Islamic State recruits knew pretty much nothing about Islam, documents show

Some young men were lured by an alcohol-drinking recruiter. Others ordered 'Islam for Dummies' from Amazon before going to Syria.
August 15, 2016, 9:57pm
Le 24 juin 2016, un Européen de 32 ans qui avait rejoint l'EI en Syrie avant d'être accusé d'être un espion, contemple la nouvelle vie. (AP Photo/Paisley Dodds)

Islamic State recruits who joined the group in Syria knew very little about Islam, according to documents found in a former Islamic State stronghold in Syria and provided to the Associated Press.

After analyzing forms that applicants had to fill out, the AP, which got the documents from a Syrian opposition site called Zaman al-Wasl, reported that 70 percent of recruits were listed as having just "basic" knowledge of Shariah, or Quranic law. That was the lowest possible choice in the forms reviewed by the AP. Just 5 percent of the applicants were deemed to be advanced students of Islam.

The documents and interviews by the AP show that several young men from France were lured by a recruiter named Mourad Fares, who went bar-hopping with them even though Islam forbids alcohol. Others, from Britain, had ordered "Islam for Dummies" from Amazon before making the trip to join the Islamic State in Syria.

But ignorance of Islam was not considered a negative by IS recruiters. Quite the contrary; young men ignorant of the religion could be shaped into ruthless fighters, and lured with practices that included giving them sex slaves and telling them that raping the slaves was justified under Islam.

One of the applicants whose name was found among the documents in Syria was Karim Mohammad-Aggad, who went to Syria after being enticed by Fares, the bar-hopping recruiter who, he said, used "smooth talk" to convince him and his friends to join. Aggad went to Syria in 2013 and was arrested upon his return to France; his brother Foued was one of the killers in the November 2015 Bataclan massacre in Paris.

"My religious beliefs had nothing to do with my departure," Aggad told a French court that sentenced him to nine years in prison. "Islam was used to trap me like a wolf."

Patrick Skinner, a former CIA operative who spoke to the AP about the recruitment forms, agreed. "Religion," he said, "is an afterthought."