PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – Military experts often say that to defeat your enemy, you need to first know him. When it comes to the war against radical Islam, Walid Shoebat and Zachariah Anani don’t just know the enemy – they were the enemy.
As a young man, Shoebat was a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization , a terrorist group headed by Yasser Arafat.
“Our mission at first – we were growing up in the West Bank – was: kill as many Jews as you can,” Shoebat said.
Anani belonged to several Islamic terrorist groups in Lebanon. By 14, he had already committed his first murder, and he was just getting started.
“Within four years, I had 223 points, which means 223 kills,” Anani recalled. “And two-thirds of them by daggers. I was trained in what we call body combat.”
Growing up in the Middle East, Shoebat and Anani were taught to wage jihad against all non-Muslims, especially Jews. For years, they did that.
And that makes their transformation into Christian witnesses for Israel all the more amazing. The two men have devoted their lives to speaking out against radical Islam and standing up for the Jewish state.
“I began to understand that I was really on quicksand. I was really sinking deep. The truth was not in the Koran. The Koran does not have any prophecies, does not have any predictive prophecies telling us the future in such detail. The Bible does,” Shoebat explained. CBN News caught up with Shoebat and Anani last month in Philadelphia, where they shared their stories at an event called “Three Ex-Terrorists Speak Out.”
If you think this sounds dangerous, you’re right. They were supposed to be joined by a third former terrorist named Ibrahim Abdallah. But Abdallah, also a convert to Christianity, backed out at the last minute because Muslim family members threatened to kidnap his children if he participated.
Shoebat said that’s par for the course.
“Islam is like the song ‘Hotel California,’” said Shoebat. “You can check in, but you can’t check out. You can check out if you want – in a coffin.”
But Anani and Shoebat did check out, leaving years of cult-like indoctrination behind. Anani’s grandfather and great-grandfather were both high-ranking Islamic clerics in Lebanon. By the time he was 13, “Zack” had joined his first terrorist group – with the full approval of his family.
The group was called “The Youth of Ali,” named after the Islamic prophet Mohammed’s cousin.
Anani said he became a killing machine. At times he even targeted fellow Muslims. He told us of one occasion when a Muslim tried to wake him in the middle of the night to pray.
“I said, in a very challenging way, ‘You come and wake me up at 3 o’clock, I’ll shoot you,’” Anani said. “Three o’clock, he knocks on my door. I pull out my pistol from under my pillow, look at the door, measure where his chest is, and then shoot him through the door and go back to sleep again.”
Shoebat also hailed from a prominent family. His grandfather was close to the grand mufti of Jerusalem –who worked closely with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. In Palestinian schools, young Shoebat learned that Jesus and Moses were Palestinian revolutionaries and that the Jews’ day of judgment was coming.
“Most Americans think that terrorism starts by some group coming to recruit you. The recruitment already happens at the mosque,” Shoebat explained. “It already happens at the school. They’re already part of the whole system of education. You don’t need to recruit. The people are willing souls ready to die for martyrdom, or ready to die for Palestine. Ready to die for the cause of Allah.”
Shoebat was one of them.
“The assurance for salvation in Islam is via martyrdom,” he said. “That’s the whole message. The Koran clearly stated it: ‘Do not think that the ones who die in the cause of Allah and martyrdom are dead, but are with Allah receiving their blessings.’ This is why my cousin went to his suicide mission and died. And my aunt Fatima, in the streets of Bethlehem, was passing out candy … because her son was now a martyr.”
After spending time in prison for attacking Israelis, Shoebat was ready to carry out missions for the PLO. On one run, he planted a bomb at a bank in Bethlehem right next to the Church of the Nativity.
“As I was walking away from the bank, the Christian Nativity church – where Jesus was born – I heard this big explosion behind me,” Shoebat said. “And I ran away. And I was never caught, and they never found out. And I never confessed these things until I became a Christian in 1993.”
The same Christian faith that Anani and Shoebat had once wanted to crush would eventually change their lives. After a chance encounter with a Christian preacher on a street in Lebanon, Anani left Islam and terrorism at the age of 17. His family reacted by disowning him.
“My father took the small Bible from my hand and shredded it, and slapped me two or three times and stepped backward — thinking I was [going to] jump him,” Anani recalled. “I said, ‘Nope. You hit me or you beat me, and I won’t change a thing. I’ll be a Christian.’”
Outside his home, things were even worse. He was dragged to the local mosque, beaten and excommunicated. There were also several attempts on his life.
“I was shot. I was knifed. I was poisoned. I was hit with a car. I was hit with sticks,” Anani said.
But Anani refused to be intimidated or be swayed from his new faith.
“It took long years to study the Bible and the Christian faith,” he said. “But in the beginning, like Paul said, I accepted Christ as an indigent. And wisdom came later on.”
Shoebat left Islam in 1993 after his wife, who was already a Christian, challenged him to prove the Bible wrong. He couldn’t.
“I began to understand the story of the fall of man, went all the way down to Revelation,” Shoebat said. “And by the time I got to the prophets, I was fascinated to study Zechariah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah: ‘For I am God and there is no other – for I am God and there is none like Me.'”
Shoebat’s new-found faith cost him his father and his siblings. He now lives in an undisclosed location, where he heads the Walid Shoebat Foundation, a pro-Israel group. He’s also written a book detailing his journey called Why I Left Jihad.
But he’s disappointed that his message hasn’t been well received by some in the West.
“Here’s the ironic thing. The day that I hated Jews, I wanted to kill them, I wanted to blow them up – I was called a freedom fighter by the world and by the press. The day that I turned around and said, you know what? I don’t hate Jews, I don’t hate blacks, I love everybody – I love everybody equally; that’s when I became a racist. Go figure,” Shoebat said.
Anani now lives in North America, where he is director of evangelism for an international ministry. His time in the West hasn’t always gone smoothly either. He has been assaulted and seen his life threatened by Muslims in the United States and Canada.
Shoebat said the best way to counter this jihad violence is as easy as turning a page.
“We need to send out Christian education, the truth from the Bible throughout the Muslim world,” Shoebat said. “And if we send out the message and tell them what the Bible already foretells about the outcome of what’s going to happen to the Muslims, if they can understand that and see it clearly, then that faith, that false faith that they have their hopes on, is shaken.”
The ex-terrorists know their message is not politically correct. Sure enough, they have had trouble getting coverage from the mainstream media. But they say they will continue to tell the truth about what really drives Islamic terrorism.
As for their safety? They are leaving that in God’s hands.