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Leaked ISIS Documents Show Internal Chaos

Recently uncovered ISIS documents read like a bad comedy about embezzlement, infiltration, and bureaucratic infighting.

08.30.16 5:00 AM ET

What appear to be internal documents from the administration of the so-called Islamic State, obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast, show the terrorist organization under strain from financial misappropriation, embezzlement, alleged infiltration by anti-ISIS spies, and bureaucratic infighting.

These documents, originally captured by a Syrian rebel group near Damascus, are stamped by official ISIS “ministries.” They show the dollar salaries ISIS paid to its jihadist fighters, at least as of a year ago, in addition to other income earmarked for those fighters’ dependents.

ISIS documents

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The information contained in the documents confirms what various ISIS defectors and deserters have disclosed previously to The Daily Beast about the inner workings of the organization.

They also yield more proof of the extraordinary amount of red tape (and somewhat comedic human frustration) involved as ISIS leaders try to regulate everything from the requisition of weapons and ammunition to the allowance of vacation time.

The entire file was shared by Maher al-Hamdan, a media spokesman for the Ahmad Abdo Brigade. This  Syrian rebel group receives ammunition and financial support from the Military Operations Command in Amman, Jordan, meaning it is backed by the United States and other Western and Arab countries party to the “Friends of Syria” coalition.

According to al-Hamdan, everything was retrieved from the corpse of a slain ISIS military commander known as Abu Ali al-Iraqi, who was killed on June 8, 2016, in a clash between Ahmad Abdo insurgents and the jihadists in an area near the Syrian-Jordanian border.

“We lost one soldier; four were injured,” al-Hamdan claimed over Skype. “ISIS lost 19, including Abu Ali al-Iraqi.”

The documents are mainly bits of correspondence between other ISIS officials and are embarrassing to a messianic movement that proclaims it is growing in strength and expanding its dominions in spite of nearly three years of attritional warfare and battlefield losses across Iraq and Syria.

One unsigned letter, for instance, dated “Sha’ban 3, 1437”—or May 10, 2016, in the Western calendar—is addressed to the wali, or governor, of ISIS’s Damascus province. It informs him about an obvious failure of counterintelligence in the city of Dumayr, about 40 kilometers to the northeast of the Syrian capital.

An operation aimed against the Ahmad Abdo Brigade, known here as al-Sahawat (or “Awakening” forces), was to have been led by an appointed emir, Abu Hudhaifa al-Ghoutani. But al-Ghoutani was a double agent. He is referred to in the missive as a murtad, or apostate, because he “gathered all the [ISIS] military leaders inside the area for the pretext of the military and security work against the sahawat, while at the same time he was coordinating secretly with the sahawat in order to assassinate all leaders with mines/explosive devices that he was placing in the meeting place.”

“But, by the grace of Allah,” the letter continues, “the operation was not completed. On the same night he (Abu Hudhaifa) escaped to where the sahawat are and stole $6,500, a camera, plastic explosives, circuits, a 8.5mm pistol, 2 (Sarukh- Russian-type) rifles, 1,500 Russian bullets and 7 hand grenades.”

ISIS documents

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Abu al-Yaman, ISIS’s “general security officer” of the Damascus province, became aware of the breach and disrupted ISIS finances and logistics to “the rest of the security officers in the area. The rest of the brothers finished the rest of the work with whatever simple capabilities that were available to them.”

They dispatched two explosive devices that each killed two members of the Ahmad Abdo Brigade’s engineering squadron; a directional mine carried by motorcycle, which killed another rebel; a second IED installed on a motorcycle that blew up inside the Brigade’s headquarters, and killed one rebel and injured two more. One ISIS jihadist also tried to affix limpet bombs to rebel vehicles, only to be caught, and the Ahmad Abdo fighters detonated the device without losses.

This failure in ISIS counterintelligence is noteworthy given that tradecraft previously appeared to be the organization’s greatest battlefield asset; sleeper cells and networks of spies, constructed along the lines of what the Soviet KGB or East German Stasi once built, were key to the offensive ISIS waged to take such a large swath of territory in so little time, between 2013 and 2014.

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Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a Syria researcher who collects and forensically analyzes leaked ISIS documents, said these texts are not only authentic but also “give important insight into ISIS’s ‘security ops’ in undermining rival factions in the south and reveal a good deal of internal trouble in the ranks.”

Consider how the unsigned letter ends: “Note: the security brothers have grievances as regards salaries during their work in the area.”

Another confiscated document in the Ahmad Abdo tranche reveals just what kind of remuneration the “brothers” were used to receiving, as of last summer when the caliphate’s economy was more bullish than it is now.

On Aug. 25, 2015, a salary table for a “mujahid” (holy warrior) salary is produced with relevant fields filled in. This particular jihadist is called Abu Muslim al-Muhajir and he belongs to the Fath Qaryatain Battalion of ISIS, in the Damascus province. His salary is listed as $50 per month, and he receives another $50 as subsidy for his one wife. This appears the extent of al-Muhajir’s dependents, but the fields left empty show that the ISIS “Islamic welfare state,” as one defector The Daily Beast put it, also encompasses one’s parents and sabaya—that is, sex slaves—as well as their children, should they have any. “Soldiers’ bonuses,” “Eid recompense,” “Fighter’s petty cash,” and “Other petty expenses” are also clearly justifiable forms of disbursement for the average mujahid.

A similarly named Abu Sulaiman al-Muhajir, a fighter in Damascus, seeks a weeklong holiday from ISIS to be spent in the eastern provinces of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa. He is granted permission, although the form takes care to observe: “All brothers should be precise about dates, otherwise, they will be questioned according the sharia law.”

ISIS documents

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Another letter, this one addressed to ISIS’s Diwan al-Jund, or its Soldiers Department, by Abu Hamza al-Kurdi, the general administrator of the (separate) War Committee, seeks the payment of salaries for Abu Talha al-Iraqi for three months. He works in the War Committee alongside Abu Mu’adh, who is also deputy emir of the Soldiers Department, and is listed as having a wife and five children, and being the benefactor for both his mother and sister.

The Soldiers Department also handles material orders and personnel requests.

Someone called Abu Muadh, who may be the aforementioned deputy emir of the Diwan al-Jund, asks his higher-ups for a 4x4 pickup truck (for use by the “explosive team”), 500 IEDs, a GPS system to “determine the places to plant the explosive devices,” an armored vehicle rigged with explosives, one hooter of Konkur anti-tank missiles, two shooters of “B9 missiles” (likely the slang term for the SPG-9 Russian recoilless gun), anti-aircraft machine guns, a surveillance camera, and one regular and one small truck, plus a bulldozer for building fortifications. Everything, the requisition order states, is to be used to “strengthen the line of defense in Hama province.”

Finally, we see evidence that all is not well in the realm of takfiri jurisprudence. Overlapping or intersecting fiefs of ISIS law enforcement appear to have led to frequent and annoying communications cock-ups and attendant complaints among the civil service, amounting to a kind of unintentional jihadist Yes, Minister parody.

Dr. Abu Sham, a judge’s clerk, finds himself forced to write to Abu al-Abbas al-Jazrawi, the vice emir of ISIS’s Department of Justice, to explain why there are so many prisoners in one ISIS-run jail in the Damascus province.

“Well, three-fourths of these prisoners were detained only for a few hours,” Dr. Sham states, a bit defensively. “Last month, [nobody] was detained for a period of one week except the last 3 persons mentioned at the end of the list. By the time of writing this letter to you, there is no one in the prison.”

As in with many administrators of overburdened state agencies, Dr. Sham seems to be the put-upon victim of a clerical oversight: “The main problem about the paper that was sent from the Diwan [department] is that it didn’t mention the release dates. As from next time we will add the release dates so this confusion won’t be repeated again.”