A man identified by ForeignPolicy.com as Abu Ali, a commander of a moderate Syrian rebel group in northern Syria, told the publication the black laptop was seized earlier this year in a raid on an ISIS hideout in the Syrian province of Idlib, close to the border with Turkey, and belonged to a Tunisian jihadist.
“We found the laptop and the power cord in a room,” Ali told ForeignPolicy.com. “I took it with me.”
Initially, it appeared the computer had been scrubbed, but on closer inspection, thousands of secret files were discovered on the hard drive, which was not password protected, Ali said.
ForeignPolicy.com was permitted to copy of thousands of files, which were in French, English, and Arabic. The information included videos of Usama bin Laden, ideological justifications for jihad and tutorials on how to carry out the Islamic State’s deadly campaigns.
But most chilling were files that indicated the computer’s owner, identified as a Tunisian national named Muhammed S. who joined ISIS in Syria after studying chemistry and physics at two universities in Tunisia, was teaching himself how to manufacture biological weapons, in preparation for a potential attack that could have been catastrophic on a global scale. A 19-page document in Arabic included instructions 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 testing the weaponized plague before using it to attack.
“When the microbe is injected in small mice, the symptoms of the disease should start to appear within 24 hours,” the document says.
While some Islamic scholars have said the use of weapons of mass destruction is prohibited, the material on the seized computer included a fatwa, or Islamic ruling, permitting it.
“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.”
Foreign Policy verified that the computer’s owner had indeed attended a Tunisian university and studied chemistry and physics there until some time in 2011.
Thousands of Tunisians have gone to Syria to join Islamic State, according to anestimate from Tunisia’s government.
Foreign Policy noted that the information on the laptop does not indicate that Islamic State possess biological weapons. But it does show they are seeking them.
“The real difficulty in all of these weapons … [is] to actually have a workable distribution system that will kill a lot of people,” Magnus Ranstorp, research director of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College, told the publication. “But to produce quite scary weapons is certainly within [the Islamic State’s] capabilities.”