When fighters belonging to a moderate Syrian rebel force raided an ISIS hideout earlier this year, they could never have expected to come away with a haul as valuable as this. What they found wasn't weapons or ammo or money, it was a laptop. A laptop filled with thousands of hidden files filled with schemes, bomb-making instructions, and research on building a homebrew biological weapon of mass destruction.
The raid occurred in January in the Syrian province of Idlib, near the Turkish border. And earlier this week, the moderate group's commander, Abu Ali, handed the computer over to Foreign Policy reporters Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa for a look:
The laptop's contents turn out to be a treasure trove of documents that provide ideological justifications for jihadi organisations — and practical training on how to carry out the Islamic State's deadly campaigns. They include videos of Osama bin Laden, manuals on how to make bombs, instructions for stealing cars, and lessons on how to use disguises in order to avoid getting arrested while traveling from one jihadi hot spot to another.
But after hours upon hours of scrolling through the documents, it became clear that the ISIS laptop contains more than the typical propaganda and instruction manuals used by jihadists. The documents also suggest that the laptop's owner was teaching himself about the use of biological weaponry, in preparation for a potential attack that would have shocked the world.
The laptop appears to have originally belonged to a former chemistry and biology student by the name of Muhammad S. who studied at a Tunisian University before dropping off the radar and presumably making his way to Syria to fight for the Islamic State. We know this because he not only left a bunch of his college exams on his hard drive but a picture of himself as well.
Other notable files the reporters unearthed include a 26-page fatwa written by Saudi jihadi cleric Nasir al-Fahd rationalising how the Prophet would be totally cool with them killing off all of Europe with bubonic plague—the biological weapon Muhammad S. was researching—as well as instructions for testing any potentially-developed weapons on animals and livestock before attempting to infect humans.
Of course, terrorist plots employing weapons of mass destruction are nothing new. Al-Qaeda has been try to get its hands on such technology for years without luck. But as Magnus Ranstorp, research director of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College told Foreign Policy, "The real difficulty in all of these weapons...[it is] to actually have a workable distribution system that will kill a lot of people. But to produce quite scary weapons is certainly within [the Islamic State's] capabilities." Luckily, ISIS' UAV program is nowhere near capable of acting as that sort of distribution system.
And while their online recruitment tactics are proving remarkably effective at getting their message of hatred and intolerance out—an estimated 2,400 Tunisians alone have flooded into Syria to join ISIS as a result—for now, ISIS' WMD bark appears to be worse than its bite. Though the notion of fundamentalist yahoos developing weapons to kill everyone that doesn't believe in the same thing they do is not a reassuring one. Be sure to check out the full story over at Foreign Policy. [Foreign Policy]
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