Experts have been quick to highlight the security threat posed to Western nations by foreign fighters who join the Islamic State group and later return to their home countries. But just who are these fighters? How were they recruited, and what motivated them to leave in the first place?
In a video published Thursday, Vice founder Shane Smith conducts a Skype interview with a man believed to be Abu Usamah Somali, a Canadian citizen also known as Farah Mohamed Shirdon, who joined the Islamic State group earlier this year.
Shirdon first gained attention this Spring when he destroyed his passport in a video for the Islamic State group and made threats against the U.S., Canada and "all oppressors."
In sharp contrast to the expert testimonials seen on cable news, the interview offers an unpolished, first-person insight into the mindset of an extremist fighter, and how he ended up in Iraq.
Shirdon tells Smith he wasn't recruited by anyone to join the militants and that he traveled to the region with relative ease.
"No one recruited me," he explains. "Actually, no one spoke a single word to me. I opened the newspaper, I read the Qur'an -- very easy."
Shirdon claims officials from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) approached him "five or six days" before he left the country to join the insurgents, but ultimately let him go.
"I can't believe how someone that has extremist, terrorist ideologies, is sitting in front of you and you didn't capture them," he says, describing himself. "The next time they saw me, they saw me ripping up my passport."
"Why are you there?" asks Smith.
"Give us our freedoms. ... We want sharia. Leave us alone," Shirdon says, then abruptly stops responding as an off-camera commotion prompts Smith to ask if they're under attack. "When are we not under attack?" Shirdon responds. "[These infidels] ... seem to be attacking us day and night. They don't understand that Allah ... is on our side. ... Let us be under attack. We love being under attack. I want martyrdom."
Shirdon then makes a series of threats, prompting Smith to respond, "You say, 'Look, we want to have sharia, we want to live on our own, don't attack us and we won't attack you,' but ... you're beheading people and you're cutting off their heads. ... What's the philosophy behind that?"
"Come to me, I will come to you," answers Shirdon. "Attack me, I will attack you. You attack one of us, [we] will attack one of you. ... The only time we will stop is when [the White House] has a black flag over it. The only time we will stop is when we paint [the White House] black. We will stop when we behead the leaders of the infidels ... and we turn his children into our slaves." The interview ends abruptly shortly after.
According to CIA estimates, the Islamic State group has between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria. A senior Iraqi intelligence official said recently that there could be more than 27,000 in Iraq alone, with foreigners accounting for about 2,600 of the fighters, per The Associated Press.
WATCH the Vice interview, above.