Jason Burke

Al-Qaeda’s Prodigal Child

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror


Regan Arts 288pp £9.99 order from our bookshop

ISIS: The State of Terror


William Collins 416pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

On 23 October 2014, Abdelaziz Kuwan, a second-year student of Islamic studies at a religious college in Saudi Arabia, was shot dead by a Syrian government sniper in the al-Hawiqa district of the eastern Syrian town of Deir Ezzor. Nearly three years earlier the teenager, a high-school dropout from Bahrain, had defied his parents and flown to Istanbul, then crossed into the Syrian province of Aleppo. He fought for moderate rebel factions before their corruption and inefficacy drove him into the arms of the Islamists. After some time spent with Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful faction that has been backed by various Gulf states, he switched to Jabhat al-Nusra, the affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria. After a brief spell back at home, he returned to the conflict but this time joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which became known simply as the Islamic State (IS) after its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate. Kuwan rose to become a security official running three towns. He participated in executions and repeatedly raped a captive girl from the Yazidi minority whom he had been given as a sabiyya (sex slave) as a reward for his role in battles against Kurdish forces. Kuwan now called himself Abu al-Mutasim, after the eighth caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, which had presided over much of the ‘golden age of Islamic civilisation’ and one of the greatest historical empires in the 8th and 9th centuries. ‘I came … seeking martyrdom,’ Kuwan told Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, the authors of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, a few months before his death. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • He weeps by the side of the ocean, He weeps on the top of the hill; He purchases pancakes and lotion, And chocolate… ,
    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,