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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS

Blindsided: How ISIS Shook the World. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 17, 2015 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

FAREED ZAKARIA, BLINDSIDED HOST: The questions haunt us each time we witness some terrible savagery.

COOPER: The images that are merging are frankly horrifying.

ZAKARIA: Each time we meet the face of evil.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: How nice. We'll continue to strike the next of your people.

ZAKARIA: We ask how? Why? How could the end of butchers come out of nowhere, take over vast lands, slaughter innocents and threaten the world.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: We'll chop off the heads of the Americans, chop off the heads of the French, chop off the heads off whoever you may bring.

ZAKARIA: And perhaps, the most important question, how could we have not have known?

The answer is, we did. This is the story of what we knew about ISIS and when we knew it. It is a story that has not been told before, not in it's entirety -- told by the people who have made the journey into the mind and heart of ISIS.

We begin with an extraordinary chance to look into the Islamic State. Not a single reported has dared to venture there since the gruesome beheadings of journalists began last year. Imagine seeing this.

JOHN CANTLIE, BRITISH JOURNALIST CAPTURED BY ISIS: I'm John Cantlie, being British citizen, abandoned by my own government.

ZAKARIA: And this.

KENJI GOTO, JAPANESE JOURNALIST BEHEADED BY ISIS: This could be my last hours in this world.

ZAKARIA: And then heading straight into the heart of darkness.

But that is precisely what this man did.

JURGEN TODENHOFER, GERMAN JOURNALIST: During the months I was preparing the trip, every night I felt a knife on my throat. I felt it physically.

ZAKARIA: Jurgen Todenhofer is a German journalist. Last year, he crossed the boarder into ISIS territory.

TODENHOFER: I think you must know your enemy if you want to defeat it.

ZAKARIA: He went to Mosul, an Iraqi city about the size of Philadelphia, population about 1.5 million. It's the biggest surprise ISIS has captured.

This extraordinary video gives us a rare look into every day life under ISIS. It brings to mind the writer, Hannah Arendt's concept -- the Banality of Evil.

ISIS has it's own license plates and traffic cops who give parking tickets. And there are friendly shop keepers.

TODENHOFER: Completed brainwash. I've never in my life met people like this.

ZAKARIA: This of course is the Mosul ISIS officials Todenhofer to see. They gave him written permission to come to the city. And he believes that they let him live alive to make a point.

TODENHOFER: They wanted to show me that they are a state and that this state is wicked. It's not a perfect state. It's not like United States but it's a state.

ZAKARIA: And it's getting bigger. Todenhofer saw new recruits pouring in every day.

TODENHOFER: In this week of December (ph), we had every day more than 15 new fighters. They can lose fighters. They don't care.

The amazing this is that they are completely enthusiastic. They think it's the time of their life. They think that they are part of a historical event changing the whole Middle East.

ZAKARIA: Among them were Americans.

TODENHOFER: I met many Americans. I met many Germans, and French people, and British people, but many Americans -- guys from New Jersey.

ZAKARIA: There were also American weapons. So just carry them like a badge of honor, even the children.

TODENHOFER: How old are you?

ZAKARIA: These child soldiers -- 12 and 13 years old now go to what ISIS calls school.

TODENHOFER: They start a new school system which I found is completely wrong, completely crazy. But, it's a system. [19:05:06] ZAKARIA: ISIS officials trotted out a few prisoners for Todenhofer to talk to. This man is one of a group of captured Kurdish soldiers.

He told Todenhofer he was afraid. Shortly after, ISIS put Kurdish prisoners in cages dressed in orange jumpsuits. They were paraded through the streets. And ISIS made a propaganda video out of it.

It's hard to believe but according to Todenhofer, there are people in Mosul who say they are better of under the Islamic State. Almost all listened and they have suffered at the hands of Iraq Shiite government.

TODENHOFER: First of all, instead of anarchy they have now law and order.

And people don't like I.S. but they like their security. So they take taxes. They take care of the poor.

ZAKARIA: Bizarrely, ISIS even reaches out to the disabled. This is a recruitment video for deaf Jihadist who wish to join ISIS.

Todenhofer's ISIS minders kept him away from only one rule. He was not permitted to speak to or even go near a single woman.

TODENHOFER: And you think that you would have win the war?

ZAKARIA: Perhaps the most astonishing thing Todenhofer heard from both ISIS soldiers and leaders is this.

TODENHOFER: They want to provoke the United States to bring grounds troops to the country. It's a clear target. They want that the Americans bring their boots on the ground. They want to fight the Americans. That's their dream, the ultimate fight against Americans. That's what they want. That's what they hoped.

ZAKARIA: they do want to fight the Americans on their own turf. In this regard, ISIS has a different dream than Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden wanted to propitiate large scale terror attacks against the west. ISIS may do this but to further its aim of building a state -- a caliphate.

Still, you cannot understand ISIS without going back to Al-Qaeda and it's signature moment -- it's most spectacular attack.

September 11th, 2001, 19 Al-Qaeda operatives high-jacked four planes, knocked down two skyscrapers, crashed into Pentagon and killed almost 3,000 people.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: The people who knocked these buildings will hear all of us soon.

ZAKARIA: At that moment, with the American people terrorized, the American government searched for a fitting response for this attack. At that moment, the seeds of ISIS were planted. It would take years and untold numbers of death before ISIS would supplant Al-Qaeda. But you can draw a line from the horrifying events of 9/11 and the American response to the creation of the Islamic State.

That line begins 18 months after September 11th. The United States invades Iraq.

BUSH: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American Coalition Forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq and free it's people and to defend the world from great danger.

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

EMMA SKY, FMR. ADVISER TO COMMANDER OF U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ: When the U.S. invaded, it haven't really thought much about the day after. It was very much focused on overthrowing Saddam. What happened in initial weeks was a total power vacuum.

ZAKARIA: As the American occupation quickly devolved into chaos, one man seized the moment.

That man is Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the godfather of ISIS. In 2004, Zarqawi swore allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and became the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The U.S. has described him as one of the world's most dangerous terrorists.

ZAKARIA: ZArqawi's ultimate goal was to create an Islamic State.

[19:10:04] And events in Iraq will going to give him the chance to realize his dream.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: The old military needed to be formally disbanded.

ZAKARIA: Saddam Hussein's military was out on the street. And then, American soldiers captured Saddam himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got him.

ZAKARIA: So news where are the favor and out of jobs but they had gone an organizational prowess. Zarqawi began recruiting them.

FAWAZ GERGES, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE, PROFESSOR: Zarqawi was a major celebrity in 2004. He became, I mean, a rock star.

ZAKARIA: Some of the worst violence Americans saw on their T.V. screens during the Iraq war came courtesy of Zarqawi.

SKY: He was like a terrorist psychopath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sunni insurgents inspired by Al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi blew up a holy Shiite shrine.

ZAKARIA: The murders of innocent civilians, indiscriminate bombing, even beheadings -- the focus not just on foreigners but on Shiites, other Muslims, CNS heritage (ph), tactics that today sound "hauntingly familiar". UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With a $25 million price on his head, there is no one that U.S. wants to capture or kill more than Zarqawi.

ZAKARIA: The CIA had been tracking his every move. In June of 2006, U.S. forces killed him with two 500 pound bombs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq is killed in a massive United States airstrike...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zarqawi...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Zarqawi, he said, was eliminated.

BUSH: Zarqawi's death is a severe blow to Al-Qaeda.

ZAKARIA: But as it turned out the movements, Zarqawi began would survive that blow.

When we come back, the rise of the leader of ISIS...

ALI SOUFAN, FMR. FBI AGENT: He wasn't considered from everything that we know now, a high level detainee.

ZAKARIA: ... inside an American prison...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:15:56] ZAKARIA: ISIS came to lighten this desolate landscape. The wind swept dessert of Southern Iraq.

This is Camp Bucca, an American prison. During the Iraq war, the most dangerous Jihadist where locked up here -- up to 20,000 of the countries angriest man. Some Americans who work at Camp Bucca called it simply dump hell.

It wasn't just crowded. It was violent.

In 2005, riots broke out. Detainees went on a rampage taking over whole sections of the prison camp.

American forces massed outside the fences firing into the crowd. At least four prisoners were killed.

MAJ. GEN. DOUG STONE, UNITED STATES MARINE FORCES RESERVE: Now, this is Camp Bucca.

ZAKARIA: Major General Doug Stone was brought in to fix Camp Bucca. Even he was weary of the inmates.

Here, he is giving CNN's Nick Robertson a tour in 2008.

STONE: We've got about 2,000 identified Al-Qaeda here in the Bucca (ph) internal facility. They are hard to break.

NICK ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You got shields up here to protect us everyone down here is crowded around looking at as now?

STONE: Right. But this is not a place that you want to hang around. So we really don't want to stand here that much longer because they will now organize around us.

ZAKARIA: There were beatings, unexplained prisoner deaths and several dangerous Jihadists escaped.

Into this quadrangle, one day in early 2004, a new man arrived.

We know him now as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. And yes, he was in American custody during the Iraq war.

Baghdadi has shown his face publicly last year when he gave us sermon to his followers.

But back when the U.S. had him under locked-in key, he was seen as, believe it or not, a man who could be trusted.

MARTIN CHULOV, THE GUARDIAN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: The America's seem to see Abu Bakr as somebody who could keep the prison quiet. There are 24 camps within the Sunni side of Camp Bucca. He was a lot open access to all of them.

SOUFAN: He wasn't considered from everything that we know now, a high level detainee and he was allowed to, you know, lead prayers. He was allowed to give the religious lessons.

ZAKARIA: The future leader of ISIS was giving other inmates lessons on Islam.

Those inmates were Jihadists, or former Ba'athist, henchmen of Saddam or simply common criminals.

STONE: But most assuredly was a Jihadists university. Unquestionably.

ZAKARIA: Put them altogether in the baking heat of Southern Iraq without Baghdadi, a man who dreamed of a new kind of terror. It was a recipe for ISIS.

SOUFAN: They were meeting? They were playing soccer together. They were strategizing together.

ZAKARIA: One thing is clear. Al-Baghdadi went through a transformation at Camp Bucca.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Baghdadi was an average person. He was just a Sunni foot soldier when he was arrested by the Americans.

ZAKARIA: But by the time, al-Baghdadi left, he was someone else.

GERGES: All we know is that Baghdadi became an entirely different creature in terms of radicalization, in terms of militarization, in terms of building a huge network of militants in the prison. [19:20:02] ZAKARIA: At Camp Bucca, al-Baghdadi networked with hundreds of Jihadists, at least some of whom would later join ISIS and the day would come when he would also need military expertise, enter Saddam Hussein's army, dismissed by the Americans many now at Camp Bucca men with exactly the same skill set al-Baghdadi could late use of.

And then he was set free. The future leader of ISIS was recommended for unconditional release by a military review board in December 2004, they did not consider him a threat. Whether it turns out al-Baghdadi is the master mind of ISIS or a figure head the fact remains. The United States has a put $10 million price tag on his head.

When we come back, the dangerous way that ISIS is using us -- television news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the U.S. is backing Sunni Arabs in Yemen, in Iraq it is fighting on...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:25:01] ZAKARIA: Evil just a click away. It takes no more than a few seconds to find ISIS propaganda online. Thousands of videos of are streaming (ph) across the internet, much of it of course is sickling violent, unbearable to watch. The awful beheadings, the firing murders but all of it may add up to the single biggest reason for the success of ISIS.

Like so much of what the group does, this is a terror tactic we have not seen before. And it is frighteningly effective.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: 20 years ago, you can never find the three people in Minnesota who would be attracted to the ISIS ideology. Today you can and they find you. ISIS has used Facebook, Twitter, Google and the worldwide web as its command and control system.

ZAKARIA: The violence in ISIS propaganda is enhanced by artful editing, special effects, and powerful music.

Some videos really are like small films done with real skill. Ironically it is the barbarism that makes these clips go viral. No one has ever seen anything like it. Most of us look at this and this and wonder how it could possibly attract recruits.

But for some young men raised on violent video games and shoot them up movies, it's a powerful lure.

GERGES: Action speak louder than words. It is. It's savagery and viciousness -- all of us here, we look at horrible evil. Of course, it's evil. And this is part of its strategy to convinced young men and women who are on the fringed, who are deluded, who have no purpose in life, who suffer from torn identities come to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear, all brothers and sisters, come to Jihad and feel the honor we are feeling. Feel the happiness that we are feeling.

SOUFAN: They want killing machines. That's why you see them, you know, doing these videos and making kids watch this videos and making kids commit to crimes and kill because they are trying to establish a new generation of killers. It's the gang mentality.

ZAKARIA: The gang idea is important because ISIS uses it to manipulate kids. A lot of the propaganda mixes the violence with scenes of camaraderie, friendship. The people in ISIS video seem to be saying, "We did not belong where we were but now we have found a home", a powerful message to the millions of unemployed, disconnected, young Muslims across the Middle East and even in countries like France and Germany.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm your brother in Islam here in Syria. I originally come from Canada.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. I'm thinking like I'm still dreaming. I'm feeling like I'm still dreaming. And I'm thinking like I'm in the dream world. You have to be here to understand what I'm saying.

ZAKARIA: And of course ISIS also manipulates us television news. They put their videos online. We put them on television.

And in a bizarre at risk, ISIS turns around and makes clever use of what it sees on T.V. This video is called Victory in Kobani, it glorifies the ISIS capture of that Syrian city while mocking President Obama and other western leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a coward alone. First of all, there's no military solutions to ISIL. I have said it military only solution OK.

ZAKARIA: The angry rhetoric of table news fits right into the script.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is with having this program (ph), we've proven that we cannot defeat this people, thus that we are so incompetent in terms of conducting a foreign policy and in terms of conducting military operations.

ZAKARIA: CNN makes an occasion appearance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Into that city of Kobani...

ZAKARIA: But Fox News is a favorite of ISIS with commentators who demand boots on the ground playing into ISIS dreams of a grant battle against America.

BILL COWAN, FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Well, at the end of the day when Kobani falls and I would say by all accounts is going to, the United States will look absolutely foolish for doing some pin picked strikes that had no effect on the outcome. And ISIS is going to come out more empowered than ever. ISIS will be the big winner and the United States will be the big loser.

ZAKARIA: All of it is frighteningly effective creating a 21st century machine designed perfectly for the young's and built to recruit followers from across the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will raise on Twitter, they will raise on YouTube, they will raise on Facebook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ISIS is CNN to somebody's home T.V.

[19:30:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guys are very sophisticated. They're a whole different generation.

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

ZAKARIA: In just a moment, ISIS and the White House, the story of what we knew about the terror group and when we knew it.

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: We failed to understand the enemy that we face.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: It is a moment Americans will never forget. U.S. contractors brutally murdered. Their bodies burnt and hang from a bridge.

COOPER: Four U.S. civilians butchered, dragged through the street.

ZAKARIA: This was Fallujah, Iraq. The year was 2004, the atrocity aroused deep American anger and brought promises of retribution.

UNDENTIFIED MALE: We will hunt down the criminals. We will kill them or we will capture them, and we will pacify Fallujah.

ZAKARIA: And U.S. forces for too long and bloody battles to retake the city. Nearly 70 Americans lost their lives liberating Fallujah and hundreds more were left seriously wounded.

10 years later, Fallujah falls back into the hands of an enemy, but this time, it's ISIS.

[19:35:05] Just a few days after Fallujah fell, the president talked about the threat from the terror group in an interview with the New Yorker Magazine. He said "The analogy we use around here sometimes, and it think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant."

FLYNN: I was disappointed that he said that. I don't think he well served.

ZAKARIA: Lieutenant General Michael Flynn had a front row seat to the rise of ISIS. He led the Defense Intelligence Agency until late last year.

FLYNN: We failed to understand the enemy that we face.

ZAKARIA: Flynn says intelligence officials had warned the administration that ISIS was growing more dangerous before the president made his infamous jayvee comment. But the president as said the "The intelligence on ISIS was inadequate."

Here he is on "60 Minutes".

STEVE KROFT, HOST, 60 MINUTES: How did they end up where they are in control of so much territory? Was that a complete surprise to you?

BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.

ZAKARIA: You were at DIA at that time?

FLYNN: Yes.

ZARAKIA: Do you think it was an intelligence failure?

FLYNN: No. No, I don't. I don't. I really look that and it's easy to -- I mean will take one for the team, you know. The president has to decide who he's going to listen to and what information he's going to use and I think that he was thoroughly advised to say that.

BENJAMIN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The president makes no apologies for being measured and deliberate about committing U.S. military resources.

ZAKARIA: Benjamin Rhodes is the Deputy National Security Advisor and a close aide to President Obama.

Do you think we should have been alerted to the threat of ISIS post earlier?

RHODES: You know, it's always easy to look back and say you could have been alerted to a specific threat at a specific time. But the question is in, you know, what action would have triggered? Part of what the president's thought -- his approach to National Security is some degree of restraint in saying that we're not going to chase every rabbit down every hole in the Middle East.

ZAKARIA: The White House did underestimate ISIS. And Republicans seized on the issue, excoriating the president growing increasingly striking.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Our strategy will fail yet again. This President needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.

ZAKARIA: Even former top officials in the Obama Administration had tough words.

LEON PANETTA, AUTHOR, WORTHY FIGHTS: It's more than just an intelligence failure. It's a policy failure as well.

ZAKARIA: Of course, the solution of it by most critics is the one thing ISIS wants the most. American boots on the ground.

RHODES: We frankly don't believe it's a matter of policy, the insertion of significant U.S. ground troops is right way to go. It's because what we've learned from Iraq, another experience is, is there's more legitimacy on the ground if it's people fighting for their own country and their own future.

ZAKARIA: But the biggest intelligence failure, the biggest policy failure, the biggest underestimation was not of the strength of the self-stylist Islamic State, but the weakness of the Iraqi State.

In the middle of 2014, when ISIS started taking town after town in Iraq, the Iraqi Army essentially laid down its arms and ran away.

Remember, this was an army that the United States had spent more than $25 billion building up. An army more than 200,000 strong, that's more than six times the size of ISIS and maybe more.

And it was all rendered useless against the ISIS assault. Why? Well, much of it can be pinned on one man.

GERGES: If you ask me, "What's the most important factor in Iraq," drive behind the insurgence of ISIS. I would say Nouri al-Maliki.

ZAKARIA: Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister whom the Bush Administration had helped put into power in 2006.

BUSH: I appreciate your commitment to representing the people of Iraq.

ZAKARIA: Back then, Maliki's appointment was touted by the administration as a triumphant moment for the newly democratic Iraq.

BUSH: I appreciate you recognize the fact of the future of your country is in your hands.

[19:40:01] ZAKARIA: To ensure the success of democracy, Maliki, a Shiite, needed to heal the powerful schism between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq but he never did.

So when asked by the Shiite (inaudible) to fight against ISIS, the Sunni soldiers in the Iraqi army simply said, no.

SKY: To many Sunnis, they looked at Iranian back regime in Baghdad and they looked at ISIS and they -- some of them made a disastrous calculation that ISIS was the lesser of two evils.

ZAKARIA: The last American soldier left the country in 2011 after the U.S. could not reach agreement with Maliki to maintain a military presence

RHODES: The question that we asked today when people look back at that decision is what would we have done with 10,000 U.S. troops? Would they even force security? And frankly, would we want them to be fighting at ISIS like Mosul and Fallujah against ISIS?

ZAKARIA: Republicans have criticized President Obama from not leaving troops in Iraq. Some have said, if American forces had stayed, there would be no ISIS. But Emma Sky believes that was never in the cards. Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki had a new set of patrons, his fellow Shiites in Tehran and the Mullahs made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

SKY: That was part of Iran's deals with Maliki. We'll give you a third term but the conditions are, no American soldiers. That was what Tehran had demanded. There was no way, we've gone through the parliament.

ZAKARIA: One thing is clear, it was only Iraq's army that could have stopped ISIS instead, Iraqi soldiers threw down their weapons and run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.

ZAKARIA: Next on Blindsided, what drives these people? What makes them tick? We'll go inside the mind of a radical? Be the man who was prepared to die for a fantasy, the idea of an Islamic caliphate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:46:14] ZAKARIA: The 1980s and '90s in Afghanistan and Pakistan were crucial years for Jihad.

Bin Laden was there, Zawahiri was there, each where Al-Qaeda and thus Islamic terrorism as we know it today was born.

Foreign fighters were constantly flowing in but now, incredibly foreign fighters are flowing in even faster to Iraq and Syria -- an estimated 20,000 of them in total.

What drives these people there? What makes them leave home to go far away and fight for an idea, a fantasy?

You're about to find out.

In the days that followed 9/11 just about everyone in the world seemed to be standing with the United States even Yasser Arafat.

YASSER ARAFAT, FMR. CHAIRMAN OF THE PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION: I am offering my condolences to the American president, President Bush.

ZAKARIA: But not this man.

MAAJID NAWAZ, FMR. RADICAL: I'm very, very sorry to your viewers for saying this, but I lack any empathy with the victims.

ZAKARIA: Maajid Nawaz didn't start his life as a radical. He grew up here in Essex, England, the beneficiary of a middle class aborigine, the son of hard working Pakistani parents. But he didn't quite feel at home in Britain and yet had no other place to call home, no community to call his own. He read for us what he wrote in his diary after seeing the towers fall.

NAWAZ: Don't you think we've been crying too, like you are now, for years? Do you think we felt no pain as you raped and plundered our lands and bombed out cities? What lands, what cities, you ask? You're arrogance is only compounded by your ignorance. You chose your side and we have chosen allies.

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

ZAKARIA: Nawaz had become convinced that the world of Islam was under constant and brutal attack from the west. Muslims had to fight back.

Nawaz has chosen army was a radical group called Hizb ut-Tahrir. The day before 9/11, he had landed in Egypt to recruit for the group which in some ways was it forerunner through ISIS.

NAWAZ: It's the first Islamist organization responsible for popular ISIS. The notion of resurrecting a so called Islamic State, its caliphate is so called Islamic State. It's what Tahrir has been dreaming off since 1953.

ZAKARIA: The trigger for Nawaz was a Muslim slaughter he saw every night on T.V., every morning in the papers, the genocide in Boston.

NAWAZ: It had a profound impact on me. Up until that point, I didn't consider myself particularly Muslim but a Muslim, a form defiance, we became so much more Muslim overnight.

ZAKARIA: And made him a perfect prospect for local recruiter.

NAWAZ: Just look at Palestine. Look at Kashmir, with a Chechnya. So wherever you look, Muslims are the victims who are being killed because this global war going on against this land in Muslims.

I wholeheartedly brought that at 15, 16 years old, I subscribe to it and I dedicated the rest of my life to in fact I was prepared to die for it.

ZAKARIA: In the months after 9/11, Maajid Nawaz was arrested in an Egyptian jail with what he calls the cream of the crop of Jihadists, he was thrilled at first about all he could learn from them but then he had a jail house revelation.

[19:50:12] NAWAZ: Living so close with them for four years in prison. I came to the conclusion that if these guys, any of them, have ever got to power, if they have to declare this so called caliphate, it would be hell enough. It would be a living nightmare.

ZAKARIA: Something had clipped where once he felt no sympathy for the victims of 9/11, the 7/7 attacks in London he says made him feel revulsion.

Now, Nawaz's journey might take him from prison to parliament. He is running for a seat in the British elections in May. He is currently the chairman of the Quilliam Foundation -- a think tank he co-founded to study extremism and challenge it.

NAWAZ: People that join ISIL, they genuinely think that bringing of them, an end of the scenario. They genuinely believe that they are working on behalf of God. ZAKARIA: Maajid Nawaz story sheds light on one crucial aspect of this picture. But what about the others? Why a hundreds, thousands of people screaming from four corners of the world to fight for ISIS? Why do young men and they are almost all young men lost for Jihad? Thomas Friedman has a simple explanation.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: None of them had ever held job, power, or a girl's hand. And when you put large numbers of young males together and you offer them a wife, you offer them a salary, and you offer them the ability to lorded over somebody else, that is ISIS' value proposition.

ZAKARIA: Next on Blindsided, is ISIS a threat to the United States, to the homeland? I'll give you my thoughts when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:55:53] ZAKARIA: You've heard so much and seen so much about ISIS that it's easy to get anxious. It is trying to scare you and confuse you.

Just recently, the group to credit for a plan that attack in Garland, Texas but so far, it appears the two perpetrators was simply inspired by ISIS not actually part of it.

With that caveat, let me offer a few tangent of thoughts about the group.

ISIS is clearly about religion, about its version of radically Islam but it also about power. There's increasing evidence that the military backbone of ISIS is made up not by a group of Islamic Zealots but rather high ranking officers from Saddam Hussein's army, Ba'athists who at least ostensibly a secular.

ISIS presents itself as a global organization but it has thrived because of a local cause. The group has gained territory, cash, and recruits primarily because of the rage and rebellion of the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria

That Sunni cause is going to endure for sometime. The United States has been successful in its tactical battles against ISIS. It has pushed the group back from many of its gains in Iraq but the Sunnis of the region will remain in rebellion. The Sunni dominated areas will remain in turmoil and ISIS will be able to capitalize on the scales.

Now, in the long run, ISIS might find its greatest foes lie within it so called caliphate. The few reports that are emerging from areas controlled by ISIS suggest that people do not like living under a brutal theocratic dictatorship. They live in fear and even those who chose it as an alternative, the Shiite rule are growing disenchanted.

In this respect, ISIS is like other radical Islamic groups such as the Taliban. They have alluring the abstract but once they are actually governing in their medieval barbarous manner, the allure fades but disenchantment builds and with it ever increasing repression.

Remember, no one has ever voted ISIS into power anyway. They slotted their way to victory.

Is ISIS a threat to the west? The group's leaders declared that it is everyday. But their ambitions appear to be mostly centered on their Arab enemies, on building a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. They understand, of course, that to be a terror group, number one, they must battle the country. That is the world's number one power.

America, they seek that confrontation and hope that the United States would come to the Middle East and fight them on their terms, on their terrain.

Now, to be clear, they are opportunist and they ask and hope that their followers would act in America but then, main focus is not to come here, they want Americans to go there.

No matter how one rates the level of the threat ISIS poses, the group has changed the nature of terror. The leaders of ISIS have recognized that above all, they are a messaging machine which in turn becomes a recruitment machine.

Their gruesome videos would seem a repulsive turnoff and are to most people but they work on the web. Their shock and all they produce makes them go viral. And that's how seen by tens of millions. That ensures that these videos have tracked those orderly alienated young men - a few thousand among the world's 1.6 billion Muslims who seek revenge, glory and gore.

And as long as those young Muslim men scattered across the globe are attracted to ISIS and stream to its cause, the group presents the world with the danger that is impossible to fully assess and a danger that grows by the month.