ANTAKYA, Turkey — The black Dell laptop found in an Islamic State safe house inside Syria not only contains instructions for how to weaponize the bubonic plague, it also includes thousands of files that provide a window into how would-be jihadists become radicalized, and how they learn to carry out their deadly craft.
The laptop of Muhammed S., a Tunisian chemistry and physics student who joined the Islamic State, contains an eclectic mix of speeches by jihadi leaders, neo-Nazi screeds, and U.S. Army manuals on specific aspects of warfare. It also contains glimpses of the 24-year-old jihadist’s former life, showing that he once had a weakness for the music of Celine Dion and a desire to find a good recipe for banana mousse.
The files from the laptop show that, once committed to jihad, Muhammed left Celine Dion behind and became more focused on how to poison people. One 21-minute clip, featuring former American Nazi Party member Kurt Saxon, offers instructions for how to obtain the deadly toxin ricin from castor beans. Saxon provides a detailed description of the process, producing the ricin on camera. “Now you really have some lethal stuff here!” he exclaims, once he is finished. “Now this is fan-tas-tic stuff!”
This is just one example from the massive amount of data discovered on Muhammed’s laptop. The computer contains 146 gigabytes of material and 35,347 files, almost all of which were added between 2009 and May 2013. All the files opened without a password, except for seven. Six of these password-protected files are in a folder titled “Sheikh Usama CD.”
The vast majority of the files are downloaded from the Internet, and contain practical or ideological instructions for waging jihad. A small percentage of the files, meanwhile, were produced by Muhammed himself. These include scanned copies of his chemistry exams at his university in Tunisia, and pictures of him and his family attending a wedding of an unknown female family member.
The laptop’s contents make it clear that its owner has one huge passion: destruction. The folders are meticulously organized:
In one folder marked “explosives” — a sub-folder within another marked “terrorist,” which is itself in a sub-folder marked “Jihadi” — Muhammed had gathered 206 documents.
In one folder marked “explosives” — a sub-folder within another marked “terrorist,” which is itself in a sub-folder marked “Jihadi” — Muhammed had gathered 206 documents.They include publications by Western authors for commercial sale, such as How to Make Semtex, Chemistry and Technology of Explosives, CIA Improvised Sabotage Devices, and The Car Bomb Recognition Guide. Also among the documents is A Guide to Field-Manufactured Explosives, which American author William Wallace begins by writing, “This book is for academic study only.”
As the titles above show, Muhammed did not limit himself to jihadi videos or publications. He appears to have consumed material from extremists of all stripes, downloading TheTerrorist’s Handbook, The Anarchist Cookbook, and a neo-Nazi e-book called The White Resistance Manual. He wasn’t even averse to turning to the hated American military for practical instruction: In a folder marked “military,” he collected 51 U.S. Army publications that are available online, such asSniper Training: U.S. Field Manual and U.S. Army — Psychological Operations Process Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures.
Muhammed also got his hands on two obscure English-language jihadi publications, TheMujahideen Explosives Handbook and The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook. In the preface to the latter work, the author, who gives his nom de guerre as Abdel Aziz, dedicates his publication to the jihadists in Afghanistan, “who lit the flame of jihad in the hearts of every sincere Muslim throughout the world.”
Abdel Aziz warns his audience to be cautious while preparing deadly toxins. “It is much, much more dangerous than preparing explosives!” he writes. “I know several [jihadists] whose bodies are finished due to poor protection etc. On the positive side, you can be confident that the poisons have actually been tried and tested (successfully, he he!).”
The laptop also contains extensive research on previous jihadi terrorist attacks. One compressed file named “Al-Qaeda Airlines” includes videos of the July 7, 2005, attacks in London and the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Another 206-page document, titled “al Qaeda hallmarks,” contains extensive jihadi analyses of the terror group’s deadly strikes in Bali, Madrid, London, and the failed 2001 shoe bombing attack aboard an international flight bound for Miami, Florida.
Muhammed appears to have been a voracious consumer of speeches by jihadi ideologues. Most popular is Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American religious leader linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011. There are also speeches by al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, current al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Muhammed also compiled speeches by 112 other jihadi leaders. They include Juhayman al-Otaybi, who led the attack on the Kaaba in Mecca in 1979; Sayyid Qutb, an important ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood; Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor and one of the main ideologues of al Qaeda; and Abdullah al-Nafisi, a Kuwaiti professor notable for calling for massive anthrax attacks within the United States and saying on Al Jazeera Arabic that he hopes American white supremacists succeed in attacking a nuclear power plant. “May Allah grant success to one of the militia leaders,” he said.
A series of documents on the laptop also advise jihadists on how to fly under the authorities’ radar while preparing for holy war.
A series of documents on the laptop also advise jihadists on how to fly under the authorities’ radar while preparing for holy war.They include tips on how to travel from one jihadi hot spot to another without attracting attention, how to dress, and how to fake passports. One particular preoccupation is the danger of using cellphones, which one paper describes as the equivalent of “carrying a moving spy with you.”
Not all of the files on the Islamic State laptop are recipes for jihad, war, killings, explosions, or poisonings. Some of the files show that Muhammed once lived a far more normal life, before being consumed by the desire to fight a holy war.
The laptop includes pictures of Muhammed in 2009 and 2010 dressed in Western clothes and without a beard while attending a wedding in Tunisia, playing soccer, and joking with his friends. There’s also evidence that Muhammed has a sweet tooth: The laptop contains recipes for baking a cake, making banana mousse, and for the preparation of caramel. He even kept some screen shots of a music playlist he listened to in January 2010, which included the songs of Celine Dion, as well as Shaggy’s”Hey Sexy Lady.”
Muhammed appears to have changed radically around 2011, however. After that date, the only songs he added are anasheed — arrhythmic, a cappella Islamic music.
The laptop also contains evidence that Muhammed’s family and the Tunisian government were aware of his radical turn, and that he was a growing threat. A handwritten statement dated April 22, 2013, was found on the laptop, signed by Muhammed’s father and stamped by the Tunisian Interior Ministry.
The document suggests he already knew his son had been seduced by the path of destruction. It reads: “I am committed on behalf of my son Muhammed S. to pay the price of any damages he causes, wherever he is.”