Seized ISIS 'Laptop Of Doom' Reveals Terror Group's Bio-Warfare Plans By Building WMDs

The ISIS laptop - being referred to as 'laptop of doom' - contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponise the bubonic plague from infected animals.

Cover image via foreignpolicy.com

Earlier this year, when fighters belonging to a moderate Syrian rebel force raided an Islamic State hideout, they could never have expected to come away with a haul as valuable as this

Image via kinja-img.com

What they found wasn't weapons or ammo or money, it was a laptop. A laptop filled with thousands of hidden files filled containing schemes, bomb-making instructions, and research on building a homebrew biological weapon of mass destruction.


The raid occurred in January in the Syrian province of Idlib, near the Turkish border. And earlier this week, the moderate group's commander, Abu Ali, handed the computer over to Foreign Policy reporters Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa for a look.

Journalists Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa write in Foreign Policy that they were able to access files from a black Dell laptop belonging to a Tunisian man and Islamic State fighter named Muhammed S. Abu Ali, the commander of "a moderate Syrian rebel group" told the journalists that his group recovered the laptop after Islamic State fighters fled a battle in the Northwestern region of Idlib.


Though the laptop appeared empty at first, a deeper dive revealed more than 35,000 folders. Files included videos of Osama bin Laden, thoughts on the justifications for jihad, training procedures, bomb-making manuals, and instructions on how to use disguises.

A screenshot of material found on the computer. The files appear to be videos of speeches by jihadist clerics.

Image via foreignpolicy.com

Buried in the "hidden files" section of the computer were 146 gigabytes of material, containing a total of 35,347 files in 2,367 folders.


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.


The most worrisome discovery, however, were files with detailed instructions on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponise the bubonic plague from infected animals

A photo of Muhammed S. found on his laptop. This image has been digitally altered.

Image via foreignpolicy.com

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.


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. Out of the blue, she asked: “Did you find his papers inside Syria?” Asked why she would think that Muhammed’s belongings would have ended up in Syria, she answered, “For further questions about him, you better ask state security.”


An astonishing number of Tunisians have flocked to the Syrian battlefield since the revolt began. In June, Tunisia’s interior minister estimated that at least 2,400 Tunisians were fighting in the country, mostly as members of the Islamic State. This isn't the first time that jihadists have attempted to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Even before the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda had experimented with a chemical weapons program in Afghanistan. In 2002, CNN obtained a tape showing al Qaeda members testing poison gas on three dogs, all of which died.


Also on the laptop was a fatwa from a Saudi cleric giving permission for the use of weapons of mass destruction

Kuwaiti civil defence forces rehearse contingency plans for a biological weapons attack

Image via ibtimes.co.uk

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."


Both the journalist, however, wrote in their detailed report that nothing on the laptop indicated that the Islamic State possesses the capabilities to actually make biological weapons

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."


Additionally, experts stressed that it's incredibly hard to develop and put biological weapons to use

Dan Trombly, an analyst at Caerus Associates specializing in illicit organizations and armed conflict, told VICE News that biological weapons are often "more trouble than they're worth," and that it's remarkably challenging to develop and deploy them.


"Even state-sponsored programs generally require a high level of technical sophistication and skilled personnel to develop usable quantities of an effective agent without accidentally killing their own research teams or the nearby populace," said Trombly, who pointed out that the biggest threat is probably to people who live under the Islamic State, who face the possibility of accidental — or intentional — local deployment.


Amid questions about what kind of capacity the Islamic State has to manufacture and deploy biological weapons, Doornbos also took to Twitter to provide an answer to another inevitable question:

However, here's why you should care

The recovered laptop has some pretty scary stuff on it, but right now it's unlikely the IS can actually produce biological weapons. If it was as easy as putting some chemicals in a grenade, they'd probably be doing it already, but there's a big gap between torrenting a PDF on bubonic plague and actually releasing it on unsuspecting civilians. But that doesn't mean IS isn't capable of funneling large amounts of money into a bio-weapons program or recruiting the experts necessary to see it through to fruition. Stateside IS affiliates or their ilk could also smuggle or outright steal pathogens from laboratories with poor security or oversight. Preventing IS from acquiring the means to do either is a serious priority deserving international effort and attention.


The Islamic State's sweeping gains in recent months may have provided it with the capacity to develop such new and dangerous weapons. Members of the jihadi group are not solely fighting on the front lines these days -- they also control substantial parts of Syria and Iraq. The fear now is that men like Muhammed could be quietly working behind the front lines -- for instance, in the Islamic State-controlled University of Mosul or in some laboratory in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group's de facto capital -- to develop chemical or biological weapons.


In short, the longer the caliphate exists, the more likely it is that members with a science background will come up with something horrible

Image via policymic.com

The documents found on the laptop of the Tunisian jihadist, meanwhile, leave no room for doubt about the group's deadly ambitions. "Use small grenades with the virus, and throw them in closed areas like metros, soccer stadiums, or entertainment centers," the 19-page document on biological weapons advises. "Best to do it next to the air-conditioning. It also can be used during suicide operations."


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