Regretful American: From Ivy League Student to ISIS Fighter and Back


A New York man full of regrets over the “worst decision of his lifetime” is now going public with his story.

The FBI received an email in October 2014 from a desperate former Brooklyn man, Mohimanul Alam Bhuiya, then 25, asking for help.    He had gone to Syria to join ISIS, and now wanted out.

“I am an American who’s trying to get back home from Syria,” he wrote. “I just want to get back home. All I want is this extraction, complete exoneration thereafter, and have everything back to normal with me and my family.  I am fed up with this evil.”

But life will never be “normal” again for Mohimanul Bhuiya, or “Mo” as he is being referred to.

About a week later, he managed to escape on his own, and with the help of a stranger, made it into Turkey where he headed straight for the U.S. consulate and turned himself in.

Upon arrival back in the U.S., Mo was arrested by the FBI.  He faces 10-25 years in prison, but has signed a cooperation agreement in exchange for a potentially lighter sentence, as the information he can provide is a valuable asset to investigators.

He recently was featured in an exclusive interview with NBC, where he told his story, and how he fell for the ISIS recruitment propaganda.

“I’ve let my family down. I’ve let my nation down and I’ve let God down and I have a lot to make up for,” Mo said.

Mo grew up in a Muslim home in Brooklyn, but his family was not “particularly strict,” allowing him to do what most American kids do – play baseball, run in track, go to school.   He attended a community college, but dropped out after his sister’s death.   Later he enrolled into the elite Columbia University, and that’s where he took a wrong turn, by watching a controversial film in a class called Muslims in Diaspora.   That film caused him to search the internet for questions on Islam.

The ISIS propaganda he found enticed him with its vision of a “pure Islamic state without geographic boundaries.”   FBI got wind of his online activities and showed up to question him, warning him not to go to Syria, but he ignored the warning, flying to Istanbul in June 2014 with his life savings in his pocket.

From a hotel in Syria, he made contacts through Twitter, got a phone number of a local contact.  Smugglers took him on a wild journey through border guards and safe houses, until he finally officially registered as an ISIS recruit, giving out all his personal information, family information, credit cards and ID.

Mo claims he was appalled by the violence and the “bloodthirst” he saw, and tried to portray himself as someone with technical knowledge so he wouldn’t be used as a fighter.  He says he was repulsed by the suicide belts, the random beatings, and the sight of severed heads placed on spiked poles.

He was given a job working as a guard at a gate, and then in an accounting position.   He informed his superiors of a thief in their midst and won special privileges, which gave him more trust, until he finally saw a path to freedom and was able to make his move, escaping the terror camp.   He learned about a gate that was not under ISIS control, packed what he could, and walked out. Fearful he may be caught at any moment, Mo said, “That night I realized what terror was.”

When he got to Turkey, he went to the U.S. consulate and turned himself in – five months after he had arrived.

Now, he is cooperating with the FBI, and says, “I want to be the voice that helps deter extremism and really attack false ideology at its core.  It’s something I’m absolutely committed to and my parents know my commitment and the government knows my commitment and I hope America can see my commitment as well.”

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