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A jihadist redeemed in the heart of Washington

Ismail Royer, an American condemned 20 years for extremism, now fights against the radicalization of Islam

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A jihadist redeemed in the heart of Washington

By Ismail's lips, surnames of Catalan politicians glide clumsily, pronounced in half and with a slight accent of American Midwest, but ir mere appearance shows a more than remarkable knowledge of current Spanish politics. The man has read about crisis and is interested in it with several questions. When it is noted how well informed it seems, responds with what at first seems a gag, but is actually saying no second: "I'm not a typical American."

Ismail Royer came out of jail in December 2016 after completing 13 of his 20-year sentence for helping a group of friends go to an extremist training camp in Pakistan after 9/11, with ultimate goal of joining Taliban. He grew up like Randall in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. At age of 21 he converted to Islam, changed his name and went on to fight in Bosnia horrified by genocide. After a few years of his return, he became involved in fight for Kashmir and came into contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba, n a radical Islamist group that years later would be classified as a terrorist and claimed Mumbai bombing in 2008. That is organization with which he put more in contact with his friends, a group of young people with whom he used to meet to play paintball in a town of Virginia. When y were caught, press baptized m in a tragicomic way as jihadists of paintball.

-When you look back, do you see yourself as an extremist?

-For a short period of time, after 9/11, yes. But problem is not that only I was an extremist at time, problem is wrong ideas that allowed it to be. If someone had made me see how wrong my ideas were, when 9/11 happened I would not have been confused like this, and never happened to dark side.

Royer, aged 44, is now working on fighting this extremism from Center for Islam and religious freedom, a non-profit organization whose offices are located a couple of blocks from White House in Washington. When he was free he began to write a blog about his personal journey, his mistakes, which in or words defines as an awareness. Jennifer Bryson, an expert who had spent three years interrogating prisoners at Guantanamo, read one of her post and contacted him. Soon after, he offered him a job at center. "I see my role, not so much in matter of extremism, but in trying to help Muslims understand what it means to be American, and that you can be Muslim, that re is no contradiction between two," he explains.

There was a time when Ismail did see those contradictions. When asked about tipping point, by time he ceased to be a young activist in good faith – he felt "a Quixote," he says--to fall into that which he calls " dark side," points to Al 11-S. "I was totally against attack , but n re was a great polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims, and I was confused. An academic gave a talk to some friends and me and said, ' Look, that doesn't matter anymore, it doesn't matter wher [11-S] was right or wrong, what matters is what comes now, now West goes to war against Muslims and you must choose who you are with. ' You can disagree with m [al-Qaeda] as much as you want, but that does not change fact that re is a war between Islamic world and non-Islamic, ' he said.

If world split into two camps, Ismail was with Muslims. Some of young people at meeting asked him if he could help m go to Pakistan. Then Royer went with his family to Bosnia and lost contact with boys.

He began, he says, to whirl his head over all that had passed. "I realized that I was deceived, re was no global war... We had Pakistan on U.S. side, for example. You had... There was no such war between Muslims and non-Muslims. " By n, FBI started hanging around his far's house with questions. Royer ended up returning to America. In 2003 he was indicted and in 2004 pleaded guilty to two crimes, to assist in use of firearms in a violent crime and aid and collaboration in transport of explosives, but was not convicted of acts directly related to terrorism , something he emphasizes.

Then came 13 and a half years of prison, a large part of m in a maximum Security Center in Colorado, where he coincided with ors condemned by jihadism and completed his particular awareness. Its epistolary disputes with British Richard Reed, so-called terrorist of Shoe, which in December of 2001 wanted to blow up a bomb on a flight between Paris and Miami tried to ignite a wick which it wore in footwear, are famous. Royer argued that it didn't make much sense to go killing neighbor in name of religion, asking him what kind of Islam he had in his head that, at point, made him think that harming civilians was virtuous. "All that process made me know what motivates se people," he says, and thought his experience would be "an asset."

The center of his current work as an activist is religious freedom, that coexistence between religions: "I focus on that freedom especially because when you get it, you get rid of all grievances that [extremists] exploit." These, he explains, "are leaving religion, even when y claim to defend Islam, y do so in a way that undermines religion. That happens mostly with victimism, y put center of ir identity, rar than values. "

-Do you identify yourself as a jihadist at some point in your history?

-I think that during that time I was, yes... I have to be very careful not to minimize it. I do not want to minimize severity of my mistakes, but I also have to clarify that re is a difference with me, is something that judge saw, prosecutor... I didn't go around trying to see who to kill or hurt, like I told judge. I tried to do good, I looked like someone who wanted to do good.


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