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ISIS Defector Describes Group's Interest in Western Attacks: Report

Harry Sarfo told The New York Times that ISIS was focused on fighters who were willing to kill in England and Germany.
IMAGE: Harry Sarfo
Islamic State defector Harry Sarfo gives an interview to New York Times reporter and NBC News and MSNBC contributor Rukmini Callimachi from a maximum security prison in Germany.New York Times

A German man jailed after joining and later fleeing the terror group ISIS in Syria said an organizer for the group was more focused on planning terror attacks in European cities than his joining the battle in Syria.

Harry Sarfo, from Bremen, Germany, told the New York Times in an interview at a maximum security German prison where he is being held that the ISIS organizer asked him for contacts back home and said the group particularly wanted attackers in Germany.

"He was speaking openly about the situation, saying that they have loads of people living in European countries and waiting for commands to attack the European people,” Sarfo told the newspaper in an interview published Wednesday. "And that was before the Brussels attacks, before the Paris attacks,” Sarfo said.

The Times described an intelligence unit of ISIS called Emni in Arabic, whose role is to encourage attacks in countries outside Syria and Iraq.

The interview was conducted by New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, who is also an NBC News and MSNBC contributor. "This is a person that they [ISIS] know, who went very high into their hierarchy; he was inducted into ISIS’ special forces," Callimachi said of Sarfo on MSNBC Wednesday night.

Related: New 'Heat Map' Shows ISIS Branches Spreading Worldwide

Citing intelligence documents from several countries, the Times reported that Emni has broad authority within ISIS to recruit and reallocate fighters in pursuit of foreign attacks.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for terror attacks in Paris in 2015 that killed 130 people and bombings in Brussels in March that killed more than 30 people. Last week in Normandy, France, two attackers linked to the ISIS took hostages and murdered a priest before they were shot dead.

Sarfo went from Bremen to Syria last year, where he described to The Times being fingerprinted and interviewed by ISIS.

He was approached by the Emni three days later, but refused to name any contacts in Germany or England who might be interested, and refused to go back to Germany. He eventually joined what ISIS calls its special forces.

Sarfo became disillusioned and managed to escape to Turkey, and from there flew to Bremen Airport where he was arrested and confessed, the Times reported.

Related: NYC Man Who Joined Then Escaped ISIS Speaks Out Against 'Evil'

Sarfo told The Times the group’s ultimate goal was attacks in England, France, and Germany happening at around the same time.

"He said especially in Germany and in England is lacking in people willing to give their life," Sarfo said in the interview.

"My friend asked him, 'What about France?' and they start laughing — but really serious laughing with tears in their eyes. And they're saying, 'Don’t worry about France ... France, we have enough people.'"

Sarfo told the Times that he believes there are "hundreds" of people have returned to Europe from ISIS.

Asked if there were any Americans or Canadians, Sarfo said: "There are Americans. But the guys from [ISIS] said that for America and Canada it’s much more easy to get them over the social network.”

"They say Americans, they’re dumb because they have open gun policy ... and said it’s easy to get radical Muslims to buy guns," Sarfo said. "They say, we can radicalize them easily and if they don’t have no criminal record they can buy them guns themselves, so we don’t need to have no contact man who has to provide guns for them."

A trove of ISIS personnel records obtained by NBC News and which was analyzed by experts at West Point show ISIS has recruits from all over the globe, including China and Australia and Trinidad and Tobago. The files were on jihadists who joined the Islamic State in 2013 and 2014.

NBC News worked with the Combating Terrorism Center at the elite military academy to transform them into a database of more than 4,000 foreign fighters from 71 countries.

Related: Month of Terror During Ramadan Shows ISIS' New Phase

Among the findings was that the three biggest feeder countries were Saudi Arabia (797 fighters), Tunisia (640) and Morocco (260), although Tunisia had the highest per capita rate.

About 10 percent hailed from Western nations, including the United Kingdom (57) and the United States (14). In Europe, France (128) and Germany (80) had the highest numbers.