An ISIS defector explained a key reason why people continue joining the group

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ISIS Hunts Citizens Exposing Terror Group

Despite ISIS's claims of ruling over a Islamic "caliphate" in line with Sharia law, a large number of the group's fighters joined for reasons having little to do with religion, according to a defector from the group that The Daily Beast's Michael Weiss interviewed in Istanbul, Turkey.

Instead, people are joining the organization because they are desperate for money and are struggling to find a way to survive in Syria, where four years of civil war have decimated the economy.

The ISIS defector, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Khaled, spoke with Weiss about the group's internal dynamics, and what it was like to live under ISIS's rule.

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An ISIS defector explained a key reason why people continue joining the group
FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. slamic State militants are barricading down for a possible assault on their de facto capital Raqqa, hiding among civilian homes and preventing anyone from fleeing, as international airstrikes intensify on the Syrian city in the wake of the Paris attacks. For many, the threat of missiles and bombs from the enemies of Islamic State is more of an immediate threat than the vicious oppression of the jihadisâ themselves. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
In this photo released on May 4, 2015, by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants pass by a convoy in Tel Abyad town, northeast Syria. In contrast to the failures of the Iraqi army, in Syria Kurdish fighters are on the march against the Islamic State group, capturing towns and villages in an oil-rich swath of the country's northeast in recent days, under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes. (Militant website via AP)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 4, 2014, which is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Shakir Waheib, a senior member of the al-Qaida breakaway group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), left, next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province. For the al-Qaida breakaway group that overran parts of Iraq this week, the border between that country and Syria, where it is also fighting, may as well not even be there. The group, wants to establish a Shariah-ruled mini-state bridging both countries, in effect uniting a Sunni heartland across the center of the Mideast.
This file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, which is consistent with AP reporting, shows a convoy of vehicles and fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province. The Islamic State was originally al-Qaida's branch in Iraq, but it used Syria's civil war to vault into something more powerful. It defied orders from al-Qaida's central command and expanded its operations into Syria, ostensibly to fight to topple Assad. But it has turned mainly to conquering territory for itself, often battling other rebels who stand in the way. (AP Photo/militant website, File)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Moderate Syrian rebels are buckling under the onslaught of the radical al-Qaida breakaway group that has swept over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Some rebels are giving up the fight, crippled by lack of weapons and frustrated with the power of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Other, more hard-line Syrian fighters are bending to the winds and joining the radicals. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
FILE - This image posted on a militant website on Saturday, June 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, appears to show militants from the Islamic State group with truckloads of captured Iraqi soldiers after taking over a base in Tikrit. Iraq won the battle to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State group, backed by a coalition of the unlikely in Iranian advisers, Shiite militias and U.S.-led airstrikes, but the country now faces what could be its most important battle: Winning the support of the Sunni. (AP Photo via militant website, File)
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Once a vibrant, mixed city considered a bastion of support for President Bashar Assad, the eastern city of Raqqa is now a shell of its former life, transformed by al-Qaida militants into the nucleus of the terror group's version of an Islamic caliphate they hope one day to establish in Syria and Iraq. In rare interviews with The Associated Press, residents and activists in Raqqa describe a city where fear prevails, music has been banned, Christians have to pay religious tax in return for protection and face-veiled women and pistol-wielding men in jihadi uniforms patrol the streets. (AP Photo/militant website, File)
In this May 26, 2015 photo, Bilal Abdullah poses for a portrait in the village of Eski Mosul in northern Iraq, nearly a year after Islamic State militants took over the village. In the Islamic State's realm, a document testifying that one has "repented" from a heretical past must be carried at all times and it can mean the difference between life and death. Abdullah learned that not long after the extremists took over his home village. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, a girl holds a broom in the town of Eski Mosul, Iraq, which had been under the control of the Islamic State group for months. Most residents stayed in the town after it was liberated by Kurdish Peshmerga forces in January 2015. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on March 7, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group holds the IS flag as he dismantles a cross on the top of a church in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 8, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of Islamic State group's traffic police, right, writes a ticket to a driver, left, in Raqqa, Syria. Taxi drivers or motorists usually play the IS station on their radios - music, which is forbidden, can get the driver 10 lashes. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on May 4, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, people stand at the window of a media distribution point to receive CDs from Islamic State militants, right, in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this Sunday, May 17, 2015 photo, Sheikh Abdullah Ibrahim poses with his son while holding an Islamic State group-issued death certificate - all that he has left of his wife, Buthaina Ibrahim, an outspoken human rights activist and official, in the village of Eski Mosul, northern Iraq. There is no grave, no idea what was done with her body after the extremists took her from their home one night and killed her in a purge after overrunning the village north of Mosul, Iraq in June 2014. Given her government ties, IS fighters quickly demanded she apply for a repentance card. "She said she'd never stoop so low," her husband said. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on April 30, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, new recruits of the Islamic State train in Mosul, northern Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Dec. 24, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group writes in Arabic, "we are a people whom God has honored with Islam," on a newly painted wall in Raqqa, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, a resident sits on a hill overlooking the town of Eski Mosul, Iraq. The hole next to him is a former grave that was opened up by the Islamic State group militants and used as a sniper hideout. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on July 2, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Iraqi men gather around Islamic State group officials to sign cards testifying that they have "repented" from their heretical past, in Mosul, northern Iraq. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2015 photo, Salim Ahmed, a former Iraqi Army member, holds the "repentance card" he received from the Islamic State group in June 2014 shortly after the militants took over his home village of Eski Mosul in northern Iraq. The document is part of the apparatus of control the Islamic State group has constructed across its self-declared "caliphate," the territory it conquered in Syria and Iraq. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this photo released on May 14, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group's vice police known as "Hisba," right, reads a verdict handed down by an Islamic court sentencing many they accused of adultery to lashing, in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Jan. 14, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants kill a man they accused of being a homosexual by throwing him off a building in Syria's northeastern province of Hassakeh. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on March 7, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group destroys an icon of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the wall of a church in Mosul, Iraq. In a series of interviews by Associated Press journalists, former prisoners and residents who lived under IS rule describe how one of the richest, most sophisticated terrorist organizations in the world accumulates money, terrifies residents, indoctrinates children and buys loyalties. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Jan. 31, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, women in niqabs - enveloping black robes and veils that leaves only the eyes visible - sew niqabs, which are required for women in Islamic State-held territory, in a factory in Mosul, Iraq. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 10, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, two Syrian citizens, right, sit in the office of an inheritance judge of Islamic State group, in the town of al-Tabqa in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on April 17, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, a member of the Islamic State group's vice police known as "Hisba," patrols a market in Raqqa City, Syria. The Arabic words on the vest read, "The Islamic State - Hisba (vice police)." (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on Feb. 10, 2015 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, two women sit in the office of an Islamic State group judge, center, at an Islamic court in al-Tabqa town in Raqqa City, Syria. (Militant website via AP)
In this photo released on January 31, 2014 by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, members of the Islamic State group, left, distribute niqabs, enveloping black robes and veils that leave only the eyes visible, to Iraqi women in Mosul, northern Iraq. In areas controlled by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, women must not only be covered, but usually are required to wear all black, with flat-soled shoes; for men, Western clothes or hair styles _even hair gel _ can draw suspicion. (Militant website via AP)
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According to Abu Khaled, a large number of people are joining ISIS because they need money. After joining the militants, people are paid in US dollars instead of Syrian liras. Abu Khaled said that ISIS also runs its own currency exchanges.

ISIS members receive additional incentives to fight for the group. "I rented a house, which was paid for by ISIS," Abu Khaled, who worked for ISIS's internal-security forces and "provided training for foreign operatives," told Weiss. "It cost $50 per month. They paid for the house, the electricity. Plus, I was married, so I got an additional $50 per month for my wife. If you have kids, you get $35 for each. If you have parents, they pay $50 for each parent. This is a welfare state."

And those financial benefits are not just limited to the organization's fighters. According to Abu Khaled, any member of ISIS, ranging from construction workers to doctors, receives similar compensation. In war-torn Syria, these salaries are a powerful lure for people who might not otherwise be able to support their families — or for people just hoping to get rich.

"I knew a mason who worked construction. He used to get 1,000 lira per day. That's nothing," Abu Khaled told Weiss. "Now he's joined ISIS and gets 35,000 lira—$100 for himself, $50 for his wife, $35 for his kids. He makes $600 to $700 per month. He gave up masonry. He's just a fighter now, but he joined for the income."

Amwal al GhadOther Syrians who have fled from ISIS's rule have corroborated Abu Khaled's reports, confirming that one of the only ways to accumulate wealth and status under ISIS's rule is by joining the organization. Yassin al-Jassem, a Syrian refugee from near ISIS's de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, shared his experience with The Washington Post.

"There is no work, so you have to join them in order to live," al-Jassem told the Post. "So many local people have joined them. They were pushed into Daesh by hunger."

According to Newsweek, there is a widening gap in living standards for those under ISIS rule. Members of the organization have access to food, free medical care, and desirable housing. In contrast, people who aren't ISIS members suffer under a barely functioning economy with rapidly increasing prices.

ISIS can afford to pay people seeking to join its ranks through four main sources of income: oil, the sale of looted antiquities, taxation, and kidnapping ransoms.

The militant group either controls or has an operational presence around a number of oil wells in Iraq and in the majority of oil-producing areas in Syria. This allows the group to earn a steady income from oil production and smuggling that helps it to continue its daily operations.

The New York Times estimates that ISIS can make upward of $40 million a month through oil-related activities. In a bid to cut the group's income, the US conducted its first airstrikes against ISIS oil trucks on November 16.

Amwal al GhadISIS's main source of income is significantly more difficult for the US and other coalition partners to target by air. According to Foreign Policy, ISIS makes the majority of its money through extortion and taxation of people living under the group's rule.

ISIS taxes nearly every possible economic activity, with the revenue ultimately covering the expenses of waging continuous war along multiple fronts. Foreign Policy notes that taxes are put in place for militants who loot archaeological sites. Non-Muslims must pay religious taxes, and all ISIS subjects pay a base welfare and salary tax in support of the fighters. All vehicles passing through ISIS territory — which may carry the only food available to those living under ISIS control — must pay taxes often totaling hundreds of dollars.

This ad hoc war economy means that ISIS has little money to spend on improving the lives of those who are forced to live under its rule. But as Abu Khaled's account confirms, it still finds the money for conducting military operations and incentivizing militants to join the group.

That money and the other benefits that ISIS fighters receive means that Syrians join ISIS out of desperation — and not necessarily out of religious or ideological conviction.

Pamela Engel contributed to this report.

NOW WATCH: President Obama: Syrian refugee rhetoric is a 'potent recruitment tool for ISIL'

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