You’ve decided on martyrdom. Being a loner is a drag, and now it’s time to dedicate all your teenage wisdom to a cause—a bloody one, overseas. But there are logistics to consider when waging war against infidels in a far-off desert in Syria or Iraq that you’ve only seen in pixelated pictures from your mom’s basement.
You have to ask yourself: What are the essentials a Westerner-cum-terrorist needs when leaving the comforts of home? For starters, sell that laptop, ditch the Xbox, take a fanny pack, and, oh yes, buy a “cute” nightlight. These essentials are detailed in a rollicking, battle-tested travel guide by a writer dangling tidbits for daydreaming jihadis pining to raise an AK in the name of ISIS.
Behold: the jihadi go-kit.
The Daily Beast landed on a 13-page blog entry published in May 2014 and allegedly written by a young Brit who gives out a laundry list of things you need before heading to holy war. The author’s identity isn’t exactly clear, but according to one retired law enforcement source who worked in counterterrorism, the information is authentic.
“You’re getting the real thing from a guy who has been there or knew somebody who had been there,” the source said. “But this is not someone who has all this battlefield experience. Soldiers are more cynical about battle. Even terrorists. It’s not fun. It’s very serious, and you could die. He’s making light of it.”
The must-have travel list is a puzzle piece in the wealth of online resources luring would-be jihadists to the ISIS social media machine, which churns out countless sermons and films and ISIS propaganda. And appears to be working. Late last month, the feds picked up a pair of Uzbekistan immigrants allegedly bound for Syria to fight for ISIS. Authorities also recently prevented as many as six Canadians from joining ISIS. And back in October, it was Chicago-area teen Hamzah Khan who tried to take off for Istanbul before his trip was thwarted by agents. The White House has attempted to slow the rising popularity of ISIS with its own countermeasures. But there are serious doubts about whether any of that counter-programming will work.
Throughout the young Brit’s post on what to bring for jihad, he comes off as paranoid about airport security. “He thinks all this stuff together or on its own is going to set off bells and whistles, but it doesn’t really,” the law enforcement source said.
The author spells out his bona fides, writing: “Having made the leap myself (by Allah’s permission and grace) and having assessed the usefulness of what I or what other brothers brought (or failed to bring) along, I believe that I am in a fairly good position to write/comment/advise about the matter.”
First: “TRAVEL LIGHT!” One backpack, one suitcase, and a fanny pack. Yes, you need an ISIS fanny pack to keep your “vital” belongings. “A beltpack would also very well do the trick,” the author writes. Having one will prevent your jihadi bad self from having “to do a contortionist’s pose to reach whatever you’re looking for.”
Why so much stress about weight? Battlefield life can be a siesta one moment and then instantly turn into desert storm, the young Brit writes. “Tides turn in the blink of an eye. One day you’re here, the other day you’re miles away; one moment you’re kicking back, relaxing and having shay [tea] and the next moment, you’re packing up and leaving [your cup of tea unfinished].”
That means lugging around luggage that weighs more than 30kg (roughly 66 pounds) could send you to an early grave. “Believe me you will regret bringing that big photo album, your Xbox (you can learn to play some other kind of Call of Duty here, trust me),” he writes.
Mobility and being inconspicuous are keys to jetting away undetected. “You shouldn’t give out the impression or the “vibe” that you’re making hijra.” That hijra, or “calling,” means taking some drastic un-halal measures like “blending in with the appearance of the kuffar [disbelievers] around you.” The author says one should considering snipping off the Salafi beard or nixing the niqab: “May Allah help you because this is not something light and easy.”
And while you may be sentimental about your Glock or banned book, the author advises to let them go and be “an intelligent Muslim”: “Put all the chances on your side to accomplish your goal.”
Electronics are a major “do.” The writer warns would-be jihadis to stash gizmos inside their checked backpack or fanny pack, from the Android tablet to the “ecological” solar chargers. Waste is sinful. “Wastage is not of the din [religious law],” the blogger writes. “It doesn’t mean because you’re making hijra, you can now start dirtying the Earth which belongs to Allah.”
Get rid of the laptop and pocket the cash, says the blogger. “I advise you to sell your laptop and bring the money you can get from it here.” With any external hard drives, better make sure the files are secured. “Use a software to ‘hide’ all jihadi material you might be bringing.”
Luminance is critical. Pricey Surefire or Fenix flashlights are praised. When the nights get scary for some thumb-sucking jihadis, the writer encourages adding a nightlight to lay next to their bulletproof vest, asking: “Do you guys know what a BugLit LED is? They’re so cute. #iWantOne.”
Pens and paper are mandatory when you’re a mujahedeen. “You need to keep written record about everything you learn here and nothing beats hard copy. (One of our teachers here used an old hardcover diary as his notebook. May Allah bless him.)”
Two pairs of clothes are a must, the writer notes. And if you can’t fit it all, the writer implores: “at least pack some clean underwear.” Include in the satchel a pair of kneepads, because “there is much crawling you will have to do here.”
Utensils are not luxuries, as every average jihadi needs a “spork.”
“You don’t know what a spork is? Shame,” the blogger writes. And don’t forget repellant, because “there are even ‘biting flies’ here, subhan Allah!”
And knives are like gold in Sham (Syria): “Knives here are scarce, and those available are very, very low quality (and that’s putting it nicely).” So go on and pack the blade. “I strongly recommend you to bring knives because they’re essential tools here,” the author writes. “There isn’t one day I spent here where I didn’t have to use my knife.”
The knife wouldn’t set off any alarms, a former TSA agent says. “As long as it’s going underneath the plane,” the agent said, “and it’s not being carried onboard, there’s really no reason to be concerned.”
Really, the young Brit list’s only danger is the potential of overpacking, the former TSA agent says. “A lot of things stuffed heavily with heavy equipment and electronics may not be penetrated by the X-ray, and [agents] will take the bag and go through it.”
So bringing the electronics is no biggie. But keeping calm is. “How people react to us when we pull them aside and go through their bag is something we’re watching,” the former TSA agent said.
As a stand-alone, the travel guide serves as a checklist one might dog-ear in any outdoor magazine. Then again, found in the hands of a young journeyman vowing to kill apostates, it is something else.
Which may explain why multiple law enforcement agencies abroad are intent on scrubbing the web of this kind of intel. For instance, Scotland Yard’s zapping any website hosting a controversial ISIS travel guide ebook.
Yet the counterterrorism source told The Daily Beast that in the U.S. the cat can’t be put back in the bag. “Every day there is a teenager who is sitting down and punching in ‘How do I get to Syria?’ and will find all kinds of information that authorities here can’t take off the Internet,” the source said.
The guide’s breeziness is tailor-made for teenagers. “It’s designed for the 15-year-olds,” the source said. “The snarky tone is begging for a fantasy, and that would be the aspect I would look into as a profiler.”
But it’s still pretty sedate, the law enforcement source says. “This would be the equivalent of finding...Playboy magazine. In comparison to hardcore pornography and sadomasochism...this is in the realm of Playboy. It’s fantasy.”
And it’s a fantasy that doesn’t manifest once recruits arrive in, say, Raqqa, adds the law enforcement source. “These guys think they are going to be heroic soldiers, and then they get there and there’s beheadings and they’re told to go wash dishes. It’s ludicrous how easy they’re sold.”