Mosul intelligence haul provides detailed information on Isis

Interrogation of courier for Islamic group leads to intelligence breakthrough

Currency for exchange in the Qaysari market in Erbil, Iraq, yesterday. In towns and cities affected by Iraq’s current conflict, people who can afford to do so have begun to stockpile essential items of food, which has increased prices dramatically. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Currency for exchange in the Qaysari market in Erbil, Iraq, yesterday. In towns and cities affected by Iraq’s current conflict, people who can afford to do so have begun to stockpile essential items of food, which has increased prices dramatically. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

Two days before Mosul fell to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), Iraqi commanders stood eyeballing its most trusted messenger. The man, known within the extremist group as Abu Hajjar, had cracked after a fortnight of interrogation, and given up the head of Isis’s military council.

“He said to us, ‘You don’t realise what you have done’,” an intelligence official recalled. “Then he said: ‘Mosul will be an inferno this week.’”

Several hours later, the man he had served as a courier and been attempting to protect, Abdulrahman al-Bilawi, lay dead in his hideout near Mosul. From the home of the dead man and the captive, Iraqi forces hoovered up more than 160 computer flash sticks which contained the most detailed information yet known about the terror group.

Treasure trove

The treasure trove included names and noms de guerre of all foreign fighters, senior leaders and their code words, initials of sources inside ministries and full accounts of finances. “We were all amazed, and so were the Americans,” a senior intelligence official said. “None of us had known most of this information.”

Officials, including CIA officers, were still decrypting and analysing the flash sticks when Abu Hajjar’s prophecy was realised. Isis swept through much of northern and central Iraq over three stunning days, seizing control of Mosul and Tikrit.

“By the end of the week, we soon realised that we had to do some accounting for them,” said the official. “Before Mosul, their total cash and assets were $875m. Afterwards, with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, they could add another $1.5bn to that.” Laid bare were a series of staggering numbers that would be the pride of any major enterprise, let alone an organisation that was a start-up three years ago.

The group’s leaders had been meticulously chosen. Many of those who reported to the top tier did not know the names of their colleagues. The strategic acumen of Isis was impressive – so too its attention to detail. “They had itemised everything,” the source said. “Down to the smallest detail.”

Over the past year, foreign intelligence officials had learned that Isis had secured massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012, and some of which it had sold back to the Syrian regime. It was also known to have reaped windfalls from smuggling all manner of raw materials pillaged from the crumbling state, as well as priceless antiquities from archaeological digs.

But here before them in extraordinary detail were accounts giving a full reckoning of a war effort. It soon became clear that in less than three years, Isis had grown from a ragtag band of extremists to perhaps the most cash-rich and capable terror group in the world.

Next of kin details

Foreign jihadists, many from Europe, were among those who stormed into Mosul. Most of their names were already known to the intelligence agencies that had tried to track their movements. But noms de guerre given to the new arrivals had left their trails cold. Now officials had details of next of kin, and often phone numbers and emails.

More than ever before is now known about how Isis has gathered steam. The past week has been an advanced education in Isis’s capabilities and ambitions. “Now we have to catch up with them,” an official said. – (Guardian service)