The first white British man known to have joined ISIS in Syria has been revealed as the middle class son of an organic farmer and a book editor. School friends in his home town of Oxford say that Jack Letts, now known as Ibrahim or Abu Muhammed, was an atheist before converting to Islam.
Remembered by former friends as the “class clown,” Letts was a typical middle class school boy growing up. He drank alcohol and sometimes smoked pot, but got good grades and seemed destined for university – until he fell in with a group of Muslim students at his school.
By 18 he had converted to Islam and had left the UK for the Middle East. Telling his parents he was going to study Arabic in Kuwait, he instead travelled to Syria where he joined Islamic State, fighting on the front line as a jihadi. There he married and he now has a son, Mohammed.
In September 2014, shortly after leaving he admitted to his parents that he was in Syria and had joined Islamic State. Now 20 years old, he lives in Fallujah, Iraq, with his wife and son.
“He was very funny and fun to be around,” one former school friend told the Sunday Times. “At school he was very much the classroom clown and was liked by a lot of the students. That’s why this whole thing of him going to live in Syria and join Isis doesn’t make any sense.” The friend added that Letts has now been dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by his old peers.
Another former classmate told MailOnline: “’I feel like he has been exploited. No one wants to fight in ISIS unless they’ve been brainwashed. It’s really alarming how powerfully he has changed.
“He was always an atheist, pretty liberal, typical middle class kid. I went to primary and secondary school with him, in both he was the class clown but didn’t take it too far, he still was smart and got fair grades.
“Then he started befriending a group of Muslim boys at the school and that exposed him to Islam. I noticed he started becoming very preachy and was using Arabic, which was strange because I only ever saw him as a typical Oxford boy.
“Then he started growing a beard, becoming more reserved, deleting his photos on Facebook, he sort of disappeared into a world where he only associated with like-minded people.”
In 2011 Letts started learning Arabic and began attending the Medina Masjid, a mosque near his home in Oxford. However, some of his friends believe he was radicalised in prayer meetings outside of the mosque, which has also distanced itself from his actions.
His parents did not oppose his conversion despite raising him in a secular household and baptising him as a child. By all accounts they were a typical middle class family. His father, John, is an organic farmer who specialises in growing and milling heritage grains, while his mother Sally is a former book editor.
Yet as he delved deeper into Islam he began to distance himself from his non-Muslim friends, who he now regarded as ‘Kuffir’ (non believers), and even tried to convert people close to him warning them that they would burn in hellfire if they did not convert.
“His parents were always kind and nice, very loving and providing, they lived a good life and Jack had a good upbringing,” his former friend said.
“He did talk passionately about ISIS, but I always assumed he meant he opposed them, not that he would join them.”
His parents declined to comment, but a family friend told the Times: “His mother and father were extremely worried for his safety after he told them that he was in Syria. The past two years have been a real nightmare for them. They just wish he can be back home with them.
Admitting that Letts had expressed a desire to live under Sharia law before he left, the friend added:
“He’s a great kid who is very much driven by helping people. He was concerned about the deaths of innocent lives in Syria and would often say that he would love to help save the life of even one person even if it meant that he was killed by the Syrian government.”
And they said that his parents still believe Letts travelled to Syria for humanitarian and religious reasons, having been “brainwashed into believing that living under Isis was some kind of utopia”.
“It was nothing to do with brandishing guns,” the friend added.