While the White House complained of lack of coverage of terrorist events that did, in fact, garner extensive media ink and pixels (e.g., try telling the Florida media that it ignored the Pulse nightclub attack), here’s a terrorism story you might have missed. Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim reported here: A file on Islamic State’s ‘problem’ foreign fighters shows some are refusing to fight.
An Internet adage holds that if it exists, there’s porn of it. With ISIS, if it exists, there’s a form to monitor it. The bureaucrats in the Tariq Bin Ziyad Battalion of ISIS (distinctive in the annals of terrorism, ISIS, inspired by its predecessor al-Qaeda, has a human resources department) meticulously logged excuses offered by 14 foreign volunteers (nee fighters) for not being available for the battle for Mosul. Reasons included documented and undocumented medical problems, homesickness, unhappiness with areas of assignment, disillusion with the cause, or previously-undetected allergy to fighting.
Although this is an admittedly small sample, given ISIS battlefield losses, it is likely that ISIS writ large is facing similar problems of morale among the foreign troops who initially were the zealots’ zealots. Foreign recruitment has slowed to a trickle of what it had been (thanks in part to a continuous stream of arrests in Europe of ISIS recruiters, as well as eroding appeal of a losing cause). Local ISIS “military planners” (terrorist attack strategists and tacticians) now have to deal with flagging enthusiasm by remaining foreigners experiencing the shrinking of the caliphate’s physical territory, while the terrorism tourists who returned to their home countries after a few weeks or months in Syria and Iraq have gone on to fame for attacks in Europe and other regions. This could draw other expatriate terrorists back to their home countries for more self-aggrandizing terrorist attacks.
The ISIS bureaucracy’s penchant for data collection offers potential intelligence bonanzas. The ISIS forms included a photo (inexcusably lax operational practice for a terrorist group), country of origin, name of sponsor (who may now be in hot water), blood type, classes taken, clothes and shoe size (there is no indication that they are getting Internet ad spam, yet), and family status (including children and wives in infidel countries and number of children from slave girls).
This week’s ISIS bureaucratic form is not unique for the organization. According to the New York Times and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, an October 2007 raid of an al-Qaeda in Iraq (the ISIS ancestor) base in Sinjar found similar attention to detail by the personnel department. Recruiters and the welcoming committee filled out forms between August 2006 and August 2007 on each of the 700 arriving foreign volunteers, including name, age, occupation, home town, phone number, amount of foreign currency donated, contact numbers for next of kin, educational attainment, travel partners, and military operational specialty (many offered themselves as martyrs, read: suicide bombers).