Perhaps more than any other jihadist terror group in the world, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS–or, as they now refer to themselves, the Islamic State), boasts a great variety of nationalities in its ranks and a significant population of jihadists from the West. Among them is Bastián Vázquez, a Chilean jihadist now known as Abu Safiyya, who hosts programming on ISIS’s English-language Al Hayat Network.
Abu Safiyya rose to the attention of those following ISIS internationally this week as the host of an Al Hayat video titled “The End of Sykes-Picot.” In that video, Safiyya tours checkpoints along the Iraq-Syria border and attempts to show how ISIS has successfully broken down the state infrastructure on both sides of the border, allowing for the creation of the so-called Islamic State, a Caliphate ISIS has declared is ruled by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The video made headlines as it featured one jihadi openly taunting President Barack Obama, asking in jest whether the President had prepared enough diapers for the American troops traveling to Iraq.
Safiyya has been a fixture within the jihadist community for some time, however. Safiyya made his debut in jihadist propaganda in 2012, according to Argentine news organization Infobae, in a video criticizing the presence of Norwegian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. While a Chilean citizen and son of Chilean nationals, Safiyya was born in Norway and spent much of his time becoming radicalized as a Muslim there.
According to Norwegian journalist Lars Akerhaug, Safiyya converted to Islam in either 2008 or 2009, and he told the journalist who was investigating radical Islam in Norway that he had been part of a community hip-hop music group in his youth. He became acquainted with some members of a radical Islamist community in Norway after his conversion and began to preach the promise of jihad. Safiyya was affiliated with the Prophet Ummah group in particular, Akerhaug said.
Akerhaug was not surprised that Safiyya traveled to Syria to join ISIS; it was apparent to anyone speaking to him before his departure, he noted, that these were his plans. “We had several brief conversations in which he spoke to me of his plans to travel to Syria to participate in the civil war,” Akerhaug said.
Safiyya is one of hundreds of jihadists believed to have left their lives in the West to commit to the jihadist message’s promise of death. As a featured jihadist in an ISIS video, he joins the likes of Abu Muthanna al-Yemeni, the UK citizen leading the recruitment video “There is No Life without Jihad,” and Omar al-Shishani, a Georgian of ethnic Chechen background who is believed to control the movements of all ISIS jihadist forces.
It was estimated in May that up to 3,000 jihadists currently in Syria and Iraq fighting for ISIS are citizens of Western European nations. That number has only grown, and, given ISIS’s willingness to parade its diversity through its propaganda vehicles, threatens to grow both in number and geographical scope.