A Belgian jihadist captured in Syria and nicknamed the "executioner of Raqqa" has denied killing in the name of the Islamic State (IS) and said he hopes to have a "normal life in Belgium."
Belgian national Anouar Haddouchi was one of a number of interviewees who agreed to speak with Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano during a visit to a Syrian prison where captured IS fighters are held.
"My hope is to have a normal life in Belgium, to have a job," Haddouchi said in an interview conducted in English. "[To] have a job... I will care about my family, about school... my children."
Haddouchi, 35, travelled to Syria in 2014 with his family and was captured at the start of the year after the collapse of the terror group's self-proclaimed caliphate in the region.
Belgian authorities have been investigating his suspected financing of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and those in Brussels in 2016 after they traced bank transfer of thousands of euros to Mohamed Abrini, a central suspect in both terror attacks.
Haddouchi denied having met or knowing the attacks' suspects during the interview with the Italian reporters, who wrote that the prison's guards had given them a particular warning about European jihadists ahead of the interview.
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"Out of the 12,000 prisoners we are holding, be wary of the European foreign fighters. Judging from their stories, they are all innocent — but don't be fooled" the reporters quoted the prison guards as saying. "In these prisons, there are also high-ranking people. They lie, they all lie. And they do it well."
The interview marks the second time in less than one month that Haddouchi agrees to meet international or regional media to signal a desire to return to Belgium and be tried there.
At the end of September, he spoke to Kurdish media to say that if he is tried and convicted "it should be in Belgium."
'A bad dream'
During the interview, Haddouchi again denied having ever killed for the IS, despite reports that he carried out hundreds of public beheadings in the Syrian city of Raqqa —a former IS stronghold— earning him his nickname.
"I have never held a weapon, I have never killed anyone for Daesh," Haddouchi said, employing the French acronym for the IS and saying that he did administrative work for the terror group, processing arrivals from Turkey.
Asked about his departure for Syria, he said he wanted to see how life was like under the IS.
"I wanted to see how is the life in this Islamic State," he told the reporters, who said he told them that after "a few days," he realised that life there was "not like they had told us."
"I could not do what you (sic) want to do," he said. "I cannot have my own opinion, if I had I would have been in danger. That's when my bad dream started."
"I wanted to leave, but it wasn't possible — I would have endangered my life and my family's since those who tried to escape were jailed," he added.
"Of course I am scared, it is human," he said, questioned about a potential trial in Iraq, where foreign nationals, including French foreign fighters, have been handed death sentences in expedite trials.
"I did not come here with the intention of dying for the caliphate, but of living in the caliphate," he said.
Speaking of a potential return to Belgium, he said: "What can I do if they put me in jail, what can I do? — I don't have a choice. I will have to be patient and then I will try to live my life again."
During the interview, the Italian journalists described Haddouchi as "self-contained," in comparison with other prisoners who lashed out and cut the interview short moments into it.
The reporters also wrote that they detected a number of inconsistencies in the Belgian national's testimony, including a denial that he had ever been in Raqqa, which he later contradicted by saying he had seen someone, "probably a policeman" killed by IS soldiers there.
The Brussels Times