RT tracks mysterious religious leader while looking for suspected southern Russian ISIS recruit

There appears to be more to a story of a local man who allegedly left his family in a southern Russian town to fight for Islamic State than originally thought. Conflicting reports indicate a local religious leader could be behind several similar cases.

RT decided to take a closer look into the story of the man named Murad who disappeared after going on holiday to Turkey, speaking with his relatives, friends, and other locals to find clues as to what really happened to him. While his parents haven’t given up hope of finding him, the young man’s friends and neighbors are less optimistic.

“At some point, I called him, and his wife picked up the phone. I asked – what are you doing? And where the hell did you go? I was even a bit rude, and later Murad texted me. He told me to leave him alone, and that he had gone to Egypt to study the Koran,” one of Murad’s friends told RT.

Asked whether he thinks the explanation is true, the young man shrugged his shoulders and said, “To be honest, I don’t believe anyone now.”

“That’s it. We have no idea what to believe,” another friend added, visibly concerned.

READ MORE: ‘We’ll keep looking for you’: Heartbroken family searches for suspected ISIS recruit son 

According to the older generation, it’s not the first case of a family member going missing under similar circumstances, and they are afraid “there will be more to come.” As his neighbors voiced concerns about how easy it is to “brainwash the younger generation,” they told RT’s Ilya Petrenko that the only place that all the mysterious disappearances seem to lead to is a local mosque.

“What happens there? We don’t know. I never go there. But this story woke me up,” a man told RT.

Filming inside the mosque was nearly prohibited, as Russian Muslims are understandably offended by any implied connection with Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS\ISIL).

“I repeat, nothing bad is happening here,” a man inside the mosque said, adding that the former imam and his followers, whose ranks included the runaway man, was in another town. Murad’s family backed the claims, as the young man hadn’t visited the local mosque for about half a year.

A simple search for Yusef, the religious leader who was allegedly inculcating the “negative ideology,” led to a frightened passerby, who knew the place where Yusef lived, but refused to name it, “because they would rip my head off.” 

The man explained that the imam was “a very serious man,” adding that “there are a lot of young people who he got hooked on religion.”

READ MORE: 8 ISIS supporters killed in N. Caucasus special op 

A vehicle was blocking the road to the house of the suspected IS recruiter when RT’s crew arrived. The men who got out of the car defiantly told an RT reporter that “there are millions of versions” of what happened to the missing young people.

The Muslim men blocking the road tried to persuade Petrenko that they knew nothing about the missing man’s fate, while firmly denying any involvement on the part of the former imam.

“You can’t just open up his chest and look into his heart, no one can! It’s just a household conflict, within the family,” a man, who was “quite close” to runaway Murad, said. “He said his parents set his terms – “Hey, son, you either eat what we give you without fuss, or don’t eat at all!” But the guy is so emotional. It’s a purely family issue.”

However, Myrad’s mother had earlier shown RT a fridge full of halal food, with the meat of a buffalo slaughtered by the young man himself.

On the second day of the investigation, the RT crew returned to the mosque in Adygeysk to find that the man’s father had come there for an open debate with local believers. None of them were happy to see the cameras.

“You know, there’s so much pain in my heart that I can’t say [what we were arguing about],” a man told an RT reporter. No one would comment on why the former imam had been removed or why he had had to leave the country. His telephone was said to be blocked.

Yet, the local mufty said that Murad had gone to Turkey “where our ancestors live” because he wanted to study there. Murad’s father protested, saying he had no relatives in Turkey.

READ MORE: Jihadi John pledges to return to Britain and ‘cut heads off’

A few days after the RT crew left the southern Russian town, Murad’s friends received an audio message from the missing Muslim.

“My parents were perfectly aware that I wanted to leave. I ask them to calm down and I’m not responsible for their actions. Everything that my parents said is a lie, and slanders both me and the Imam. I’m a grown-up and made a self-conscious choice to go where I believe is right,” he said.

Murad’s father confirmed that it was his son’s voice, but refused to comment.

As of now, it is estimated that about 2,200 fighters of Russian origin have joined the ranks of terrorist groups active in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State among them. Some military leaders of Northern Caucasus terrorist organizations have also reportedly sworn allegiance to the group.