THE BLOG

Social Media Jihadi: The Inside Story of a Briton Who Died Fighting for ISIS

06/02/2014 13:09 GMT | Updated 07/04/2014 10:59 BST

Whilst debate rages on about the threat of foreign fighters returning home, there is one particular fighter who is being celebrated not only in his community but also on social media. Iftekhar Jaman, was killed on December 17 last year having been hit by a tank shell in a battle known as Ghazawat al-Khayr. Despite the fact that this battle was his first, he above other British fighters has been eulogized extensively on the internet. One of his photographs went viral. It isn't just the fact that he had a large social media presence, after all Abu Layth al-Khorosani, who died recently, also had one. The question is, why is he singled out?

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There seems to be nothing extraordinary about the devout young man from Portsmouth. His father runs a take away, mother is a housewife. He grew up in a loving home with his siblings and working part time in a Sky call centre. Yet this young man decided to join ISIS, the most feared rebel group fighting President Assad's army. In his Ustream uploads, Iftekhar Jaman known by his nom de guerre, Abu Abdur Rahman al-Britani, appears harmless and innocent, but according to my exclusive interview with his family for Channel4 news, he was not acting on a whim and his choice was far from naive. His brother Mustakim refuted the idea that he was radicalised. "He had been thinking about going to Syria at the time when the FSA was still just a baby. It was the hundreds of images coming out of Syria that moved him to action".

When Jaman flew off to Turkey he told his parents that he was going to visit the Syrian refugee camps. Once there, he met his contact who took him over the porous border. Once inside, the young man who didn't speak Arabic was put through his paces in an ISIS training camp for two months. Abu Julaybib, another fighter who met him in Northern Syria, recalled that he was "a quiet brother- real humble".

After his training period ended, he was assigned to guard duty, where Jaman was exposed to the elements and the threat of attack. Whenever he went guarding- his brother, Tuhin, recalls- "he always said his good byes". During down time, as his twitter feed shows, he studied Arabic, answered questions to people who wanted to come over, doted over kittens, cooked for his comrades and popped into town with his friends to proselytize Islam. He had also become a point of contact for other fighters. He helped Abu Qa'qaa and the late Abu Layth al-Khorosani over the border and others who followed his example. In fact, a close bond developed between the three Britons .

But tank shells care little for friendships and Jaman was killed by a regime tank in Deir Ezzour; his comrade Abu Qa'qaa was injured in his legs, too.

It was Abu Layth al-Khorosani who informed his family of the news. Abu Layth was out on a walk when some friends approached skipping happily as if it was a wedding celebration and said that Iftekhar had been martyred. According to Tuhin, the news made the likes of Abu Layth al-Khorosani even keener for martyrdom. His wish was granted. Ironically it wasn't Assad's soldiers who killed him somewhere in northern Syria last Monday, but the people he had wished to help, the FSA.

On the day of Jaman's death, people close to his family said they received dreams of his passing. In one dream, Iftekhar is seen sending a Whatsapp message with a picture of a house with two gardens and rivers flowing underneath, with the message "sister look what I got". It gave the family comfort because it was a Quranic reference to Paradise and implied that Iftekhar was there. Whilst family found consolation in dreams, outside, in the Bengali community the response was mixed. Some were clearly angry and viewed his death as well deserved because he had inspired five other Bengali young men to follow suit. Whereas others like Mr. Jayar Rahman, a family friend, said "well the elders fought against the Pakistanis for nationalism and he fought for God, which one is nobler?"

Iftekhar's death brought down the EDL, Special Branch and a whole lot of media attention on a small Bengali community in Portsmouth. The elders didn't want their quiet mosque besieged by EDL placards, nor did they like Special Branch asking all sorts of bewildering questions. They were peace loving people who had sacrificed families in Bangladesh for a life of graft and hardship facing much prejudice. They had persevered and they had compromised. And here was a good Bengali boy, sticking his head above the parapet off to fight in Syria. Why didn't Iftekhar work hard, marry, pray, keep a low profile and retire to Bangladesh?

His departure split the quiet Bengali community. Fear of more boys leaving resulted in notices being put up in the mosque, prohibiting young men from gathering without the express permission of the mosque committee.

Yet the Bengali youth of Portsmouth were drawn to Jaman's way of thinking, and social media embraced it. He represented a lost idealism of an ordinary middle class boy who gave it all up to do something about Syria whilst the world dithered. More than that, as his tweets suggest, he was unswerving in his beliefs.

From Jaman's perspective, Bengali fathers had taken out mortgages and entered into usury- forbidden in Islam. They sold alcohol in restaurants, albeit to non-Muslims, but it was still forbidden in Islam. He wasn't going to compromise over Gaza nor Syria, as his tweets and ask.fm answers suggest. To many young Muslims, Jaman's choice represented an uncompromising faith in a world where many Muslims feel powerless to affect change. And it is this that made him stand out from the other Britons who fell fighting the Assad regime.

This piece is based on me investigating the story for Channel Four News, the full report can be viewed here