Jack Letts, nicknamed “Jihadi Jack” by some newspapers, suffers from a serious mental disorder, according to his parents, Channel 4 News can reveal.
Speaking exclusively to Channel 4 News, Jack’s parents John and Sally also said they were arrested when they sent their son money for glasses.
Mr and Mrs Letts talked about Jack’s condition, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and said his conversion to Islam had helped him cope. The 20-year-old is now thought to be living in Isis-controlled territory in Syria, where his parents say he is carrying out humanitarian work.
John Letts wiped away tears of frustration as he tried to explain what he and his wife had been going through. I sat with John and Sally in their terraced home in Oxford, despite their initial reluctance to meet me at all.
“We’ve just been stung so many times now by journalists. So many papers have made up so many things about us, it’s been a nightmare,” Sally told me.
Over the last week, their son’s picture has been splashed all over the papers. In one, he is pictured in Syria, his finger pointing up to the sky in a Shahada gesture.
Some have taken this as evidence he has joined Isis. It has been alleged that he is the first white boy to fight for the terrorist group. Yet he has always denied it and has never been filmed with a gun.
His parents are aware they make good copy, a good story for the tabloids. John is an organic farmer whose work has been endorsed by the Prince of Wales. Sally is an administrator. They are a pillar of middle class respectability.
So why would their son suddenly go to the most dangerous conflict zone in the world? Some in the media have suggested it is because he is a violent extremist.
In private messages we have seen, he has denied this. In fact his story is far more complicated.
For the first time, Jack’s parents have said he suffered a serious mental health disorder. Like his parents, Jack was interested in politics and the world and OCD drove his study of the Koran.
He went to Syria, where he has been for two years. There is no evidence he is a fighter or that he is with a charity.
He has been described as naive, and his parents have tried to convince him to come home, as phone messages show.
They have been seriously concerned about him and yet when they tried to send him money so he could buy new glasses, they were arrested.
Whatever he is doing, he has been able to operate for two years without attracting attention. The fear is he will have attracted the attention of the so-called Islamic State.
South East Counter Terrorism Command said in a statement that it was aware of “recent reports in the media regarding a 20-year-old man from Oxford travelling to Syria and can confirm we are investigating”.
It added: “We can confirm a 55-year-old man and a 53-year-old woman, from Oxford, were arrested on suspicion of sending money to Syria which could be used for terrorism purposes… and were bailed until 17 February.”