1. Hello everyone, I wanted to share what I learned from the more than 15,000 pages of ISIS documents that my team and I unearthed over five different trips to Iraq. We recovered the records in 11 different cities and towns. First up, how we found them.
2. I learned years ago, that terrorists have a habit of amassing huge amounts of paperwork. In 2013, I discovered al-Qaeda's memos in Mali. which their fighters had hand-carried across the dunes. The documents spelled out the blueprint of their jihad:
3. In late 2016, when the operation to take back Mosul began, I rushed there. Unlike in Mali, I had a lot more competition from intelligence services. Week after week, we'd negotiate access to buildings branded with the ISIS logo, only to find that they'd already been cleaned out
4. I'd been in Iraq for weeks & had traipsed through countless buildings that seemed promising from the outside, only to find that I'd arrived too late. I had almost given up when the day before my return flight to New York on Dec. 16, 2016 I got a tip about one specific building
5. The tip was from a villager from the locality of Omar Khan, a small dot on the map of the Nineveh Plains which Iraqi security forces had just cleared on their approach to Mosul. It was the kind of place that the intelligence agents I was racing against were not interested in.
6. We reached the building hours before my overnight flight back to NY. The building was empty. On the way out, I stopped at what I thought was an outhouse. It wasn't. The floor was covered with stacks of yellow folders like this one, held together with twine:
7. There were 100s of them. With the permission of the security forces accompanying us, we bundled them up. The stacks took up half the back of one of our pickup trucks and the space between my colleagues on the backseat. I rushed to my hotel to pack for my return flight.
8. I returned in early 2017. Omar Khan taught me that I needed to stay off the beaten track. In every town I visited, residents could name the locations of the HQs of ISIS. I rarely got to those buildings in time. Instead I looked for secondary structures. Like this villa:
9. We learned to read the landscape for clues. ISIS had a penchant for defacing every place they occupied with their slogans, especially the word "baqiya" ("will remain"). I don't speak Arabic but I learned to look for its shape: باقية
10. Almost as ubiquitous were strewn copies of the ISIS newsletter Naba, which they launched online in 2015. I was used to seeing it in color online. Now I was seeing it in black & white. Compare the version they uploaded of Naba #17 archived by @siteintelgroup & the one we found
11. We knew we were on the right track when we found this copy of Naba. The red writing at the top says, "PILOT COPY." After searching their archives, both @TRACterrorism's @DanielLebowitz and @siteintelgroup's @Rita_Katz concluded this issue of Naba was never uploaded online.
12. The content referenced events that happened in 2015 roughly two weeks before the first edition of Naba was uploaded online by the terror group.
So basically, like a publisher trying out a prototype on a focus group, ISIS distributed a test run to residents of the caliphate.
13. To ascertain their authenticity, a representative section of the files were shared with scholars, including @MaraRevkin, who has made repeated trips to Mosul to study the group's governance; @ajaltamimi, a top expert on ISIS & @CTCWP, which analyzed Osama bin Laden's records
14. I forgot to eat lunch & am now about to eat the ISIS documents. Will return later with a thread on what these documents taught us about the vexing question of ISIS' longevity - how did a group that was reviled by the world succeed in holding on to so much land for so long?
You can follow @rcallimachi.