Islamic State's 'Laptop of Doom'
We don't have a strategy yet to attack Islamic State. But they are developing a strategy to attack us.
A laptop found by Syrian rebels last January in an ISIS hideout proved to be a goldmine of information. Foreign Policy's Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa got their hands on the machine, downloaded 146 gigabytes of material, and were shocked at what they found:
The laptop's contents turn out to be a treasure trove of documents that provide ideological justifications for jihadi organizations -- and practical training on how to carry out the Islamic State's deadly campaigns. They include videos of Osama bin Laden, manuals on how to make bombs, instructions for stealing cars, and lessons on how to use disguises in order to avoid getting arrested while traveling from one jihadi hot spot to another.
But after hours upon hours of scrolling through the documents, it became clear that the ISIS laptop contains more than the typical propaganda and instruction manuals used by jihadists. The documents also suggest that the laptop's owner was teaching himself about the use of biological weaponry, in preparation for a potential attack that would have shocked the world.
The information on the laptop makes clear that its owner is a Tunisian national named Muhammed S. who joined ISIS in Syria and who studied chemistry and physics at two universities in Tunisia's northeast. Even more disturbing is how he planned to use that education:
The ISIS laptop contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals.
"The advantage of biological weapons is that they do not cost a lot of money, while the human casualties can be huge," the document states.
The document includes instructions for how to test the weaponized disease safely, before it is used in a terrorist attack. "When the microbe is injected in small mice, the symptoms of the disease should start to appear within 24 hours," the document says.
The laptop also includes a 26-page fatwa, or Islamic ruling, on the usage of weapons of mass destruction. "If Muslims cannot defeat the kafir [unbelievers] in a different way, it is permissible to use weapons of mass destruction," states the fatwa by Saudi jihadi cleric Nasir al-Fahd, who is currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. "Even if it kills all of them and wipes them and their descendants off the face of the Earth."
When contacted by phone, a staff member at a Tunisian university listed on Muhammed's exam papers confirmed that he indeed studied chemistry and physics there. She said the university lost track of him after 2011, however.
It is very difficult to weaponize any biological agent. You need a modern lab and a trained team of scientists to build a usuable weapon. But that doesn't mean that the terrorists aren't trying very hard to build one:
Nothing on the ISIS laptop, of course, suggests that the jihadists already possess these dangerous weapons. And any jihadi organization contemplating a bioterrorist attack will face many difficulties: Al Qaeda tried unsuccessfully for years to get its hands on such weapons, and the United States has devoted massive resources to preventing terrorists from making just this sort of breakthrough. The material on this laptop, however, is a reminder that jihadists are also hard at work at acquiring the weapons that could allow them to kill thousands of people with one blow.
"The real difficulty in all of these weapons ... [is] to actually have a workable distribution system that will kill a lot of people," said Magnus Ranstorp, research director of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College. "But to produce quite scary weapons is certainly within [the Islamic State's] capabilities."
As you can see, ISIS is not a bunch of sheepherders hiding in caves. Educated professionals are also flocking to their banner and you have to think they can accomplish just about anything any modern army does - including buiilding weapons of mass destruction.