ISTANBUL — Abu Musab was finishing his night shift at an ISIS checkpoint in Raqqa early on Nov. 9 when the friend who came to replace him told him the result of the US election with a hysterical laugh. “They elected the dog Trump! I swear to God, he will burn the world,” he recalled his friend saying.
In the days that followed, the recent defector said, ISIS members in Raqqa, the group’s self-declared capital, hailed Donald Trump’s win as a victory for the terror group. Local leaders even called it divine intervention. “They told us that victory is at hand and that God has sent the pig Trump as clear evidence of this,” Abu Musab said. “And they said that now God will make the Americans start fighting amongst themselves, and they prayed to God, saying, ‘O God, destroy the oppressors by the hand of the oppressors and let us escape them unharmed.’ And we said, ‘Amen.’”
A Syrian in his thirties who drove a taxi before the war, Abu Musab left ISIS in December and fled to Turkey. He agreed to an interview in Istanbul on the condition that he be identified by his nom de guerre. In a series of interviews, Abu Musab and two other recent defectors, as well as two current ISIS members, described the reaction to Trump’s election inside ISIS’s self-styled caliphate — ranging from celebration among ISIS members to fear that the US-led military campaign against the group will intensify.
Trump’s vows to destroy ISIS — and his denunciations of the Obama administration for failing to get the job done — were a centerpiece of his campaign. He promised to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS” and to “blow up every single inch” of its territory until there was “nothing left,” while declaring in a foreign policy speech in April that “ISIS will be gone if I’m elected president. And they’ll be gone quickly.” It was a message that also featured prominently in Trump’s inaugural address last Friday. “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism,” he said, “which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”
Yet many of the fighters living in ISIS territory believe the Trump administration will be good for them, the current and former members said. One reason they cited for this optimism was Trump’s divisiveness within America, which they believed would weaken the country. Trump took office on Friday with an approval rating of around 40%, according to polls from Gallup, CNN, Fox News and others, the lowest of any incoming US president since at least the 1940s.