A recruitment brochure provides a unique glimpse into the world of jihadist headhunters, who lure young fighters to the Syrian civil war by quoting a charismatic blind sheikh imprisoned in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The brochure from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is full of verses from the Quran. The front page is covered with images of bullets and a masked, young man dressed in black, wearing a military vest and posing with an AK-47 assault rifle.
“The battlefields of jihad are calling you,” it says.
A copy of the brochure obtained by HSI reporters in Syria contains text written by Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, 75, the former leader of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Commonly called “The Blind Sheikh”, he is serving a life sentence in North Carolina on a conspiracy conviction stemming from the FBI investigation into the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York. He has been imprisoned in the United States since 1996.
In the recruitment brochure, ISIL has apparently made use of an old text written by Abdel-Rahman, even though the sheikh has no known association with ISIL or other militant Islamist groups in Syria. ISIL emerged during the Iraq War and has expanded into Syria.
“I have not seen the brochure before, but it is most likely an old publication by the Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman,” says research fellow Truls Tonnessen at the Terrorism Research Group (TERRA) at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, adding: “The brochure is released as part of ISIL’s series of ideological texts mainly written by former leading members of ISIL, but who have been killed.”
“A call in the name of faith”
The leaflet, which urges Muslims to trade their worldly life for paradise, opens with the sheikh explaining the core responsibilities of the faithful.
“Our most Blessed and exalted Lord says: ‘O ye who believe! Shall I lead you to a bargain (trade) that will save you from a grievous penalty? That ye believe in Allah and His messenger, and that ye fight in the cause of Allah, with your property and your persons: That will be best for you, if ye but knew! He will forgive you your sins, and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow, and to beautiful mansions in gardens of eternity. That is indeed the supreme achievement,’” the brochure reads.
The sheikh continues:
“Jihad in the name of Allah is the highest pillar of Islam. Islam strongly encourages the implementation of this command, and equally strongly warns against disregarding it. (…) The verses in our beloved Holy Book show us that the greatest trade a Muslim can advocate is Jihad in the name of Allah; it is the Lord of all existence who reveals this to us, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, He who created all souls and who provides all fortune. He rewards us with paradise for this trade: ‘Verily, Allah has purchased (rewarded) the souls and monies of the believers, those who fight in the name of Allah, who kill and are killed.’ This trade is all profit and no loss. It is nothing but advantage and no harm or doom can come of it. Allah reveals it to us in a manner pleasing to the soul, through a call in the name of faith: ‘O ye who believe! Shall I lead you to a bargain (Trade) that will save you from a grievous penalty?’”
ISIL and other groups have repeatedly called for Abdel-Rahman’s release from US prison. From time to time, militant Islamist groups have also suggested kidnapping westerners in order to exchange them for his release.
Up to 11,000 recruits
In December, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) in London published a report in which it was estimated that up to 11,000 non-Syrians (including almost 2,000 western Europeans) had travelled to Syria to fight. The intelligence and security services of many western countries fear that young militant Islamists and jihadists will seek to plan and carry out terror acts when they return to their home countries.
Read the estimate from ICSR here. The report was developed on the basis of more than 1,500 sources, and provides updated and detailed numbers for most European countries.
Many of the fighters have been recruited through friendship circles and the Internet. Many others have been influenced by brochures like the one HSI has obtained.
Tonnessen, whose research specialities are Syria and Iraq, says photographs and live images posted online are most important method for recruiting new jihadist warriors to the war in Syria.
“Propaganda material issued on the Internet, including pictures of dead or wounded Syrians, is the most important method used for recruitment of foreign fighters to these groups,” he says. “Some of the groups are also active on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter where they release some of their propaganda and give general advice on how to travel to Syria.”
Tonnessen points out, however, that not all foreigners will be allowed to join ISIL and other radical groups in Syria.
Recruitment networks in various countries in the West and in the Middle East play a key role in clearing people before they travel to Syria to volunteer for fighting in ISLI, the Al Nusra Front and similar groups.
Download the pdf document here: TRADE IN JIHAD: The ISIL recruitment brochure.
To ensure quality in our reporting, HSI asked two different translators to independently translate the document, titled “The Trade of Jihad”, to English.
Download full translation: The Islamic Country in Iraq and the Levant
Download full translation: The Trade of Jihad