ISIS has become a synonym for terror. Ever since the terrorist organisation took over cities in Iraq, carried out bombings killing innocent people, and destroyed the cultural heritage, people have been living under the shadow of terror. With the news of journalists being beheaded, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that it’s clearly a death zone. 

But one brave-heart journalist not only went into the heart of terror but also made it back safely, to share insights into the world of ISIS. Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German writer, along with his son, took the courageous step of going inside the zone. He wrote a book narrating his experience and it’s every bit bone-chilling. He had also visited Taliban previously. No wonder he had the guts to visit the Islamic State.

Here’s an account of his journey into the heart of terror and how he discovered that their driver was one of the most-wanted terrorists.

Jürgen Todenhöfer and his son Fredrick visited Raqqa and Mosul, the two cities of Iraq with ISIS stronghold. Their visit was facilitated by a middle man, called Abu Qatadah, who was a German-born Muslim convert. Another person to accompany them during the entire visit was their driver, who always kept his face covered. On their way to the Islamic State, their host Qatadah told them about the Sharia laws, according to ISIS.

“For theft of goods worth more than $40, a hand is cut off. $40 is the price of a gram of gold. Christians have to pay jizya, a protection tax. Muslims pay a zakat, or religious tax, based on their assets.”

Their iPhones were seized due to its built-in GPS, and they were denied from roaming freely around the city. Their driver, a bossy and arrogant man, told them that all their photographs and videos would be reviewed before they leave. The journey became even more horrifying when Fredrick questioned them about the bodies of the hostages killed by ISIS. “They were buried individually, or rather, tossed into the ground. Somewhere,” came a cold reply.  Their request to meet Jihadi John, a British Arab man who is seen beheading the captives in ISIS videos, was outright rejected by Qatadah. The following argument took place between the journalist and the extremely domineering driver:

“You gave us a formal invitation filled with grand words. Instead, you’re treating us like prisoners,” said Jürgen. 

“You are not prisoners. Prisoners don’t get to choose what they want for breakfast,” argued the masked driver. 

“Change your tone right now,” the journalist said assertively.

It came as a shocker for both the journalists when Fredrick expressed his doubt that the man driving them all around could be Jihadi John. In his words, “I’m not absolutely sure because I can’t check without my computer, but I think the masked Englishman is Jihadi John.” Their doubts were further confirmed when Jürgen accidentally saw their driver’s face, who was sitting in a restaurant without mask. As expected, it made him very angry and they had an argument with him over the photographs they took. All this made their escort, Abu Qatadah, very upset, who almost threatened the journalist by saying:

“We don’t give a shit how you are welcomed and treated in other countries in the Muslim world. They are all just kissing your ass. You are always asking questions. Challenging us the whole time, everything we do. And may I say, you are really pissing off some people here. We will not accept that.”

Their visit to Mosul also gave them an insight into the way ISIS ran the territory they seized. They were taken into a small shop from where “ISIS Publishing” conducts its business. Also on display was the first book officially published by ISI, Fiqh al Jihad (Understanding Jihad).

There were books and flyers on “How to Handle Your Slaves”, “How to Swear Allegiance to the Caliph”, “How Women Should Behave and Dress”, “How to Look After the Poor”, “How to Be a Good ISIS Fighter.”

Finally, after staying in the Islamic State for three days, their mobile phones were returned and they were asked to run in the shadow of an armed Turkish watchtower, across a ploughed field, over the border. Further, the journalist writes:

“A couple of days after our return, Frederic gives me a call. “Do you recognise this voice?” he asks. The voice I hear is unclear, but the rhythm of the speech seems familiar – it’s our “driver”. 

Frederic says: “That is Jihadi John, the executioner.”

This are edited excerpts from ‘My Journey Into the Heart of Terror: Ten Days in the Islamic State’ by Jürgen Todenhöfer. You can buy the book here.