(The Washington Post newspaper) The documents in ISIS file hinted at signs of rebellion within the ranks of its foreign fighters.
A Belgian militant had a medical note saying he had back pain and would not join the battle. A fighter from France claimed he wanted to leave Iraq to carry out a suicide attack at home. Several requested transfers to Syria. Others just simply refused to fight.
The documents on 14 “problem” fighters from the Tariq Bin Ziyad battalion made up largely of foreigners — were found by Iraqi forces after they took over ISIS base in a neighborhood of Mosul last month.
At its peak, ISIS drew thousands of recruits each month and controlled about a third of Iraq’s territory, and the foreigners who poured in from dozens of countries have been characterized as the most die-hard fighters. But the group has steadily lost ground and appeal.
The militants are now besieged in the western half of Mosul, once the biggest city the ISIS controlled and the heart of its self-proclaimed caliphate. But the group’s losses have triggered concerns in Europe that disillusioned fighters might find their way home.
“He doesn’t want to fight, wants to return to France,” said the notes on a 24-year-old listed as a French resident of Algerian descent. “Claims his will is a martyrdom operation in France. Claims sick but doesn’t have a medical report.”
He was one of five fighters in the file listed as having French residency, or as originally from France.
More citizens from France have joined ISIS than from any other country in Europe since 2011, when Syria’s popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad turned violent and fueled the rise of extremist groups.
The French government reported a sharp decrease in the number of its citizens traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the group in the first half of 2016 but said that nearly 700 still remain there, including 275 women and 17 minors.
The forms in the file are marked with the year 2015 but appear to have been filled out later as they specify the dates that some of the militants joined, which stretch into 2016.
In addition to each militant’s name, country of origin, country of residency, date of birth, blood type and weapons specialties, the documents list the number of wives, children and “slave girls” each had. A photo is also included. It was not possibly to verify the personal information, but Iraqi officers who found the file said they believe it is genuine.
Two men from Kosovo refused to fight and asked to move to Syria. One said he had head pain.
Of the more than 4,000 foreign fighters who have left European Union nations for Iraq and Syria, around a third have returned, according to a report from The Hague-based International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. About 14 percent have been confirmed dead, while the rest remain overseas or their whereabouts are unknown.
“People say that they are the most motivated, but there are plenty of foreign fighters that went and found that the IS experience wasn’t what they thought it would be; they thought it would be a great adventure,” said Aymenn al-Tamimi, an analyst specializing in militant groups who has compiled an online database of ISIS documents, some of which indicate similar issues of morale.
The organization keeps meticulous records, leaving clues to its inner workings as the fighters are ejected from territory.
Iraqi counterterrorism forces discovered the documents in a house in Mosul’s al-Andalus neighborhood that was being used as an administrative base for the Tariq Bin Ziyad battalion.
The militants were seen removing documents and computers from the building, according to neighbors, before they set fire to the building as Iraqi forces retook the area, said Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Tamimi, whose unit found the documents unscathed in a desk drawer.
“Those foreign fighters are the most furious fighters we ever fought against,” he said. “When those fighters refuse to fight it means that they’ve realized this organization is fake Islam and not the one they came for.”