© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Leaked Documents Reveal Information About ISIS Recruits


We are getting a better picture of the inner workings of the terrorist group ISIS. That's thanks to a leak of thousands of digitized documents obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. The British broadcaster Sky News also reports having similar data. The documents include information about the group's recruits from all over the world, including 800 from Germany. We talked to Suddeutsche Zeitung's foreign editor, Stefan Kornelius, earlier today. He didn't say exactly how the paper got the huge file, but he described its contents.

STEFAN KORNELIUS: The documents list up fighters - volunteers who come into Syria from abroad to sign up to fight with ISIS. And they then take stock of those people. They want to know names, addresses, home phone numbers, relatives blood types, expertises (ph), like whether you want to be a chemical specialists or whether you can drive a car. They ask those people if they want to act as a suicide bomber or as an attack person or as a bureaucrat in the headquarters of ISIS. It's like a regular personnel file we all know from an ordinary company.

MCEVERS: How are you able to verify the authenticity of these documents?

KORNELIUS: We were able to double check the information by using the phone numbers which were in the files and by checking back on the addresses and the names. And some of those names, especially of those 800 Germans which were on file, are definitely sort of mirrored in what German police organizations do know about extremists and ISIS fighters. So by that, we were certain that most of those documents do have a lot of substance.

MCEVERS: What do these documents tell us about the way ISIS works, the bureaucracy of the group?

KORNELIUS: The documents give you a unique view into the way they think and their - the hierarchy works. They try to organize their recruitees, and they try to put them into specifications they can use and direct them. The documents show us more about their thinking and about the way they want to run their state rather than tell us more about the life of those people being cast there.

MCEVERS: Yeah. I think there's something very surprising about seeing, you know, sort of check this box if you're willing to be a suicide bomber; check this box if you, you know, have bomb-making skills. You know, I think these are very normal, you know, human resources tools being used for a group that, you know, isn't necessarily (laughter) something we would find in normal life. Was that surprising to you?

KORNELIUS: Oh, it's almost funny - isn't it? - I mean, that you sign up to a terrorist organization, you're treated like an ordinary civil servant or like someone who hires for the car company.


KORNELIUS: But it shows how banal these people are. Well, they'll probably seem to us now and that there is no mystery behind them that they are almost like bureaucratic monster there. It also shows that now the bureaucracy seems to fall apart because we know about those files. We get hold of those files. And it's not the first drop of files, which was actually brought outside. It's probably already the third or the fourth.

MCEVERS: The British organization Sky News also obtained these documents. Their reporter said that his contact told him ISIS is in the process of moving its headquarters away from Raqqah, Syria, and into Iraq, also that ISIS has collaborated with Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, to fight against moderate opposition forces. Did you get similar information?

KORNELIUS: Well, we didn't those specific information, but what we rather took from those documents is that ISIS is not on the run from one headquarter to another but on the run in general. They are not able to maintain internal order anymore, so people are able to take a copy of those files, put them on a computer stick and travel with those sticks to the border and try even to sell documents to save their lives.

MCEVERS: That is Stefan Kornelius. He is the foreign editor with the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. He was one of the first to obtain a leak of ISIS data. Thank you very much.

KORNELIUS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!