Jihadi Jack: The OCD teenager who took a football to bed with him who grew up to be a terrorist

Josie Ensor
Jack Letts, the only white British Muslim convert to join Isil, pictured near the Tabqa Dam outside of Raqqa in Syria

By all accounts Jack Letts was a popular kid growing up. A class-clown who gained friends by cracking jokes and making them laugh.

But as a teenager, he developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and began struggling to find his place in the world.

"He had a phase being obsessed with football and would sleep next to his football,” his father, John, an organic farmer from Oxford, said. “The same thing happened with religion.”

It was at the age of 15 that Jack, who was raised in a secular household in Oxford, begun studying the Koran and made the decision to convert to Islam.

He started attending a local mosque and became preoccupied by the Arab Spring, in particular the Syrian civil war. He watched President Bashar al-Assad bombing his own people and wanted to help “take him down”.

A picture of John Letts and his son Jack is shown on a protester's placard outside the Old Bailey, London, on the first day of John and Sally Letts' trial  Credit: SWNS

He decided to drop out of his A-Level studies and left for Kuwait in 2014 aged 18, telling his parents he wanted to learn Arabic and “be of some help.”

But from there he travelled to northern Iraq, where Isil had just taken over huge swathes of territory.

His parents first refused to accept that he had joined the Islamic State, saying he was a pacifist who was there for humanitarian and religious purposes.

But Jack had come to be an angry young man.

According to evidence heard  in June in court, where his parents were on trial for funding terrorism after trying to send him money, Jack commented on a Facebook photo posted by a former friend who had joined the army.

“I would love to perform a martyrdom operation on this scene,” he wrote beneath a picture of the friend graduating from his Commando Artillery Course, implying he would like to kill them in a suicide attack.

John Letts and wife Sally arrive at court  Credit: SWNS

A few months later he shared a photograph of himself at Tabqa Dam in Syria, which was under the control of Isil at the time it was taken in 2015, performing a one-finger salute that has been appropriated by the jihadists.

Little is known about his time living in Isil’s caliphate.

What is known is that Letts married the daughter of a high-ranking sheikh from the Iraqi city of Fallujah shortly after arriving in Iraq. From there the young couple moved to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of Isil’s “caliphate”. They had a child soon after.

In an interview with The Independent in early 2016 conducted on the encrypted Telegram app, Jack, who had adopted the name Ibrahim, said he wanted kuffars, or non-believers, in Britain to convert to Islam.

He blamed his home country for the bombing of “innocent Muslims” in Syria.

Jack Letts pictured during his teenage years Credit: Central News

"Despite the media frenzy surrounding them, I’ve never seen Isis kill Muslim kids. I have, however, seen the coalition do so," he said in messages sent to the paper.

At some point he became disenchanted by Isil’s ruthless and brutal rule, and claimed to have been imprisoned three times for trying to escape.

He was captured some months later by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces during the battle for Raqqa.

In a recent interview with ITV News from an SDF-run prison he appeared reflective, though not entirely remorseful.

He was asked his opinion about terror attacks in Europe committed while he was in Syria.

“To be honest, at the time I thought it was a good thing,” Jack said of the Paris, Brussels and Manchester attacks. “This is what war does to you. You have this idea of ‘why shouldn’t it happen to them?’”

Letts converted to Islam and went by the name Ibrahim

He said he missed his mother, with whom he has had no direct contact in several years.

It emerged in court that his parents blamed themselves for how Jack’s life turned out.

"I was a terrible parent that gave you too much power as a child,” Mrs Letts told her son, in a message that was read out to the jury. “I should have made you adapt to the world, instead of adapting myself to your world. I have done you no favours by doing this."

She said he showed signs of "mental illness", adding: "I have to bear some responsibility for that as your mother."

Canadian-born Mr Letts said he should not have exposed his son to his “armchair revolutionary sh**e”.

Men suspected of being Isil fighters wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving the group's last holdout of Baghouz Credit: AFP

Jack’s future is uncertain. The SDF has said it will not hold its foreign prisoners indefinitely without trial and want an international tribunal to be set up to hear their cases.

The UK is refusing to extradite Jack, who also holds Canadian nationality, and have left the matter with Ottawa.

"If the UK accepted me then I’d go back to the UK, it’s my home,” he told ITV. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen."

He was right.  The Home Office has now stripped Letts of British citizenship, meaning he is the responsibility of the Canadian government, The Mail on Sunday said.

It was reportedly one of the last actions of Theresa May’s administration.