The story of an ISIS emir

ISIS emir (*) Salih Xelef El-Eli was taken captive by SDF fighters during the Operation Cizire Storm. Salih told how he joined ISIS and became an ISIS emir even though he was a simple and uneducated man.

ISIS emir Salih Xelef El-Eli is from the town of Kesra west of Deir ez-Zor city. He was born in 1992. Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured El-Eli in El-Kuber town, west of Deir ez-Zor city.

Rojava based Hawar News Agency (ANHA) interviewed captive ISIS emir Salih El-Eli who told the story of his life, how he joined ISIS and became a leading figure, an ISIS emir.


Salih began explaining that after ISIS gangs invaded Deir ez-Zor in 2015, he like all other residents visited the mosques and joined the preaching and meetings held by ISIS.

ISIS gangs carried out massive propaganda via their sympathizers and members within the society and they organized the local population motivating them to join their gangs. El-Eli said to have been deeply influenced by those ISIS gangs. Because El-Eli was completely illiterate, he alleges to not have thoroughly grasped their preaching and to not have understood what they were talking about.

Five months after the invasion of Deir ez-Zor by ISIS, two of Salih El-Eli's cousins joined the gangs. Both his cousins underwent the gangs' military training and became official members of ISIS. El-Eli's two cousins once returned to their home village for a visit, where Salih El-Eli came across them.

Talking about that issue El-Eli said: "I saw my two cousins the first day of their visit. They had just completed the military training cycle and got me into a discussion. We talked about the training which they both praised strongly, but they emphasized also the power one received personally. They said that there were loads of money."


Gang leader (emir) Salih El-Eli continued saying that the ISIS gangs occupied several oil wells in the Deir ez-Zor region and were, therefore, able to pay high wages to their members and said: "I decided to join too and make some money. I paid a visit to my uncle in Mayadeen. A great deal of the ISIS gangs' registration centres was in this city. My uncle sent me to the ISIS centre in the Cerniye village west of Raqqa."

There Salih El-Eli participated in the military training cycle that lasted 45 days. The lessons were predominantly about Islamic books and the history of Islam, they were also educated on the rules of war and the laws of ISIS. El-Eli stated that the ISIS gangs told them during the training cycle that all the people of Syria were "unbelievers" who had to be fought against in order to make them return to the religion of Islam.

El-Eli received military training and learned how to operate heavy and light weapons, and also took courses on the usage of howitzers and how to make explosives. ISIS gangs taught El-Eli also how to use civilians as human shields and how to protect himself from air strikes. After the completion of the training cycle, Salih El-Eli officially joined ISIS.

"I did not understand the military training well enough. I do not know how to read and write anyway. I do not know the truth of Islam and its history. I cannot read the holy Koran to learn from it. What I was taught in their lessons was that all the people of Syria were unbelievers and deviated from the religion, we needed to fight against them to bring them back to the real Islam according to the teachings of ISIS. What we were supposed to do was to fight against everyone who was not sharing the ideology of ISIS" he said.

Gang member El-Eli was assigned to the region west of the Euphrates River following his graduation from the military training cycles, where he fought two months long alongside the ISIS gangs. After that he paid a 5-day visit to his family, followed by his assignment to the Suxne region affiliated to Homs.


In Suxne, one of the ISIS leaders there tempted him to become an emir. That leading figure told him that he would achieve high status once he became an emir. Salih El-Eli said: "They told me that one of the conditions to become an emir was to behead six people. I encouraged myself with the thought of earning much money and getting many women for myself. A number of soldiers of the Syrian regime were taken captive by us during the battle between ISIS and regime forces in Tedmur (Palmyra) and Suxne. The leading figure at that time was a Tunisian emir with the name Ebu Eli El-Tunisi. After bearing witness to my murder of six persons, he raised my position and I became an emir."

Salih El-Eli, a leading figure within ISIS from that moment on, said to have returned thereupon to the city Mayadeen, where he met one of the ISIS leaders.

"That ISIS leader hid his face. I did not know who he was and they did not tell me his name. That ISIS leader assigned a couple of soldiers for my protection and they bestowed me also a new car" he noted.

In that way, he became an emir ruling over some villages in the Deir ez-Zor region.

(*) Emir is a Muslim (usually Arab) military commander or local chief