Who is IS’s ‘New Jihadi John’, Siddhartha Dhar?
Born to an Indian family in Britain, Siddhartha Dhar converted to Islam at the age of 19 and came to be known as Abu Rumaysah. By some accounts, he ‘changed’ as a teenager, after his father’s death, when he started shunning television and began sleeping on the floor. Other reports say it was because he wanted to marry Aisha. What’s undisputed, however, is the radicalisation that followed.
He became a street preacher, advocating Shariah law in the UK. Consequently, in September 2014, after being arrested for allegedly encouraging terrorism, he was let out on bail and told to submit his passport to the authorities. Instead, Rumayasah, Aisha and their three children boarded a train to Paris from London’s Victoria Station and ultimately to Syria.
Shortly after, he tweeted a photograph brandishing an AK-47 in one hand and holding his new-born, his fourth baby, in the other. “What a shoddy security system Britain must have to allow me to breeze through Europe to (IS),” he wrote.
On 23 January, Abu Rumaysah, was designated as a global terrorist by the United States. But how did a man selling bouncy castles at parties go on to become the executioner for the Islamic State?
Here’s what we know so far.
The 'New Jihadi John'
In January 2016, an IS video appeared showing a masked man mocking the then British Prime Minister David Cameron dismissing the impact of the RAF air strikes. It ended with him executing five prisoners accused of spying on the terror outfit. Authorities have now confirmed the masked executioner to be Abu Rumaysah.
He is believed to have become a senior commander of the IS forces, replacing IS executioner Mohammad Emwazi (or ‘Jihadi John’ as he was called because of his British accent) after he was killed in a drone strike in November 2015. His death was confirmed by an IS propaganda magazine in January 2016, around the same time that Abu Rumayasah began appearing in the terror organisation’s videos. This is also the reason he’s being called ‘New Jihadi John’.
Abu Rumaysah also played a key role in the Islamic state’s Yazidi sex trade. Nihad Barakat, who was trafficked at the age of 15 managed to escape two years later and revealed the role played by ‘Abu Dhar’ based in Mosul.
“When I was captured near Kirkuk, they took me to another leader from Mosul. His name was Abu Dhar (Abu Rumaysah or Siddhartha Dhar). He also took Yazidi girls for himself. Every day he would tell me that I had to marry another man. They raped us, they killed our men, they took our babies away from us. The worst thing was the torture in Mosul. We were beaten and raped continuously for two weeks. Girls were taken from their families and raped constantly and then they were handed out to ‘emirs’,” she told Independent.
On 23 January 2018, the US State Department placed Siddhartha Dhar alias Abu Rumaysah on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) and imposed sanctions on them.
By this action, the US public and the international community stands notified that he has committed or poses a significant risk of committing terrorist acts. It also includes denying the designated terrorists access to the US financial system.
The Making of a Terrorist
Born into a Bengali Hindu family in London, Siddhartha Dhar’s sister Konika, in an interview to the Daily Mail described him as a typical teenager, who was called ‘Sid’ by his friends and loved football, blockbuster films, dating girls and drinking Baileys to mark special occassions.
At the age of 19, he converted to Islam and took on a new name, Abu Rumaysah. At 23, he married Aisha. The family lived in Walthamstow, east London. For work, ‘Sid’ ran a bouncy castle rental company.
“When I converted to Islam, it was post 9/11 so for me, Islam was the talking point in the media. I’m sure like many British people, Christians or atheists, they would get offended when someone tells them that the life they are leading will lead them to hell fire, but if they reflected a bit, ultimately they would swallow their pride and adopt a path which is better,” he told Vice News in an interview in September 2014.
In the video, on the left hand side of the frame, one can see deflated bouncy castles. The business, he told Vice, had to be shut down to make room for his work with the Shariah Project.
“When the Islamic State is established, there will be a foreign policy, and if there is no treaty with [the UK], there will be a policy of warfare,” he added.
Rumaysah spoke passionately about what he believed was the oppression and victimization of Muslims in the UK. “The policies which the government are committing are having a negative affect on the [Muslim] youth,” he said. The deportation of a radical cleric and one of his personal teachers, Omar Bakri, was an example of the UK government’s detrimental policies, he said, which “could spiral out of control.”– As reported on Vice News.
Abu Rumaysah also acted as a spokesperson for the Al-Muhajiroun – a group that first hit headlines in September 2002 with its infamous ‘Magnificent 19’ press conference, where the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were praised. The organisation‘s name cropped up in cases related to terrorism and was banned by the British government in 2005. Abu Rumaysah was a close associate of the co-founder of Al-Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudhary who openly invited support for the establishment of Islamic State. Choudhary was charged by the British authorities under the Terrorism Act 2000 and sentenced in September 2016 to five years and six months in prison for “crossing the line between the legitimate expression of your own views and a criminal act.”
Incidentally, Anjem Choudhary, too was declared a Specially Designated Terrorist by the United States Department of State in March 2017.
The Travel Guide
In May 2015, he "published" a 46-page travel guide for would-be fellow travellers to the Islamic State. He said, the Islamic State “screams diversity “and has become a “magnet for talent”.
“If you thought London or New York was cosmopolitan then wait until you step foot in the Islamic State,” he wrote.
“Snickers, Kit Kat, Bounty, Twix, Kinder Surprise, Cadburys – yes, yes we have it all. If you were worried about leaving behind your local Costa coffee then you will be happy to know that the Caliphate serves some of the best lattes and cappuccinos around.”
As for the weather –
“This really depends on where you are, but as it stands the Caliphate offers an exquisite Mediterranean climate that has all the makings of a plush holiday resort.”
On the education on offer for children –
“There are no classes promoting homosexuality, evolution, music, drama, interfaith and the rest of the rubbish taught in non-Muslim schools. Your child’s delicate mind is well and truly protected in the Caliphate.”
An Outspoken Radical
According to the BBC, “he would stand outside mosques on Friday afternoons, seeking to find new followers to the radical network's way of thinking. He would post videos online and rarely turned down an opportunity to speak to the media. And when he spoke he barely hid his radical views.”
In that sense, Abu Rumayasah, was an IS recruit who had a very public profile even before he left for Syria. He’d been interviewed on numerous occasions by networks like the BBC, Channel 4 and CBS.
In 2014 when the Islamic State destroyed the border between Iraq and Syria, Rumayasah believed it was “the moment a new Islamic regime worthy of global support had been born.”
In a video posted on his YouTube channel, he said –
The Caliphate is a dream for all Muslims. We can finally have a sanctuary where we can practice our religion and live under Shariah. It is a big, big thing.
In an interview on BBC’s Sunday Morning Live show, he said –
Now that we have this Caliphate I think you’ll see many Muslims globally seeing it as an opportunity for the Koran to be realised. As a Muslim I would like to see the UK governed by the Sharia. It is far superior to democracy. I don’t really identify myself with British values. I am Muslim first, second and last.
Abu Rumayasah was also among the radicals interviewed for CBS News’ 60 Minutes programme, for an episode titled ‘Campaigning for ISIS in the West’, where among other things, he spoke to Clarrisa Ward about his family and the difficulty he faces in embracing them. Here’s an excerpt –
Abu Rumaysah: I don't love them as non Muslims, but I desire for them to become Muslim and embrace Islam.
Clarissa Ward: But you love her as your mother?
Abu Rumaysah: She's my mother and she has rights over me, so I have to take care of her. I have to look after her. I have to make sure that, you know, she's protected and secure. So I fulfill my obligations like that.
Clarissa Ward: But do you feel love for her?
Abu Rumaysah: It's not allowed for me to love non-Muslims. So that's something that is a matter of faith.
Clarissa Ward: So do you feel that you are British?
Abu Rumaysah: I identify myself as a Muslim. If I was born in a stable, you know, I'm not going to be a horse. If was born in Nazi Germany, I'm not going to be a Nazi. I mean, this is just an island I was born in.