A priceless cache of documents containing the personal information of 22,000 Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq has been seized.
The treasure trove of data for Western security services battling the terror group contains the names, addresses, telephone numbers and family contacts of recruits – and includes potentially hundreds of British fighters.
Former UK intelligence chiefs described the documents as the ‘biggest breakthrough in years’ in counter-terrorism. It is believed to be the biggest IS intelligence haul uncovered.
Experts believe the files could be invaluable in tackling jihadists who have sneaked back into Europe intent on bringing bloodshed to the streets in ‘enormous and spectacular’ attacks.
In a major coup for the West, a memory stick stolen from an IS leader by a disgruntled recruit was obtained by Sky News. The details it contains are understood to be authentic.
Recruits from at least 51 countries, including the UK, who travelled to the region to join the murderous terror organisation – notorious for its brutality, including beheadings, crucifixions and massacres – were ordered to give up their most sensitive information.
Details were logged on an extraordinary induction form.
Only when a recruit had filled in the 23-question registration card were they allowed into the group, also known as Daesh.
Questions on the form included date of birth, marital status, previous jobs, who recommended them, if they had fought before, what role they would take – for instance, ‘fighter’ – and any ‘specialist skills’.
The forms even includes contact details for next of kin. Many of the names on the registration cards are well known.
They include Abdel Bary, a 26-year-old from London who joined IS in 2013 after visiting Libya, Egypt and Turkey. He is designated as a fighter but is better known in the UK as a rap artist.
The son of convicted terrorist Adel Abdul Bary, he was pictured in August last year holding the severed head of a captured Syrian army soldier who had been executed.
Another jihadi named in the documents is Junaid Hussain, a computer hacker from Birmingham who was head of Islamic State’s media wing. Along with his wife, former punk Sally-Anne Jones, he plotted attacks against the UK.
He was killed after being targeted in a drone strike last August. His jihadi widow, known as ‘Mrs Terror’, has been put on a government list of the most dangerous British recruiters for Islamic State
Some 700 British Muslims have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join IS and around half have returned to the UK, according to British spies, and may be plotting atrocities on the streets.
But the major breakthrough from the documents is the revealing of the identities of a number of previously unknown jihadis in the UK, northern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, the United States and Canada.
Their whereabouts are crucial to breaking the organisation and preventing further terror attacks.
Richard Barrett, a former MI6 global terrorism operations director, said the files could prove to be the ‘biggest breakthrough in years’ in the counter-terror fight.
Many of the recruits passed through jihadi ‘hotspots’ such as Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
One of the files is marked ‘Martyrs’ and details a brigade manned entirely by fighters who wanted – and were trained – to carry out suicide attacks.
Some of the telephone numbers on the list are still active and it is believed that although many will be family members, a significant number are used by the jihadis themselves.
The files were passed to Sky News on a memory stick stolen from the head of Islamic State’s internal security police, an organisation described by insiders as the group’s SS.
He had been entrusted to protect the organisation’s core secrets and he rarely parted with the drive. The man who stole it was a former Free Syrian Army convert to Islamic State who calls himself Abu Hamed.
Disillusioned with the Islamic State leadership, he says it has now been taken over by former soldiers from the Iraqi Baath party of Saddam Hussein.
He claims the Islamic rules he believed in have totally collapsed inside the organisation, prompting him to quit.
He told Sky News that IS was giving up on its headquarters in Raqqa and moving into the central deserts of Syria and ultimately Iraq, the group’s birthplace.
Asked if the IS files could bring the network down he nodded and said simply: ‘God willing’.
Experts believe that IS is refocusing its base of operations abroad and is intent on carrying out high-profile attacks in Western countries, instead of radicalising vulnerable and mentally-ill people to carry out ‘lone wolf’ strikes against soldiers and police officers.
Yesterday [Wed] the British head of the EU’s crime fighting organisation warned that the chance of a Paris-style terror atrocity on the streets of Britain was growing.
Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, said the continent was facing its biggest security crisis in ten years – and has previously warned almost 5,000 Islamist jihadi fanatics could be at large in the European Union.
Radicalised Europeans who have gained conflict experience in Syria are now returning to the continent, he said.
He said: ‘We are working of course around the clock to prevent that from happening but this is a very, very serious threat.’
Meanwhile, a chemical weapons expert from IS’s operations in Iraq has been captured by US special forces and is being questioned.