When Abu Hala saw the dead bodies of his only two daughters, something inside him snapped.
Blaming the government for their deaths, he told a relative to put him in touch with an Isis commander in the northern town of Mosul. He then divorced his wife.
“He said he wanted to join the Islamic State. He told me he would die fighting the government. He said I should not wait for him,” his wife told The Sunday Times.
A graduate from Baghdad University of Technology, Abu Hala, 33, has skills as an electrical engineer, and they have quickly been put to use by Isis. For two months he has been building the remote-controlled devices and timers used by the extremists to detonate car bombs, killing scores of Iraqi soldiers and militiamen.
His story illustrates how rising anger with the Baghdad government, which is dominated by Shi’ites, has driven many Iraqi Sunnis into the arms of Isis.
“Our father forbid us from joining al-Qaeda in Iraq,” said Abu Khalid, his brother. “But the government has destroyed everything that we had.”
The family says Iraqi troops deliberately flooded their homes by opening a dam upriver from their village in Anbar province. The floodwaters destroyed their farmland and drowned Abu Hala’s mother and his two daughters.
Once a struggling farmer, he now receives £1,800 a month to use for building bombs. The extremists also send £1,200 a month to his father so that he can rebuild the family’s farm.
Isis has become adept at maximising its revenues. While money continues to flow into its coffers from private donors in Gulf states like Qatar, Isis also lives off the land it seizes, raising money by selling oil, smuggling looted antiquities and taxing locals in territory under its control.
“They are like jihadis with MBAs,” said Professor Toby Dodge, head of the Middle East department of the London School of Economics. “They have raised millions of dollars from protection rackets in Mosul alone. They also use adverts embedded in their Twitter feeds to make money.”
Even though Abu Hala’s brother disagrees with the brutal methods of Isis — particularly the beheadings and public crucifixion of religious minorities – he said he supports his brother’s work.
“Our choice is between a government that kills our people, and the Islamic State,” he said. “There is no choice. It is our only option.”