Diary of a disillusioned jihadist

Adelaide doctor Tareq Kamleh, AKA Abu Youssef al-Australi, from an IS propaganda video.
Adelaide doctor Tareq Kamleh, AKA Abu Youssef al-Australi, from an IS propaganda video.

When Perth doctor Tareq Kamleh became the Islamic State's latest propaganda video star, spruiking the "caliphate" from a well-equipped neonatal ward in Syria, he had a message for other Muslim medicos.

"It was a decision I was very, very happy I made," he said in the slick 2015 video. "It's a good system that they're running here. Everything lived up to my expectations completely."

But the chance discovery of what is believed to be Dr Kamleh's diary in the group's former de facto capital of al-Raqqa has revealed a very different story. The handsome Australian paediatrician wrote that he was in "despair" about the so-called caliphate, according to a British man who has read the document.

Whatever he said for the cameras, in his private moments Dr Kamleh bemoaned that other IS fighters refused to donate to an orphanage he was involved with and even lamented the way they treated animals.

The bedroom of Macer Gifford (a pseudonym), a British man who fought with the Kurds against Islamic State. Photo: Facebook

The bedroom of Macer Gifford (a pseudonym), a British man who fought with the Kurds against Islamic State. Photo: Facebook

The diary and other possessions were discovered by a British former currency trader who was fighting with the Kurds against IS and goes by the pseudonym Macer Gifford.

Mr Gifford found them in a large, well-equipped house where he spent a night during the battle for al-Raqqa last month. The house was abandoned but IS documents found there indicate it had belonged to Dr Kamleh.

As the caliphate effectively came to an end last week with the fall of its last stronghold towns, Mr Gifford related what he had learnt of Dr Kamleh's story to Fairfax Media as he waited on the Syria-Iraq border for passage home to Britain.

The jihadist group sold itself to aspirants such as Dr Kamleh on the glorification of violence and the promise of an ultra-strict but well-managed Islamic society. Dr Kamleh found that the caliphate kept faith with the former but not the latter.

Measurements believed to be for a uniform, found at the house believed to have been owned by Australian IS doctor Tareq Kamleh. Photo: Supplied

Measurements believed to be for a uniform, found at the house believed to have been owned by Australian IS doctor Tareq Kamleh. Photo: Supplied

"I don't think he was a particularly happy character ... He didn't seem to be getting on with people there very much," Mr Gifford said.

Dr Kamleh had become involved with an IS orphanage and was trying to raise money for the project. But nobody would donate, nor would the IS hierarchy help.

"Sometimes [a page] would start off saying, 'Today I went into town and I spoke to Ahmed about raising some money for the kids.'

"Then he would go on about how, 'We have no chance unless all the fundamentals change.' He didn't like the way he was getting no support, he didn't like the way people weren't giving any money. His exact words were, 'I despair for the future of the caliphate.'"

Macer Gifford (a pseudonym), a British man who has fought with the Kurds against Islamic State, pictured in Syria. Photo: Facebook

Macer Gifford (a pseudonym), a British man who has fought with the Kurds against Islamic State, pictured in Syria. Photo: Facebook

At the same time, Dr Kamleh remained devoted to the cause, Mr Gifford said.

"He was almost completely directionless as a person, wanting to cling to the Islamic State yet writing very openly and clearly how much he despaired at it."

Mr Gifford didn't keep the hardcover notebook but handed it over to the Kurdish military, which was collecting material on foreign fighters to give to US forces.

Dr Kamleh arrived in Syria from Perth in March 2015. Documents Mr Gifford found at the house indicate it had been commandeered for Dr Kamleh by the "caliphate army".

A document from the "Islamic State Bureau of Soldiers, Military Medical Services" and dated December 2015 states: "Please register the occupied estate for [transfer ownership to] brother Youssef al-Australi."

Another IS document from the house, dated April 2016, states: "Please give brother Youssef al-Australi holsters (quantity: 2) for him and Abu Abdur-Rahman al-Maghri. [Brother] Youssef works at the Military Medical Services."

Dr Kamleh used the very similar jihad name of Abu Youssef al-Australi. He is the only known Australian doctor working with IS in Syria. He told The Australian in a 2015 interview that there had been one other, though this may have been a recruitment tactic aimed at making the trip attractive to more Australians.

Mr Gifford said he firmly believed the house and its possessions were Dr Kamleh's. He said another notebook in the house showed the doctor had received military training and "seemed to be pretty much obsessed with it judging by the way he wrote about it".

IS military medical services document requesting that the armoury provide Abu Youssef al-Australi and another man, Abu Abdur-Rahman al-Maghri, with holsters.

IS military medical services document requesting that the armoury provide Abu Youssef al-Australi and another man, Abu Abdur-Rahman al-Maghri, with holsters.

He also had an "obsession with vitamin pills" and had many bottles for various purposes.

Mr Gifford concluded the doctor was "an American Psycho-type man", referring to the preening, charismatic but psychopathic book and film character.

Former colleagues and acquaintances of Dr Kamleh's have previously described him as charming but manipulative and sexually predatory.

"Of all the things that ISIS has done, brutally murdered people and blown up homes, here was a guy who, it seemed, had had half his brain removed. Half of it was dedicated ... but his sense of empathy, right and wrong, was way off.

"He even complained about other jihadis ... being cruel to animals around him and said it didn't give him much hope for the future of the caliphate because the level of cruelty towards animals - hitting dogs and so on - that he saw in the society made him upset.

"There was a meticulousness, an obsession with his health ... He had a workout schedule of how many press-ups he was going to do. Just a neat, intelligent but slightly psychopathic character is what came across in his possessions."

Dr Tareq Kamleh in a photo taken from his Facebook page. Photo: Facebook

Dr Tareq Kamleh in a photo taken from his Facebook page. Photo: Facebook

After a few weeks, the diary became mostly jottings that included information on medical cases and doodles of Kalashnikov rifles.

Two further questions have been raised by what was in the house. Taped to the wall next to the main bed was was a picture drawn by a young girl that shows a house and stick figures with the names "Mummy" and "Daddy".

Dr Kamleh is not known to have had a daughter. The picture may have belonged to someone else. But Dr Kamleh told The Australian in 2015 he had married a physiotherapist who worked at the same hospital in al-Raqqa, raising the possibility he had acquired a step-daughter through the marriage.

Mr Gifford said some women's clothes were in the house. He also found a list of names of other foreign fighters with their current points of contact and whether they also had wives and children with them, suggesting that Dr Kamleh may have been involved in helping bring other fighters into Syria.

Dr Kamleh's current situation is not certain but Fairfax Media believes he is still alive and it is likely he remains at large, though this may have changed in recent days as the final islands of IS territory were swept away.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the government was "not aware of any Australians who have recently surrendered or have been captured in Iraq or Syria". She said it was very hard for the Australian government to confirm deaths of foreign fighters.

Local witnesses who spoke to Fairfax Media in recent days via email and social media said that foreign fighters mostly left al-Raqqa before it fell and headed south-east down the Euphrates valley to other safe havens.

An Australian Federal Police spokeswoman said there was an arrest warrant for Dr Kamleh for being a member of, and recruiting for, a terrorist organisation and also for being in a "declared area" - one of the terrorist "no go" zones named by the federal government.

This story Diary of a disillusioned jihadist first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.