Armed with only a camera, Exmouth's Emile's on a mission to bring down ISIS - to save his family

PUBLISHED: 09:10 06 October 2015 | UPDATED: 09:10 06 October 2015

Emile Ghessen - frontline film maker

Emile Ghessen - frontline film maker


A dad from Exmouth - who went to school with terrorist 'Jihadi John' - has travelled around Iraq by taxi, armed only with a camera, to document western fighters' frontline battle to bring down Islamic State militants.

Former Royal Marine-turned-documentary maker Emile Ghessen, 34, who lives in the town, began frontline filming in May, moving around independently, lying low in ambulances and taxis in a bid to remain undetected by the enemy.

Emile said his quest to follow and film westerners joining up to fight ISIS was personal - his family is Syrian. They remain in the country and live in fear of being captured and killed by militants.

The ex-marine, who attended the same primary school as ‘Jihadi John’ - Emile’s brother was in the same class - hopes his documentary will give people a better understanding of the situation in Iraq and Syria.

After leaving his role in the security services in May, Emile travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan to see first-hand how volunteer western fighters, from the UK and across the world, were supporting the Kurdish Peshmerga forces battling ISIS.

Emile’s cousin was among thousands to flee Syria - eventually securing refugee status in Belgium - after travelling dangerous routes, through Turkey, to reach Greek island Kos.

The documentary maker said the situation in war-torn Syria made it hard for the rest of his family to leave.

Emile said: “What makes this more personal for me is that my family from my father’s side are Syrian Christians and still live in Syria.

“They live in fear that if ISIS get them, they will be killed without hesitation.

“They know it’s dangerous for them because they are Christians. They know if President Assad goes, the Christian population will be slaughtered.”

To keep a low-profile, Emile moves around by taxi or hides in the back of ambulances.

He said: “One time, when hiding in the back of an ambulance heading to the frontline in Kirkuk, we went through the wrong checkpoint and ended up 300 metres from an ISIS checkpoint, where I could see the black flag flying.

“Being unarmed and putting my life in the hands of others can be daunting sometimes. It’s as simple as taking the wrong turn and you can be in serious trouble.

“Lucky for us, they didn’t shoot as they were probably more confused than we were.”

Recently, Emile filmed with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran – outlawed ‘guerrilla’ soldiers involved in the ‘forgotten fight’ in the mountains.

“I had to dress as one of their soldiers to blend in as I crossed over from Iraq to Iran,” said Emile. “I knew if the Iranian forces caught me, I would be held as a spy.

“Despite some scary situations, overall I’m not afraid as I’m very experienced from the marines and from my days working in the private security industry.

“All I carry is my camera, sleeping bag and some clothes. I sleep wherever I can each night, mainly on the frontline on the floor, with local Peshmerga fighters.

“I swapped my rifle for a camera after serving many tours of Iraq and Afghanistan while in the marines. I feel the power of the media has a further reach than any gun that I carried.”

He added: “Some people may think I’m crazy moving around a war zone in ISIS-held territory on my own, unarmed with just a camera, but I know what I’m doing and try mitigate any risks to the best of my ability using my combat experience.

“I’m hoping to make a documentary on the situation of western volunteer fighters and ISIS so people have a better understanding of the situation in Iraq and Syria.”

Follow Emile’s filming at

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