ISIS is dedicating resources to infiltrating other anti-Assad regime groups throughout Syria in order to better expand its “caliphate,” according to a defector from the group thatThe Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss interviewedin Istanbul, Turkey.
ISIS relies on sewing fear and committing brutal acts of violence in order to maintain its territorial control. The group’s brutality also has a propaganda value, and helps attract foreign recruits.
But the defector, who goes by the pseudonym Abu Khaled and was a member of the militant’s internal security services, told Weiss that ISIS doesn’t always take such a confrontational approach to some of the forces opposed to it. Abu Khaled said that the Islamic State is dedicating money and manpower to to co-opting rebel groups throughout Syria — including one that have billed themselves as secular or moderate.
ISIS’s Amn al-Kharji unit, which is essentially the group’s foreign intelligence service, is a major part of the effort to infiltrate anti-regime forces. The group sends operatives outside of ISIS-controlled areas to learn potentially useful information for future ISIS operations. But they also deploy sleeper agents to manipulate rival groups throughout the country.
According to Abu Khaled, the Amn al-Kharji is one reason ISIS has expanded throughout Syria country despite battling enemies on several fronts.
“A week before I defected, I was sitting with the chief of Amn al-Kharji, Abu Abd Rahman al-Tunisi. They know the weak point of the FSA [Free Syrian Army],” Abu Khaled told Weiss.
He explained how ISIS places its operatives in the upper ranks of rival militant groups: “Al-Tunisi told me: ‘We are going to train guys we know, recruiters, Syrians … Take them, train them, and send them back to where they came from. We’ll give them $US200,000 to $US300,000. And because they have money, the FSA will put them in top positions.'”
Abu Khaled explained that these kinds of methods allow ISIS to extend its influence throughout Syria. Even in areas where the Islamic State does not control land, ISIS has agents influencing the behaviour of other groups and gathering useful intelligence.
ISIS ultimately learned its infiltration and collection techniques from former officials in the regime of Saddam Hussein.
In April, Spiegel reported, citing captured ISIS documents, that ISIS’s intelligence services were created by Haji Bakr, a former career officer under Saddam. According to the report, it was Bakr along with a group of former Iraqi intelligence officials that petitioned for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had a background in Islamic scholarship, to become the leader of ISIS in 2010 in order to give the organisation a greater veneer of religiosity.
Spiegel notes that ISIS first grew by opening Islamic missionary centres that bore no apparent linkage to the militant group. ISIS slowly identified recruits using these centres, gathering intelligence on possible rivals and accumulating real estate that functioned as weapons depots and lodging for fighters once ISIS began to consolidate its hold on territory.
According to Abu Khaled, this sly infiltration and recruitment was the greatest reason for ISIS’s successes. Now, armed with an abundance of wealth and territory, ISIS might have an even greater ability to gain recruits and manipulate its rivals.
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