tvjihad parodic Twitter account author: ''Air strike on the Syrian airfield is a sporadic case''
Creator of top satiric account about war in Syria, non-radical Tatarstan and ''defamed truck driver'' Ilyas Nikitin
Will political shock follow the attack of the USA on state forces of Syria? Will ISIS (an organisation banned in Russia) claim responsibility for the terrorist attack in Saint Petersburg? Why did Arabic-speaking users like the transmission from the scene of the Petersburg tragedy? The creator of the top parodic and satiric twitter account tvjihad answered serious questions of Realnoe Vremya. Our interlocutor also told whether he was a Muslim, why Tatarstan is rarely on the agenda of tvjihad and how often it is considered the official account of radicals by rebels.
''It is clear that the Syrian government and Kurds will be the winner as a result of this saga''
What should we be thinking of the attacks on the Syrian airfield? Should be waiting for a complete break in relations between Russia and the USA? And have not you noticed any strange things (warns about the strike, S-300 missiles did not down jets, etc.)?
We should not be waiting for a complete break in relations – it is just unreal. The only strange thing is that why the Russian side could not handle the situation having known an air strike was going to be held. There is nothing strange that missiles were not downed: Russian complexes are there, as we found out, not to protect Syrian facilities – when Israeli Aviation hit Assad's facilities, nobody tried downing anything.
In your opinion, who could have used chemical weapon?
I insist that Syrian Aviation just bombed the warehouse where U.S. allies kept chemical weapon.
Could you forecast the fate of ISIS after it? Who will conquer Raqqa? Who is behind the chemical attack in Idlib?
I don't make forecasts, in fact. However, it is clear that the Syrian government (even if without Assad) and Kurds will be the winner as a result of this saga. The air strike on the Syrian airfield is a sporadic case (Trump wanted to bomb, so to speak).
ISIS (banned in Russia) will be losing territories further on and is likely to get into the state before 2013 by spring or summer next year. However, it doesn't mean Caliphate will disappear. We can disappoint those who think that the problem of the Islamic State will be solved with bombing – the trend set by the Islamic State will continue, and Europe and Russia will face a splash of terrorism because of the end of the war against the group in Levant.
After a very long siege, Raqqa is likely to be conquered by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces who are, in fact, Kurds backed by the USA who just flooded the region with their special forces. The ''chemical attack'' in Idlib is likely to have been a result of the destruction of the air strike of a shadowy chemical laboratory of rebels because there was no sense for Assad in attacking the village that was forgotten by everybody with chemical weapon. Moreover, OPCW claimed all Syrian chemical weapon was destroyed almost 1,5 years ago.
ISIS will be losing territories further on and is likely to get into the state before 2013 by spring or summer next year
Should we be waiting for worse Islamophobia after the events in Petersburg? Will what happened affect your activity (for instance, you will be involved in crackdown)?
I think we should not be waiting for worse Islamophobia. The federal media did not mention the goals and religion of the terrorist, while it was emphasised that he was a Central Asian migrant. For this reason, a growing phobia about foreign workers is expected. It is unlikely to affect our activity: we don't support and propagandise terrorism, moreover, we oppose it. Those who think differently should go to a psychiatric hospital or drug rehab clinic.
When the media spread Andrey Nikitin's photo, many people were sceptic about it. Some of them started a discussion of Islamophobia. What was your personal reaction?
For me, it was obvious from the beginning this photo is just a false story of journalists who are greedy for sensations who, as we see, broke the person's life in the hunt for scoops.
I suppose that journalists who spread Andrey Nikitin's photo as image of the alleged terrorist at least must apologise and leave the person in peace. If I were Nikitin, I would file a lawsuit against the media requiring a compensation for material and moral damage.
Will ISIS claim responsibility for Petersburg?
It is unlikely to do it. Al Amaq information agency of the Islamic State told about the events in Astrakhan on 8 April. In other words, the group almost claimed the killed bandits were Caliphate's soldiers. The events in Astrakhan took place after the terrorist attack in Saint Petersburg. If Caliphate wanted to claim responsibility, it would have done it a long time ago.
''Humour and radical Islamism are quite compatible''
Is the screenshot of Al Jazeera you posted a fake? We would also like to tell you about the reaction of foreign users to the terrorist attack.
The screenshot we posted was not a fake – it was made in the comments below the transmission from the scene. I can judge by the reaction of the audience abroad by Arabic-speaking users – mainly these 'people'' were glad about the tragedy obviously considering this terrorist attack a revenge of Islamists for the operation in Syria. In the Arab world, many consider the protection of ''Alawite regime'' as its goal.
Have you already received negative comments because you covered the tragedy in Saint Petersburg in your manner?
I don't think I cover the terrorist attack with irony. Comments and presuppositions about the explosive material used in the bomb, possible links and goals of the person who did it appeared in the project during the first hours, not ironic messages about the tragedy.
Are humour and Islam are compatible?
I think humour and radical Islamism are quite compatible. There is nothing better than humour to show the true matter of this occurrence. Especially humour, particularly the activity of our project, not lectures of ''moderate Islam'' representatives who look like battle mages, causes anger of Islamist apologists. However, humour should not be stupid and toilet.
I don't think that a person who joked at religion must be immediately sentenced as bigots think. But I think jokes about Islam as a religion are not correct because representatives of this religion can be completely different. In any case, I don't allow myself such jokes.
''It is probably a good sign that there is little Tatarstan in Jihad''
According to the description of your account, you are ''a joint project of Caucasus Centre and Rain TV channel''. How did tvjihad appear? Why did you choose this media as creators?
When the project was created, the account of Caucasus Centre (Editor's Note: banned in Russia) was very popular on Twitter. Many representatives of the so-called in-crowd read it – it surprised everyone with its unique headlines. On the other hand, the in-crowd actively watched Rain TV channel, which was banned in cable and satellite networks at that moment. This is why the idea to have it both ways – Caucasus Centre and Rain – appeared. It was a joke that grew into a big project.
Did the mass interest in ISIS affect the decision to create the project?
When the project was created (October 2013), only those who were interested in the conflict in Syria knew about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But I think the grown interest in the IS significantly helped the project to have its 30,000 followers.
What helped tvjihad be in the Twitter top? Why are not there successful humour accounts dedicated to radicals from other religions?
Original presentation of the content and unique news agenda helped Jihad be in the Twitter top. It is about Jihadists with humour, Russian politics with the eye of jihad and seriously about radical Islamism. Obviously, radicals of other religions are not so popular to interest others except experts.
Why do you have few posts about Tatarstan and Tatars?
Fortunately, Tatarstan is not a region where radical Islamism is a hot topic. Undoubtedly, there are supporters of radical views among local people who carry out a disruptive activity in the republic or go abroad for jihad, but it is not like in Chechnya or Dagestan. It is probably a good sign that there is little Tatarstan in Jihad. However, Tatars appeared here many times – we posted an archive post of one of the Tatar Islamic State rebel's trip in Mosul recently. Earlier we posted materials about Varvara Karaulova's ''boyfriend'' many times whose way in Jihad we followed before the story in the summer 2015.
Do radicals really follow you on Twitter considering tvjihad a serious account?
Yes, especially it happened before the majority of jihadists did not switch to Telegram. There were funny stories when a rebel read @tvjihad during several weeks, replied something and then found out he followed a kafir, went into hysteric accusing me of all deadly sins. The same thing is happening now in Telegram, the situation resembles rather ''hedgehogs pricked, cried but continued to eat the cactus'' – mujahideen read the channel and then attack in private messages about its content.
There were funny stories when a rebel read @tvjihad during several weeks, replied something and then found out he followed a kafir, went into hysteric accusing me of all deadly sins
If initially users not always understood the message of the project telling in replies everything they thought about terrorists, this moment diminished then. But curiosities take place anyway. For instance, one of the top video bloggers – some Sobolev – claimed we are the official Twitter account of the Islamic State in his video about the hunt for Ilya Maddyson by Islamists. We laughed out loud with all editorial.
Did the attitude of Zygar change towards you?
Personally, I don't consider Zygar my No. 1 enemy. In fact, he did nothing bad to our project. It is a curious fact that he commented the existence of tvjihad, nothing more.
Cooperation with special services, threats from radicals and deep knowledge in Islam
Is the team working on the project big? Did you manage to monetise the project?
One person manages the project. Other several team members help a lot in other areas. The project is carried out ''for soul'', this is why it doesn't make money.
Where did you learn Arabic and know a lot about Islam? Are you a Muslim? Did you study Islam?
I learnt and I am still learning Arabic (we can't say it is an easy language, perfection takes more than one year). I was just interested in Islam, I read both academic and Islamic books about it. Everything is built in personal interest – I am not a Muslim and I did not get specialised education.
Why don't you reveal your identity? Are you ready to do it ever? Did you receive threats? Who sent them and why?
I don't reveal my identity and I am not going to do it because I understand the number Islamic States supporters and other Islamist groups who don't like me, my comments within my project is huge in our country. Simple ''ethnic Muslims'' should not be forgotten – even people who seem decent from Chechnya and Dagestan are ready to write in replies something bad, though, of course, Islam has never been offended in the project.
One can threaten in replies on Twitter, even in private messages of the account mentioned on my channel to contact me. Both ''sofa mujahideen'' who sit in Dagestan, Chechnya, Moscow, Vienna (wherever) and real rebels from Syria whom we have interesting talks with at times write.
Have special service members ever been interested in you? Has your account ever been banned?
It is clear that the account must be noticed by force structures. But, thank God, I have never met with them. Last year the Twitter account was banned for less than a month. Probably this social network's useless campaign against the presence of the IS was the cause. We managed to unblock the account with great effort. Moreover, our community on Vk.com was banned in November 2014 – not very sensible technical support representatives, the press secretary of the social network said ''urges'' were detected in messages. The press secretary (Georgy Lobushkin was the secretary it at that time): ''They are many there''.
Have you ever cooperated with special services?
No, though people who say they are special service workers regularly write in Telegram. I just ignore them.