An Operations Sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces who is slated to become an officer is also the cousin of an ISIS fighter who was killed last October, the IDF’s Bamahane magazine reported in this month’s edition.
Leah, a pseudonym, who is now in the advanced stages of the IDF officers’ course, immigrated to Israel from France. Last August, her parents informed her that her cousin, Rafael, had traveled to Syria to fight with ISIS, according to Israel’s NRG news, which also reported on the story.
Rafael’s journey from being born to a French Jewish family to becoming an ISIS fighter may have surprised his family, but his affinity for Islam began years ago. As a student, he was convinced to visit a mosque and to adopt Islamic religious practices.
At that point, members of his family began severing ties. After a year in Dubai and another month back in France, Rafael boarded a plane and departed to join the Syrian civil war.
“He didn’t see it as something evil. He wanted to live as they did in early Islam, without all of the material trappings of our lives,” said Leah, adding that ISIS, “showed him all the good sides, they showed him what was happening in Syria and that they were being killed and he was going to do humanitarian work.”
According to Leah, “they told him he would be participating in humanitarian missions.”
After a week in the war-torn country, Rafael resolved to stay in Syria. In a phone call with his father, he said he was going to oversee IT operations in one of ISIS’s camps.
In their daily conversations, Rafael’s family would try to convince him to return to France from the Syrian battlefield. But their efforts were to no avail.
When his family confronted him about the beheadings and carnage carried out by ISIS, he would deny they ever happened.
Leah said that her father and all of her uncles were extremely worried, and her mother was depressed and cried regularly over Rafael.
“I have an uncle who was a very good friend of his and he sent him a long letter asking him how he could be so selfish to do such a thing to his parents and his family,” said Leah, but Rafael did not respond.
During her IDF service in one of the districts in the West Bank, Leah heard of the arrest of three ISIS operatives in the Hebron area and, she said, she prayed that her cousin would return to France.
“He was like an older brother to me. We had a lot of kid fights. We would play together, tease one another,” said Leah. She added that Rafael was, “always cool, and played the guitar. I really admired him.”
However, said Leah, “from the moment he entered Syria, I didn’t want to talk to him. I was afraid that they would hurt him if they found out he spoke to me and I’m in the IDF.”
She claimed ISIS knew he was from a Jewish family. “From their perspective, his conversion to Islam and his recruitment was a huge victory,” since it meant, among other things, “less Jews in the world.”
In the interview, Leah expressed her continued disbelief over her cousin’s chosen path in life. “I understand he was looking for meaning, and not to be like everyone else in France and just think about himself, but how could he join a murderous organization like this?” said Leah.
“They brainwashed him. He was deeply convinced of his beliefs. Just as I am fighting here and believe with complete faith in the justice of our cause, it seems he also believed that, to my regret, he was fighting for the right side,” said Leah.
In October, Rafael was killed by Syrian government forces, and was buried in Syria. Members of ISIS relayed the news of his death to his family. Leah was in France at that time visiting her family.
“Dad got up to answer the phone, and immediately I knew something bad happened.” He told her Rafael was dead, but his body would not be brought to France.
“He was a nice kid, a really great guy. It was such a waste,” said Leah, adding that she was, “very angry at him. I was angry he didn’t speak to me. I could understand where he was coming from, because I’m also fighting for what I believe in, but I was very disappointed in what he did.”