“Seeing individuals dedicate themselves to tyrannical death cults led by suicidal maniacs is bad enough. Knowing that I may have contributed to their choices is terrible.”
By Graeme Wood
About the author: Graeme Wood is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of The Way of the Strangers: Encounters With the Islamic State.
On February 7, 2016, Musa Cerantonio told a friend that his fame as Australia’s best-known ISIS supporter had become a burden. Fellow ISIS supporters felt mysteriously compelled to email or call him before committing crimes. “Why,” Cerantonio lamented, “does everyone, before they do stupid shit, get in contact with me?” In this case, the doer of stupid shit was Alo-Bridget Namoa, the “Bonnie” half of the terror couple she herself had dubbed “the jihadi Bonnie and Clyde.” She and Clyde, a.k.a. Sameh Bayda, were both later convicted of terror offenses. Namoa had contacted Cerantonio, the Australian authorities tapping his phone later revealed, because she needed to know where to get an ISIS flag in Sydney. ISIS supporters were treating him like a jihadist help desk. If you see her, Cerantonio told his friend, “slap her for me.” Later that year, Cerantonio was arrested for trying to travel by boat from Australia to ISIS territory in the southern Philippines. He has been in prison ever since, and he has 13 months left on his sentence.
But if you try dialing the help desk in 13 months, you might not get the encouragement you’d expect. Last year, Cerantonio wrote to me from Port Phillip Prison, in Melbourne, and told me that he had renounced ISIS.
In block letters—the Arabic transcriptions neatly bedecked with diacritical marks, all in the right places—he explained his journey back from jihad. “I have been wrong these last 17 years,” he wrote. “Seeing individuals dedicate themselves to tyrannical death cults led by suicidal maniacs is bad enough. Knowing that I may have contributed to their choices is terrible.” Perhaps he should be returned to the help desk before his sentence is up. “I hope that my experiences may be of help in drawing others away from the same mistakes.”