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isis handbook

It is universally recognized that the ISIS has been capable of putting in place an efficient media campaign that, over time, has played multiple roles. On one side, the propaganda has been used to emphasize its victories and threaten its enemies, on the other it also served the purpose of recruiting and attracting flocks of volunteers to fill the ranks of its militias.

Some analysts claim that 60% of the troops presently fighting for the ISIS are formed by foreigners coming from different parts of the world. The proselytes were recruited using mainstream media tools: the internet, Facebook, Twitter. We intend to delve in detail with the message and the instructions the ISIS passes out to its potential volunteers.

A pamphlet in English has been circulating on the web. It is entitled “Hijrah to the Islamic State” or, as the file is actually called, Hijrah to Al Dawla, as the caliphate was originally named in the Abbasid tradition. The handbook for hopeful candidates to the jihad starts off with a series of phrases from famous Islamic scholars that underline two basic religious concepts: the Hijrah, i.e. the migration to the land of Ibrahim, aka Abraham, and that recalls Prophet Mohamed's journey from Mecca to Medina, and the prophecy that on judgement day Islam will surface in Syria, where worshippers will finally rejoin Ibrahim. The foreword to the handbook thus seeks a theological legitimacy for the self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and, therefore, also for those individuals who decide to go to Syria to join the ISIS, and thus undergo a hijrah, just like the Prophet did.

The trip

These opening words are immediately followed by a series of practical provisions on how to reach the Islamic State. The terrorists outline what the standard itinerary is: the landing at the Turkish airport of Sanliurfa, the border crossing with Syria at Akcakale and all the way to Raqqa, the “capital” of the ISIS. A total of 127 km that take for granted that the sole possible entry route to Syria is via Turkey.

Is it that simple? Apparently yes, if you follow the instructions that is: don't tell anyone that you are going to fight, buy a return ticket that stops over in a country where tourists usually go on vacation (Greece or Spain) and then head for Turkey. Furthermore, you can always reach the Turkish coasts with a car or a boat; this is a far less suspicious way of arriving and is subject to minor controls.

Once in Turkey, the wannabe jihadist will go in a hotel and will have to get in touch with the person that will have to guide and instruct him on what to do next. This contact will take place over Twitter and the physical contact will happen inside a refugee camp bordering Syria.

Reaching the border crossings under the control of Islamist militias, in Öncüpınar/Bab al Salam or, farther north, Bab al Hawwa, will require the volunteer to dress “casually” and not “religiously”. You don't want to attract the attention of the Turkish border guards. The pamphlet claims that if the candidate complies with these precautions he could even well obtain a Visa for Syria. Alternatively, you can always bribe a Turkish policeman.

There are chances that the Visa for Syria is refused and that our volunteer be rejected. Here is how to go around that problem. Once again using Twitter, a representative will come from Syria and will join our candidate in his hotel. Together, they will travel to Akcakale, or Tel Abyad as it is called on the Syrian side of the border. In this locality there is no border crossing; it will suffice to elude the controls of the Turkish police, run across the border and reach a car waiting for you inside Syria. And Raqqa is now even closer. This itinerary does not take into consideration the fact that Tel Abyad was recently conquered by the Kurds and that it is not in the hands of the ISIS anymore.

The instructions on how to enter Syria are also accompanied by other provisions: if crossing the border becomes more difficult, there are safe houses where to hide, but only a limited number of members of the Islamic State know about them. You can recognize these people because they carry along with them a “tazkiyah”, a paper that has been signed to prove their reliability. Furthermore, the Turkish security services are hostile. If the volunteer is spotted, he could be arrested although the Turks tend to leave the recruits alone in fear of reprisal attacks on their territory. Finally, there is the possibility of using smugglers or middle-men to cross the border or to obtain fake papers.

middle east map

What to do if you're stopped in Turkey

The handbook takes into consideration the possibility that during your hijrah you might be stopped, deported or arrested. The candidate shouldn't feel discouraged, but will have to keep his faith in Allah. When he lands at the airport and has a Visa, no criminal record, is not wanted by the police, is not on the terrorist list and is not carrying anything suspicious in his suitcase, chances are he could be stopped, but not arrested.

In that case, the pamphlet helps you to answer the questions the Turkish police may pose:
- What is the scope of your trip to Turkey?
- Tourism. It is advisable to research before time what the tourist attractions in the country are.
- Do you plan to go to Syria?
- Absolutely not or, alternatively, state that you have watched the suffering of the Syrians and would like to help out, but never admit you intend to cross the border.
- Are you a terrorist? Do you have links to Al Qaeda? Do you want to go to Syria to join Al Qaeda? - No. Stick to your tourism cover story. The Turks, claims the handbook, cannot distinguish the ISIS from Al Qaeda. This circumstance is underlined as if it were a serious “mistake”. Nevertheless, the document stresses how important it is not to have anything “compromising” in one's luggage that could give away the true scope of the trip. Thus avoid knives, weapons, war boots, camouflage etc.

There are also a number of other recommendations: if you have a tourist Visa don't lose it, the same goes with your passport, show a good knowledge of the country's tourist attractions and of your itinerary, travel South only at night and never during the day.

What to bring along

In this respect, the handbook is full of suggestions. The first one is on how many and what types of bags you should be taking along with you: a suitcase, a satchel-type bag and a backpack. That's it. The booklet details each piece of luggage, one by one.

The satchel-type bag will have to contain “vital” personal belongings. It is preferable to use a belt bag. The fundamental elements to put in this bag are the passport, airline tickets, wallet, cash, mobile phone and charger and some additional things, such as handkerchiefs, glasses and sunglasses, medicines, band-aids, pen and paper, a torch and anything else that will allow you to survive for 24 hours in case your main luggage goes missing. The advice is to stick to the airline rules: no scissors, knives, liquids, explosives etc.

The backpack is the next piece of luggage and can weigh up to 7 or 8 kilos. The handbook suggests to check each airlines' policy before boarding your flight. The backpack should be resistant, packed, you should be able to run with it on your back and it doesn't have to fall into pieces if circumstances get rough. A backpack is recommended, no to trolleys, handbags or anything else. It should have a number of compartments and pockets to ease the task of placing your stuff in it. Following instructions, the booklet underlines, will help you during the hijrah to Syria.

As far as what goes inside the backpack, there are a number of suggestions: a change of clothes (once again, in case you lose your luggage), plug adaptors (which types are specified in the document), hair clipper (cordless and rechargeable are better), a portable wifi modem (also available locally), a flashlight, a headlamp (very important), a camping lamp, a hardcover notebook and pens (you'll have to take notes), a jacket to protect you from the rain and the cold (a series of suggestions are provided), shoes (trainers, military, trekking or sandals that protect your ankles; 4 pairs of robust socks), gloves for the cold and to shoot, knee and elbow protection (there'll be much crawling to do), beanie hats and headwear, spare glasses, a sports water bottle or a camelback type water reservoir, binoculars, compass and measuring tape (3 meters should do), carabiners and S-biners.

The advice is to bring all of your electronic devices in your hand luggage, although once in the caliphate you could be faced with electricity shortages. The suggestions is to bring solar powered chargers. If this could be seen by our candidate as a major setback, remember the land belongs to Allah, we should not pollute or harm the environment with our batteries.

As far as the suitcase is concerned, the main advice is to bring only one along, regardless of what your airline grants. The motive: you should be as agile as possible. A good alternative is a bigger backpack. It could also be a trolley, as long as the weight is the right one.

What goes inside the suitcase is once again the strict minimum. The author of the booklet even mocks the sisters that “fainted after reading this bit”. Nonetheless, here's the list: two changes of clothes, hard-wearing with multiple side pockets trousers, fast-drying clothes, T-shirts, a sleeping bag, a toothbrush, nail clippers, skin lotion, camping utensils and a spork, sewing kit, first aid kit, medication and medical supplies.


The psychology

Once the instructions on what to bring along have been addressed, much like in a boy-scout's manual, the booklet deals with the psychological aspects of the mission: you have to know yourself, the talent that you will offer to the ISIS, your strengths and weaknesses, what is right and what is wrong. This part of the document is accompanied by a series of theological quotes. The ISIS stresses that they are in need of fighters, but that also other profiles are necessary.

The core of the problem are your strengths and weaknesses. The first ones need to be nourished with training. The latter are split in two: the innate weaknesses (the term “Qadr” or “predetermined” by Allah is used to refer to them), and the ones that can be tackled with hard work, be modified and improved.

As the booklet states, quoting Sun-Tzu, knowing yourself means you have won half the battle.

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