How one man went from school to jihad

CAIRO - He comes from a wealthy family living in Maadi, an upscale, leafy Cairo suburb. He was educated at the prestigious Al-Azhar University, the thousand-year-old centre of Islamic learning.

But these days, Younes is not an Islamic scholar but a jihadist with the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

After leaving his upscale Cairo neighbourhood to fight with the IS in Syria and Iraq, Younes says he learnt how to work as a sniper, fire heavy weaponry and behead prisoners using the proper technique.

One year later, he harbours the kind of ambition that could create a security nightmare for the Egyptian authorities: to return home and hoist the Islamic State black flag in Egypt as his comrades have over large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Eventually, says Younes, he and other Egyptian fighters in IS intend to topple Egypt's United States-backed government and extend their caliphate to the biggest Arab nation.

"We will not be able to change the situation in Egypt from inside, but Egypt is to be opened from abroad," Younes, who asked that his last name be withheld, said in an interview conducted on Facebook.

Younes was a 22-year-old student at Al-Azhar when he decided to join the world's most dangerous militant group.

Like Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri, a former physician, he has middle-class roots.

He learnt about Islam at a young age from his mother but mostly shared the interests of any other Egyptian youth: a love for football and martial arts like gongfu.

Younes took part in the street protests which ended 30 years of iron-fisted rule under then president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. But he also rejected the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that came to power after Mubarak's fall.

He calls Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood figure who became president until he was overthrown by the army last year, an apostate for opting for Western concepts like elections rather than radical Islamic rule.

Younes said his decision to embrace IS was motivated by something much deeper - a burning desire to topple Arab "tyrants" like Mubarak and Mursi and current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and create a caliphate.

Younes was attracted to Syria because it had become a hub for militants from around the world with the ultimate goal of clearing their home countries "from the abomination of tyrants".

But joining IS was not a straightforward matter. An IS member had to nominate Younes after he proved himself in another militant group in Syria, where he arrived from Turkey.

"The IS is not like the other factions. It does not accept anybody until he gets an endorsement from a member of the state," he said.

Eventually, he was trained by an Egyptian commander. Younes became a sniper, learnt how to use heavy weapons at a camp in Syria and fought in major battles in neighbouring Iraq, he said.

Among the skills he was taught was the correct technique for beheadings. He said he had personally carried out such killings, but did not say who the victims were or how many he had killed. Those who were killed deserved their fate because they had participated in the killing of Muslims, he said.

Younes said he had persuaded about 100 others to take up holy war before leaving on his own mission. Like many others, he tore up his passport, an act of allegiance to IS, which rejects borders.

"I will stay here in Syria until we conquer it and will come to Egypt to conquer it, God willing."