Jürgen Todenhöfer, the first Western journalist to be granted access to territories controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), has returned with a warning: the terrorist group is “much stronger and much more dangerous” than its adversaries understand.
The veteran German writer and journalist is back in his home state after traveling through ISIS territories, just months after the extremist group began killing captive foreign workers and journalists. In Todenhöfer’s first interviews about the trip with German-language media, translated by the U.K. Independent, he presents ISIS as having achieved its namesake goal: an Islamic State — or rather, a collection of claimed lands hewed together by an audacious, baffling zealotry that will challenge efforts to beat the group.
In Mosul, Todenhöfer found an “almost ecstatic enthusiasm” for the jihadist group that is unlike anything he had seen “in any other war zone,” he tells the German press. Each day, Todenhöfer says, hundreds of new recruits arrive to pledge themselves to the group’s mission, or what he calls the “largest religious cleansing strategy that has ever been planned in human history.”
Beyond the challenge of beating ISIS’s psychological pull on its followers, the U.S. and its allies will also confront the problem that the group’s some 5,000 fighters in Mosul sleep in barracks all around the Iraqi city, such that attackers “would have to reduce the whole of Mosul to ruins” to rid it of ISIS, says Todenhöfer.
He adds: “With every bomb that is dropped and hits a civilian, the number of terrorists increases.”