Rukmini Callimachi @rcallimachi Correspondent for The New York Times, covering ISIS. NBC contributor. Previously, seven years in West Africa. Ex-AP bureau chief. Ex-refugee. Jul. 02, 2018 6 min read

1. Good afternoon all, today I'm sharing with you the in-depth investigation we did into how ISIS used prosecuted petty crime in the areas under their control as a way to win local favor. This piece is based on 400+ records from one ISIS police station: 

2. We all know about ISIS' crimes: The Yazidi genocide; the ethnic cleansing of Christians & Shias; the brutal punishments it meted out to those who didn't abide by their strict codes, from stonings to beheadings. Less well known is what they did to win points with the population

3. In January of 2017, Iraqi security forces liberated a town north of Mosul, called Tel Kaif (also spelled Tel Keppe). One of the units fighting to liberate the area reached a shopfront. Inside they found hundreds of records from ISIS' "Shorta Islamiya," or its Islamic Police:

4. We're used to hearing about ISIS' morality police, or the hisba. That's the unit that roamed the streets looking for unveiled women & other violations of its extreme code. That was the unit that Abu Huzayfah of the Caliphate podcast belonged to: 

5. We hear far less about the other police unit that ISIS ran: the Islamic Police. The records found by the Iraqi forces were stored in one of their commanders' cars. I didn't reach the town till 3/2017. The commander handed over the records to me so that they would be storified

6. His men also took my team back to the shopfront where the documents had first been discovered & on the rubble-strewn floor, we were able to pick up several dozen other papers that the Iraqi forces had left behind. The ISIS police files were stored in folders like this one:

7. Many more were stored in plastic sleeves, the kind that I used to buy at Staples to store school projects. Each police file was numbered and it consisted of a complaint by a local resident of Tel Kaif, who turned to ISIS hoping for resolution, like the one below:

8. The complaints were for the most minor of things: A farmer asking for an investigation into the flock of sheep that had trampled his watermelons; A parent seeking ISIS' help to discipline an unruly child who had beaten the complainant's son and so on

9. As I was reading through the files, I wrongly assumed that the people making these complaints must have been ISIS supporters. Why else would you choose to interact with the world's most violent terrorist group? That was before we found some of the people, starting with Zaid:

Zaid Imad Khalaf worked in the market pictured above, selling chickens. One day in 2016, an ISIS member approached his stand & pointed to his plumpest hen. Zaid butchered the bird, but when the ISIS member went to pay, he opened his wallet and only had half 1/2 of the amount owed

10. Zaid explained that he charged 8,000 Iraqi dinars for the bird, or around $7. The ISIS member handed him just 4,000 and said he would pay the rest later. But he never came back to pay, and so Zaid went and filed the complaint that the Iraqi forces later found and gave to us:

11. Imagine this: The young chicken seller went and filed a police report with one of the most violent groups in the world, accusing one of its members of swindling him out of the equivalent of $3.50. Does that seem worth it to you? I asked both him, his brother and his mom:

12. His family agreed with me & said they thought it was reckless of Zaid to go & make the police complaint. They were worried that ISIS would retaliate. But Zaid insisted that the economy was on the rocks and that he was so poor at the time, that he preferred to take that chance

13. What happened next? He walked into ISIS' Islamic Police station in Tel Kaif. The ISIS police chief wrote down his complaint, then dispatched an officer to find the dead-beat ISIS member, who paid the missing 4000 dinars the next day. I found the family's assessment chilling:

14. Here is the signed piece of paper, bearing the ISIS members' fingerprint and showing that he has paid off the debt he owed to Zaid:

15. How do I know for sure that Zaid wasn't an ISIS supporter? I can't be 100% sure, but when I went to interview him the second time, I learned that he had joined the Popular Mobilization Unit (a force that is not exactly made-up of ISIS loyalists). I then set out to find more

16. Next we spoke to Ahmed Ramzi Salim, who ran a small grocery store in downtown Tel Kaif. He was still living there when we met him months after the town's liberation, and he too had filed numerous police reports with ISIS' Shorta Islamiya for customers who took goods on credit

17. This is one of the complaints. It was for the 13,250 Iraqi dinars owed to him by a customer who had bought food on credit from his store in 2015. That's just over $11 - a petty sum. And yet, he braved sitting down with an ISIS official in the hopes of getting that money back.

18. Of course, ISIS' police system was able to provide swift justice, specifically because people were afraid of them. That speaks to the group's brutality, something that cannot be replicated in a law-abiding society:

19. At the same time, the fact that small business owners could now reliably turn to ISIS to chase down deadbeat customers & settle debts was not a minor thing. Especially noteworthy is that some of the complaints lodged by civilians were against ISIS members. @MaraRevkin's take:

20. In closing, let me end with some of the pettiest complaints - the ones where I imagine, perhaps even the ISIS police chief must have rolled his eyes. Like the dispute between neighbors that ended with one man repeatedly spitting at the other:

21. Or the case of the man who went to ISIS to file a complaint against another man, because the latter's son had attacked his son. The filing notes that the accused's child is older than the child of the complainant (so presumably the kid doing the hitting is bigger = unfair).

22. Or how about the customer who bought half-a-bag of sugar from a local shop. But then tries to return it the next day, saying that he found a cheaper distributor. When the shopkeeper refused to take it back, the customer went bonkers and started hitting him.

23. And then there's a whole subset of complaints that involve shoes. People being called "a shoe" (apparently a grave insult). And people being hit with shoes. Remember the time President George Bush was pelted with a shoe at a press conference in Iraq? Yeah, that kind of thing:

You can follow @rcallimachi.


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