Secret Papers Reveal Islamic State's Structure
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When a man known as Haji Bakr was killed in Syria last year, the rebels who shot him had no idea who he was. Later, they found out he was the strategic head of ISIS, the group that calls itself the Islamic State. And when he died, Bakr left behind something meant to be kept strictly confidential - a blueprint for the terrorist organization's strategy. Germany's largest newsmagazine got exclusive access to those plans. And our colleague Renee Montagne spoke to reporter Christoph Reuter.
RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: As reported in Der Spiegel, the documents were hidden away in northern Syria, where different rebel groups have been battling the forces of Bashar al-Assad's government. Contained in a folder were handwritten organizational charts, lists and action plans aimed at bit by bit turning communities into police states. As Christoph Reuter describes it, the ISIS plan is as chilling as East Germany under the dreaded Stasi secret police or Iraq under Saddam's powerful spy masters who ruled through terror. In fact, Haji Bakr was once one of them.
CHRISTOPH REUTER: He was a clerical Iraqi intelligence career officer until 2003, until the war. And by then, U.S. administrative agreement dissolved the whole army. And then he joined the resistance and slowly grew into the ranks of the jihadis, but before he had nothing to do with Islam.
MONTAGNE: He emerged out of that early moment in the Iraq War - it would be called an unintended consequence, obviously.
REUTER: (Laughter) Yes because jihadi movements until then, which you see with al-Qaida, never had strategic planner, people with cold, calculating mind - what should we do, how do we subjugate people, how do we establish a power base without people even knowing that it's us - all these elements came into the Islamic State of Iraq or al-Qaida in Iraq, but then through these people who had been former army officers, intelligence officers, who had done exactly this - proper planning, terrorizing people, expanding power.
MONTAGNE: And power, rather than religion, appears to be the motivation, as you describe these documents.
REUTER: Yes, absolutely, except for a brief introduction in the name of God, et. cetera, there is no more Islamic reference. It's all about how do we infiltrate? How do we spy on people? How do we take out people who we have identified as charismatic opponents? How do we blackmail people? How do we establish a power base before we even strike militarily? Taking part of conquering an area, it was a small force at the beginning, which is a blueprint for taking over a lot of areas, a lot of countries in principle. But this is not Islamic. It's not Islamic; it's not jihadi.
MONTAGNE: Well, it is pretty fascinating, this list which you just referred to, something like find out their illegal activities, parenthetically, according to Shariah law, which could be used to blackmail them if necessary. What would be an example of that?
REUTER: Oh, for example, they would spy on people who had illegitimate relations with Assad's regime. They would spy on people who would smuggle diesel across the border to Turkey. In particular, they spied on some people who had homosexual relationship. They would use this to tell people, listen, you have to join us. And if people did not comply, they would disappear and be killed.
MONTAGNE: One way this game plan went into effect with much success was the city of Raqqa, which is now known as a stronghold of ISIS, but wasn't always. How did it start? Tell us step by step what happened there.
REUTER: Raqqa was fascinating because at the beginning, Raqqa was never a jihadi city. When it was liberated from Assad's troops, the first thing the Islamic State did was to open a missionary office there, very low-profile, so nobody paid attention to it. And then slowly they would hire so-called preachers, which were in fact just spies to find out who's important in Raqqa, who can be blackmailed, who can be bribed, who can we can bring to our side.
Once they had identified who were the real obstacles to their takeover, suddenly the elected head of the city council disappeared. One of the leading intellectuals disappeared. The guy who had led the campaign to paint the revolutionary flag on the walls, he disappeared. Nobody knew who had kidnapped these people. So they started to destroy the structure, the cohesion of people to form something before even people would know that it was them who did this. Then they took out the most secular brigade of Syrian rebels by sending three suicide bombers into the headquarter.
So finally, one by one by one, they took out all of their enemies. And then they had one meeting in October 2013, a kind of city hall meeting and people thought OK, now they want to comfort us. They want to become normal again. And two men raised their voice and complained about the killings and that they would suspect the Islamic State of being behind it. A few days later, one of them was found - his hands tied, bullet in his head at the edge of the city. And some of the leading activists got a picture of the dead corpse on their mobile phones with a little remark; are you sad now about your friend?
REUTER: And the same night, 20 leading people who had led the revolutionary awakening in Raqqa, they all fled to Turkey because they thought these guys know where we live, they know our phone numbers, they will just kill us one by one by one. And the big tragedy of the Syrian uprising is that they were never as united as they would've needed to be to realize and understand what danger the Islamic State poses to them. And when they understood, it was too late.
MONTAGNE: Christoph Reuter of the German magazine Der Spiegel describing the secret documents that he calls a blueprint for the Islamic State. Thank you very much for joining us.
REUTER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.