In an exclusive and unprecedented interview — which can be seen for the first time tonight on “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt,” and at greater length Sunday on Dateline’s “On Assignment” — the defector tells how he was seduced by promises of a utopian Islamic State only to find brutality and chaos when he got to Syria.
“Like a lot of things, I just blocked it out,” said the man, who asked that he be identified only as Mo. “At one point towards the end as things were getting more and more serious, I did see severed heads placed on spiked poles,” the 27-year-old, who is now in federal custody and cooperating, told NBC News.
Mo, who attended one of the nation’s top colleges, is one of a small group of American citizens and residents whose names were found in ISIS personnel files obtained by NBC News and verified by the West Point Combating Terrorism Center.
In the interview, he recounts his trip to Turkey and then Syria, his ISIS indoctrination, the violence he witnessed and the growing disillusionment that triggered his dangerous escape.
“The Islamic State is not bringing Islam to the world, and people need to know that. And I’ll say that…till the day I die,” he said.
He has been in custody since he returned to the United States and signed a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors, who allowed him to speak with NBC News.
Mo said he agreed to show his face and share his story to spread a message to others who might be tempted by the terrorist organization’s slick propaganda.
“It’s obviously the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life,” he said of his short-lived ISIS membership.
“I’m helping in every sense that I can to help rid the world of the evil that I saw. And it’s an arrow in my quiver every time I help.”
Watch NBC Nightly News at 6:30 p.m. ET for a first look at the interview. Tune into “On Assignment” on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET for much more of the interview and an in-depth look at Mo’s journey.