On Nov. 14, 2015 — the day after a series of terrorist attacks in Paris killed 130 people — a Dutch jihadi, who goes by the the name "Chechclear," posted the following on Tumblr:
Chechclear's real name is Israfil Yilmaz, a 29-year-old fighter in Syria who has been active for years on social media, regularly answering questions about life in ISIS and commenting on current events.
His Tumblr has been active — and widely reported on by various media outlets — since early 2014, but the page was deleted on Nov. 20.
When asked about the takedown, a Tumblr spokesperson told BuzzFeed News:
"Tumblr is a global platform for creativity and self-expression, but we have drawn lines around a few narrowly defined but deeply important categories of content and behavior, as outlined in our Community Guidelines. Our skilled Trust & Safety team reviews all content which has been flagged for potential violations on a case by case basis. Due to the anonymous nature of our platform, policy determinations are made based on detailed review of the content, not on the supposed identity of the poster. If law enforcement authorities choose to investigate particular blogs, Tumblr reviews and responds to requests in accordance with the law and our Law Enforcement Guidelines."
Unlike Facebook, which told BuzzFeed News in September 2014 that it "doesn't permit terrorist groups to use our site," Tumblr does not have such a clause in its guidelines.
Although Tumblr's guidelines say that it is not to be used for "malicious speech," which it defines as "[encouraging] violence or hatred on the basis of things like race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation," the guidelines also "encourage [users] to dismantle negative speech through argument rather than censorship."
And indeed, Yilmaz used his Tumblr account's Q&A function to respond to criticism about ISIS from from both moral and religious grounds.
According to a document released in August that added Yilmaz, full name Salih Yahya Gazali Yilmaz, to what he called the Dutch "blacklist of terrorists," he was born Sept. 29, 1987, in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, but became a citizen of the Netherlands.
He was a soldier in the Royal Netherlands Army, but quit in 2012 to travel to Syria to fight against Bashar al-Assad's forces.
In an interview on the Dutch television show Nieuwsuur in January 2014, Yilmaz said that he left the army as he was about to be promoted so that he could travel to Syria.
"If the Dutch forces would send a unit or fighters to Syria to help oppressed people, I would be the first person to sign up for the Dutch army. But nobody's doing anything. So why not do something to help these people."
Unlike many fighters in Syria, soon after his arrival, Yilmaz began posting images of his life online. He immediately became a focus of interest for media outlets covering the ongoing situation in the country.
For nearly two years, Yilmaz would create new accounts on Twitter, Instagram, and Ask.fm that would be shut down quickly, but his Tumblr account remained online.
During this time, he actively denied that he had joined any particular group in Syria, describing himself as a "freelancer" (although he would later admit to having been a part of three groups, all of which he left).
In a Tumblr post uploaded on May 24, 2014, he criticized people who tried to label him as a member of one group or another and urged readers of his blog to reach out to him on Ask.fm if they had any questions about his life or allegiances:
"I just got a phone call from a worried brother saying he saw me on a Facebook post claiming I was working for the secret services," he said. "So what does this mean now? Me doing an interview makes me a spy? Me wearing The Black Banner as an arm patch makes me ISIS? Fighting alongside JN/Ahrar makes me AQ? Training Syrians makes me FSA? Those who claim to know me, those who slander me should fear Allah (SWT). Those who know me, know me - and those who dont know me should ask me about me, I have ask.fm for a reason."
However, a year later, on May 6, 2015, Yilmaz posted on Tumblr that he had officially joined ISIS.
"At one point I was a critic of IS, but after following the direction of the many arrows of the kuffar, and staying with and around other groups I soon came to realize that here in Syria the most forward, the most sincere brothers are those that have joined IS," he said. Yilmaz added that ISIS's "ideology was clear" and that they "implement the most complete of Shariah I have seen here in Syria."
"I'm very impressed by the Islamic State and the way they govern and manage their affairs," he wrote on July 10, confirming his new allegiance. "Like yourself - I was a fool once who thought it was just 1 big joke, until I came here and saw it with my own eyes - up close and personal. Nothing beats reality on the ground."
Although Yilmaz would rebuff journalists who asked for interviews over Tumblr ("everything media and journalist related in the Islamic State goes through official channels"), his answers gave a look into the life and mind of a Western ISIS member.
In the days following the Paris attacks, Yilmaz answered several questions about his feelings about to the acts of terror.
Many of the questions that he has fielded over the last year have concerned ISIS-related news of the day, such as the reported death of "Jihadi John."
And Russian forces beginning airstrikes in Syria.
He also answers questions about some of ISIS's controversial practices, such as the taking of female slaves, primarily for the purpose of sex.
"Does [ISIS] sell women," asked an anonymous user in July. Yilmaz responded, "The free Muslim women? No. The captured slave women? Yes."
"Slaves/concubines are from the Quran and Sunnah so whoever dislikes it or does not approve of it should check his Islam on a serious note," he said in a Tumblr post June 24 in answer to another question, adding that these women have their rights and their owners "are not allowed to abuse them in any way."
Despite this, he admitted, "Yes, it's true that some brothers have done stupid things with their concubines - but blame that on us - not Islam (for Islam teaches us how to treat them justly)."
His wife, he said in one response, said she would be fine if he brought home a slave girl.
Yilmaz has also answered questions about how those living under ISIS control — and those who have fled Syria — see the group.
In another response dated Sept. 2, he blamed the current refugee crisis on the West's intervention in Syria. "Maybe it's because of coalition bombings on the State?" he asked. "When people get bombed and are scared they flee the area, does that make sense to you?"
"They flee because the coalition and their proxies are waging war against IS so the people can't live in peace in their controlled areas," he wrote on Sept. 1. "There are a million+ people living in Mosul, why are they not fleeing? Because they live in peace under Islamic Laws - and as soon as the apostates and the crusaders are going to attack Mosul thousands and thousands of people are going to be forced to leave."
His posts give a glimpse of the realities of living in territory under siege.
He used his Tumblr to answer questions about ISIS's armies and actively encouraged those who were thinking about joining the group to make the journey.
"We fight and die together, the brotherhood on the battlefields is amazing," he wrote on July 29.
Yilmaz also talked openly about the possibility of his own death, making it clear that he wanted to die in combat. "Shahadah (martyrdom) is beautiful, I wouldn't want to get killed by a cowardly drone strike, though," he wrote, adding that he didn't want to die at the hands of "some chubby American guy sitting behind a computer screen somewhere in Qatar."
He also gave insights into the other men who are fighting as part of ISIS's army in Syria and Iraq.
And images from and anecdotes about day-to-day life under ISIS control.
"Electricity and internet you can find almost anywhere in the Islamic State," Yilmaz said in response to an anonymous question posted June 19 about how he could have internet and computers in Syria.
"Hehehehe, I wish you could see Mosul, or Ar-Raqqah, it's just like any other city where people go about their daily lives. Shops, cars, parks, restaurants, gyms, schools, etc," he said, adding that his home in Syria reminded him of Adana, Turkey.
After getting married in September 2014, Yilmaz began posting more personal things on his blog, such as pictures of his (heavily veiled) Azerbaijani wife.
On July 27, 2015, Yilmaz wrote that his first child, a son, had been born while he was away fighting, along with a picture of the newborn's tiny fingers.
On Aug. 4, he posted this "first picture" of his "son," adding that he had named his child Muhammad Qasim Jībrīl. "I gave my baby boy 3 names because my father also gave me and my brothers 3 names," he later wrote.
He defended his actions when someone criticized him for uploading the snap.
"There are many lions in the State who are up for the job, don't worry :-)," he said when asked by an anonymous user who would take care of his wife and child if he was "droned."
Yilmaz also wrote that he hoped his son would grow up to be an ISIS fighter and said that the infant was "already showing signs."
Even though Yilmaz's Tumblr was still down at the time of publication, in the past, he has always established new accounts after a platform has shut him down.
Ellie Hall is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 6055 A264 DADD AADC 347E 5986 547C C11C DD7D 176A.
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