Tens of thousands of documents containing approximately 22,000 names of possible ISIS recruits from all over the world has now fallen into the hands of British, US, German and Australian authorities.
These documents were stolen by a former Free Syrian Army member who had converted to the jihadist militant IS group. The defector named himself as Abu Hamed, who had reportedly walked away from the terrorist group due to ‘irreparable differences’ and their ‘lack of vision’. When he left, the disillusioned Hamed allegedly stole a memory stick from the head of ISIS’s internal security police, which held thousands of documents citing personal information on ISIS volunteer. This memory stick was handed over to Western media on his own free will at the beginning of this week.
The documents have been described as questionnaires for would-be ISIS recruits, and are structured in forms that feature 23 questions that request potential volunteers to detail their lives. These range from questions concerning their real and fake names, their blood type, date and place of birth and their mother’s name to their level of obedience, experience of jihad and preference as fighter or suicide attacker.
The former director of Global Terrorism operations at MI6 Richard Barrett has described the hoard of documents as “an absolute goldmine of information of enormous significance and interest to very many people, particularly the security and intelligence services”. Certainly, if the data in these documents prove to be authentic, the leak of potentially critical information can be instrumental in authorities’ efforts to prosecute volunteers of ISIS who eventually return to their home countries.
Furthermore, Chris Phillips, who acts as the managing director of consultancy International Protect and Prepare Security Office, has declared that the leak can not only assist in the prosecution of returning fighters but potentially stop the flow of volunteers travelling to Syria from the West.
However, there has been some contest surrounding the authenticity of the documents. Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maizière has confirmed the documents to be real, stating that they would facilitate “speedier, clearer investigations and stricter prison sentences” for those returning from conflict areas such as Iraq and Syria. De Maizière determined that the data will help clarify “the underlying structures of this terrorist organisation”, whose internal discourse has so far been shrouded in suspicious mystery from the Western world.
However, despite having no objective reason to believe the documents were forged, some analysts have cast doubt on the authenticity of the leaked data.
Aymenn al Tamimi, one of the world’s foremost experts on ISIS reported that although at first he was “quite impressed”, he worries about certain logos which were not seen before in hundreds of other ISIS documents he had dealt with. “Volume doesn’t prove authenticity”, he also added.
Furthermore, Charlie Winter, a researcher at Georgia State University reported, “There would be big alarm bells for me, because when I’ve seen inconsistencies like that in the past they’ve been on really shoddily made forgeries.”
Journalist and jihadism analyst Wassim Nasr said that these uncharacteristic inconsistencies or ‘mistakes’ consequently calls into question the authenticity of at least some of the documents.
He posted on twitter, “Maybe some of the information is real, while the layout was fabricated to sell the information at a high price to different buyers.”
It is entirely possible that the information is constructed and fabricated by ISIS leaders. However, British, US and German intelligence agencies are currently looking for potential leads hidden within the thousands of digital documents. In particular, three British intelligence agencies- MI5, MI6 and GCHQ- are still working their way through the cache of documents to analyse the significance and practical value of the leaked information. However, these intelligence agencies admit that the relevance and usefulness of the information may be undermined by their old age, and the fact that many of the named volunteers have already perished.
Nevertheless, it is possible that this hoard of information can prove to enlighten Western institutions on the nature or inside workings of the terrorist organisation. No doubt any information will prove to be valuable in the continuing war against terror, and serve to provide links to other jihadis or offer otherwise clandestine insight into the destructive organisation’s structure.