it is fascinating for the light it casts on the strange and violent subculture of the approximately 600 women who have abandoned their lives and loved ones in the west for the so-called "Islamic State".

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