A recent series of leaked Islamic State documents have revealed that most of ISIS’ recruits had a rudimentary knowledge of Shariah law — the legal system that governs people of the Islamic faith.
The thousands of leaked IS documents shed light on over 4,000 recruits that made their way into Syria during ISIS’ heyday. These documents, after being analysed by the Associated Press, showed that 70% of recruits had just a “basic,” the lowest possible category, knowledge of Shariah, while 24% had an “intermediate” knowledge, and 5% “advanced.”
According to the AP, this recent revelation suggests that individuals with a limited knowledge of the Islamic faith may be more susceptible to recruitment by ISIS militants — more so than those with a deeper, fundamental understanding of the faith.
This theory is supported not only by AP’s documents, but by court testimonies from European ISIS recruits who have allegedly defected from the terrorist organisation.
“I realised that I was in the wrong place when they began to ask me questions on these forms like ‘when you die, who should we call?,” a 32-year-old recruit, who claimed to believe that he was joining the Syrian rebellion to fight against President Bashar Assad’s forces, said.
The anonymous recruit also detailed the intake process that he and fellow enlistees underwent: new recruits were indoctrinated with videos with IS propaganda, visited by imams — Muslim religious leaders — who encouraged martyrdom, forced to sever ties with their family, and were required to surrender their electronic devices.
This trove of documents from the AP disclosed that one of the mentioned recruits, Karim Mohammad-Aggad, was identified as having a basic knowledge of Shariah. He detailed that he and fellow recruits were smooth-talked by an ISIS recruiter that even went barhopping with them. After claiming to have been treated as “a dirty Arab” in France, he left for Syria where his exploits didn’t go as planned — he allegedly left the organisation after being treated like an “apostate” — someone who had renounced their faith.
After returning to France in 2013, Mohammad-Aggad and his associates were arrested. Unfortunately, French officials missed one of the suspects, Mohammad-Aggad’s brother, who happened to be one of the three men that killed 130 people at the Bataclan on November 13.
“My religious beliefs had nothing to do with my departure,” he claimed during a court testimony. “Islam was used to trap me like a wolf.”
Perhaps no other example could personify the lack of familiarity with the faith than two other convicted terrorists, this time from Britain, that had ordered copies of “The Koran for Dummies” and “Islam for Dummies” from Amazon, prior to their trip to Syria to join ISIS.
Former CIA case officer Patrick Skinner explained in the AP report that most of these recruits are those who yearned for a sense of belonging, notoriety, and excitement.
“Religion is an afterthought,” said Skinner.
Although many of these oblivious recruits may appear to be prepared for martyrdom, the fate of those that possessed an advanced or intermediate knowledge of Shariah may differ.
“Those with the most religious knowledge within the organisation itself are the least likely to volunteer to be suicide bombers,” states a report from the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center.
Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic Studies professor at Oxford, elaborated on the implications of ISIS’ convoluted messages to AP, “The people who are doing this are not experiencing martyrdom, they are criminals. They are killing innocent people. Nothing in Islam, nothing ever can justify the killing of innocent people, never, ever.”
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