ISIS Data Leak Shows Diversity of Recruits; 12 Percent Opted for Suicide Missions

By Denisse Moreno
Denisse Moreno
Denisse Moreno
April 18, 2016 Updated: April 18, 2016

A massive data leak of ISIS documents revealed last month has been analyzed, and shows details of the organization’s recruits.

The records show that the individuals who joined ISIS in 2013 and 2014 were not interested in serving in suicide attacks, according to NBC News. The files also show that the jihadists had a higher education level than expected, and were well-traveled.

The documents, from a stolen memory stick, were released last month to Sky News. The individual who leaked the data told the British media that he was in the Free Syrian Army but later converted to ISIS. He said he subsequently became disillusioned with the terrorist organization and left. He turned in the documents hoping to bring down the group. The data included a 23-question recruitment form to join ISIS.

NBC News, in collaboration with the Combating Terrorism Center at the elite military academy, analyzed and transformed the documents into a database of more than 4,000 foreign fighters from 71 countries.

“The largest takeaway from these documents is the massive diversity of the population,” Brian Dodwell, deputy director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, told NBC News.

“We are talking an average age of around 26, 27 years old, but we’re talking about everywhere from teenagers up until men in their 60s,” Dodwell said. “We’re talking about very diverse backgrounds from an education perspective—individuals who list their education as none up to those who listed their educations as Ph.D.s, master’s degrees, MBAs … Everything from laborers to doctors and lawyers.”

The documents show that recruits were asked if they wanted to be regular fighters, suicide bombers, or suicide fighters. Only 12 percent said they wanted to be a martyr.

The oldest person among the data was almost 70-years-old.

The ages of the jihadists are diverse. Almost two-thirds of the recruits were 21 to 30 years-old. About 40 candidates were under the age of 15, and about 400 were under 21. Almost a quarter of the jihadists were between 31 to 40, about four percent were between 41 to 50 and 42 men were over the age 50.

The oldest person among the data was almost 70-years-old, according to NBC News. He was a married man with five children from Kyrgystan who wanted to be a fighter rather than a suicide bomber.

Records show 30 percent of the applicants were married, and they had more than 2,000 children between them. The data shows some candidates wanted to bring their families along later on if they could get the money needed for travel costs. Six out of 10 applicants were single.

Their education on Islam was less than expected.

Data shows that most fighters were more educated than predicted.

Records show a third of the applicants went to high school and a quarter had a college education. Only 17 percent had stopped their studies after elementary or middle school. However, their education on Islam was less than expected. Seventy percent said they had only a basic understanding of Sharia. The ones who did understand Islam were less likely to volunteer as suicide attackers.

Jihadists ranged from different types of occupational backgrounds.

Some individuals listed their job as a beekeeper, perfume salesman, airline steward, Saudi intelligence worker, soldier in the Tunisian army, a Starbucks employee, and another who said he was in “counter-narcotics.”

The data shows the jihadists were more likely to have employed in low-skill jobs. Only 104 had high-skilled or white-collar positions, 700 were laborers—about 10 times the number of teachers, IT employees, or those in the military or police. According to NBC, most of the applicants were employed, 255 said they were not working, and 656 said they were students.

The applicants were from around the world, but most of them came from Saudi Arabia, with 797 fighters; Tunisia, 640; and Morocco with 260. Other countries included China, with 167 fighters; Australia, 13; France, 128; Germany, 80; and the United Kingdom, 57. Even jihadists from Iceland and Trinidad and Tobago were found in the data. Fourteen were from the United States.

“They were from all over the world and the individuals had traveled all over the world,” Dodwell said.

“I wouldn’t say a majority of them, but a good number of them were heavily traveled. One individual said he had been to 38 countries around the world. So some of them certainly have international experience and significant experience moving throughout the region and throughout the world.”

Documents also show the peak of ISIS recruitment was in 2014, when the group took over significant territories.