The man in front of us looked a very unlikely “Prince of Police” for the extremists known as Islamic State, but that is exactly who he said he was – and he had video to prove it.
Abu Saqr has trimmed his beard, donned a natty little hat and taken up smoking since he’s left his job – all actions which could have earned him a flogging when his former bosses were in charge.
But now he is looking for a new life. Like so many former IS stalwarts, fighters and workers we have spoken to, he is pleading innocence to us.
Despite being asked to stand in as what was described as Raqqa’s “Prince of Police” and being in charge of various bureaucratic IS jobs, Abu Saqr is emphatic that he “did nothing wrong”.
“There was nothing I could do,” he insisted. “I was powerless. I did what I could.”
He maintains he showed considerable leniency and took a number of risks by secretly defying his extremist chiefs. While in charge of prosecutions, he says he did his best to push for less severe punishments being handed down.
He was in charge of preparing cases which would go before an imam who would act as judge and pronounce punishment.
He spoke of one particular case where a boy of 14 was caught robbing a house. He was sentenced to arm amputation.
When I asked if he could have done more to stop it or prevent it, he said it was impossible, that he felt guilty about it, but then went onto say: “In international law, a guy under 18 is a child, but under our law, under Sharia law, when he is 14 he submits to Sharia laws and he is not a boy.”
“In a lot of the cases I had to prepare, I ignored them and forgave them. Once during a religious festival, I set free about twenty people. They were not big crimes.
“They were like robbery and other small crimes and 70% of the robberies were by children. The children used to go to the bombed buildings and try to collect copper and wire. I would just let them go free.
“But some people deserved their sentence. If someone is a killer, if someone raped a woman, they deserve it.”
Speaking frankly, he continued: “I didn’t do harm to anyone. The people loved me. But for now, I have to disappear. A lot of people are angry with ISIS (another name for IS) and we are afraid of reactions.
“I ignored and helped a lot of people. It was better just to make it easier for people. But if the leaders of ISIS knew that I facilitated a limit of Allah without punishment, they may kill me.”
He tells us that before the battle for Raqqa began in June last year, all the Princes (heads, emirs) and ministers were ordered to leave the city and be replaced by fighters – mostly foreign ones.
He managed to smuggle himself out with his family in the crowds of civilian refugees who were fleeing Syria. He says he was helped by one of those he had spared from punishment.
Are you afraid of receiving your own punishment now you are outside IS territory? I ask.
“No”, he replies. “I’m just afraid of IS finding me. They have spies everywhere.”
Abu Saqr also insisted the celebrations in Raqqa’s main stadium in October as the Syrian Democratic Forces reclaimed the city and declared it free of IS were wildly premature.
The world’s eyes have been mainly focused on the battle against IS in Syria and Iraq, he said, but all the while, the terror group had long relocated to Libya.
“There was very few left in Raqqa by the end,” he said. “Only the foreign fighters were left behind.
“They had nowhere to go and were there to the death. Everyone else mostly left.”
He politely refused to answer more specific, detailed questions about future IS plans, but ominously said: “Libya is the ISIS gate to Europe. They have many cells there.”
IS, it seems, has a new headquarters.