Former MMA fighter and rapper appears in ISIS beheading video

A former MMA fighter and rapper from Germany has been declared an international terrorist by the United States after his association with the Islamic State…

By: Karim Zidan | 9 years ago
Former MMA fighter and rapper appears in ISIS beheading video
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

A former MMA fighter and rapper from Germany has been declared an international terrorist by the United States after his association with the Islamic State was made clear in various propaganda videos.

Abu Talha al-Almani, formerly known as Denis Cuspert and rapper Deso Dogg, joined ISIS back in 2012, and has recently appeared in an ISIS propaganda video holding a severed head.

According to the US State Department, who released a statement on the matter, Cuspert appears to put “special emphasis” on recruiting German speakers to ISIS.

The Department of State has designated German citizen Denis Cuspert as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. As a result of the designation, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which Cuspert has any interest is blocked and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with him or to his benefit.

Denis Cuspert is a foreign terrorist fighter and operative for ISIL, a designated foreign terrorist organization. Cuspert joined ISIL in 2012 and has appeared in numerous videos on its behalf, the most recent dating from early November, in which he appears holding a severed head he claims belongs to a man executed for opposing ISIL. Born in Berlin, the 39-year-old Cuspert spent time in jail for various offenses. Now calling himself Abu Talha al-Almani, Cuspert has pledged an oath of loyalty to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and appears to serve as an ISIL recruiter with special emphasis on recruiting German speakers to ISIL. Cuspert is emblematic of the type of foreign recruit ISIL seeks for its ranks – individuals who have engaged in criminal activity in their home countries who then travel to Iraq and Syria to commit far worse crimes against the people of those countries. Foreign terrorist fighters are reported to have played significant roles in some of ISIL’s most egregious crimes, including the massacres of the Sh’aitat tribe in Syria and the Albu Nimr tribe in Iraq, as well as the almost daily public executions in Raqqa. Cuspert has been a willing pitchman for ISIL atrocities. Cuspert is also wanted by the German government on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities in his home country.

Deso Dogg fought professionally under the name Mahmadon “Da Dogg” Cupert and amassed a 0-1 pro record, although he has also competed in other exhibitions and amateur events. The 39-year-old also released three albums and toured with DMX in 2005-06.

Cupert put his professional careers aside following a near-death experience after a car crash and converted to Islam. He later joined the radical group Die Wahre Religion. From there, he had charges filed against him in 2011 and was fined for illegal possession of firearms. In 2012, Cuspert joined ISIS after starting with a Salafist group in Egypt.

In November 2014, Cuspert was identified in an Islamic State video holding a severed head and explaining why the victim has suffered the “death penalty.”

Cupert is not the first former fighter to become involved with the jihadist group. Last week, a Tajikistan national MMA champion was killed in an airstrike while fighting for ISIS, and German fighter, Valdet Gashi, is rumoured to have disappeared from his native land to go fight for ISIS in Syria; he denied it in a Facebook post last month.

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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