After a trip to the frontlines in the fight against ISIS, he's got some terse words for Islamophobes.
By
Ben Winsor

10 Aug 2016 - 11:48 AM  UPDATED 11 Aug 2016 - 1:44 AM

For 22 years Andrew Drury has been taking “different” kinds of holidays.

The 50-year-old British small-business owner has been to Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and North Korea, among other global hotspots.

His eclectic passport stamp collection often gets him into strife at airport immigration.

“Every time I get in a passport queue it takes three or four times longer than anyone else,” he tells SBS.

The Americans are particularly cautious, he says, recounting one experience where he was put into detention while officials debated whether to arrest or deport him.

Recently, though, he’s found it much easier. “I imagine when they scan my passport it says something now,” he says. “‘Twat’ probably.”

His love of “adventure tourism” all started on a trip to Uganda, when he illegally crossed over into Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo – and was chased out by a farmer with a machete.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a risky trip,” he tells SBS, but it whetted his appetite for adventure.

Asked what’s driven him to go to some of the riskiest ‘Do Not Travel’ zones in the world, he responds with genuine uncertainty.

“I’ve done all this TV and radio, but I really… I don’t know,” he says. ”If I was truthful, it’s being inquisitive.”

He says he sees reports on the news on conflicts around the world, but is driven to get a first-hand experience.

“The snippets that you get are generally not accurate, I like seeing it for myself,” he says.

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After a recent trip to Iraq where he was shot at by ISIS, he was struck by the Islamophobia he encountered when he returned to the UK.

At the front lines, he met with a group of Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and Turkmen militia. Normally those groups might not even speak to each other, he says, but they had united to fight together against ISIS.

“Without the Islamic or Muslim fighters, it would be a lot worse, because they’re holding them back,” he tells SBS. “Its being held back by the people that we fear the most.”

At the frontlines, the group he met was positioned 500m from an ISIS outpost.

“It’s like World War One trench warfare,” he told SBS. “There’s a big trench been dug, and there are villages where ISIS was.”

Their position had just suffered a suicide attack. An ISIS militant on a bulldozer had tried to break through the line.

Body-parts were scattered all over the place, Mr Drury says. The attacker's arms had been blown off and internal organs were lodged in a nearby bush.

The group was attempting to defuse a non-detonated vehicle when ISIS militants advanced and opened fire.

When he returned home from that trip to his wife and children, he says he got a frosty reception.

“It took her two weeks to speak with me,” he says. “I don’t think she was too happy with me.”

Until a few recent news stories, he says, his wife hadn’t quite realised how risky his adventures had been.

Iraq wasn’t his first close call, the al Shabaab terror group had attempted to capture Mr Drury and his cousin on a trip to Mogadishu, Somalia, he says.

The pair had gone in an attempt to find wreckage of the downed US helicopters from the firefight popularised in the film Black Hawk Down.

They found parts of the wreckage in a cactus bush, but to get there they had to travel to Bukara market. A densely populated area of town once controlled by al Shabaab, and where the group is still active.

They travelled on the back of a ute with several hired locals carrying guns.

Shabaab began closing roads in order to corner them, Mr Drury says, but their local team managed to get them out.

He also had a narrow escape with the KKK, he tells SBS, after spending months pretending to be a white supremacist and meeting with several leaders.

Before he returned to take part in a ceremony, one of their leaders discovered he’d been faking.

“He realised I’ve got a load of coloured and ethnic friends,” he says. “He said he’d kill me if I came back.”

It was the first time anyone’s directly threatened to kill him, he says (apart from getting shot at by ISIS, he adds).

In TV segments he’s taken part in, reporters often question Mr Drury’s sanity – but on more than one occasion those same crews have later been in touch to ask for advice and local contacts for trips to dangerous areas.

He’s become somewhat of an expert.

Mr Drury tells us he used to regularly use adventure travel company Untamed Borders, run by James Wilcox, but now he knows fixers and guides he can get in touch with directly.

He says there are some pretty strict rules he follows to keep safe.

You never tell anyone where you’re going, you always know where the roads are, and you always stay on the ground floor, he tells SBS.

He’s done a lot of media, but says something stands out about Australians who he speaks to.

He’s been on radio here a couple of times and says we’re an adventurous bunch.

“You lot get it. The Brits think I’m completely and utterly stupid,” he says. “You’re more laid back.”

Asked what advice he’d have for others wanting to follow in his footsteps, he gives a surprising answer.

“Don’t go,” he says, “the world’s a worse place than I first went.”

“It can go one of either two ways – you’ll either get too scared and wish you’d never went. You'll freeze somewhere you really can't afford to freeze," he said.

“Or you’ll end up addicted to it like I’ve been.”

Curious about life in a war zone? Watch Episode 1 of Kabul Kitchen on SBS On Demand:

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