IS papers give an insight into caliphate: ‘Slaughter was always hanging above the market’

The caliphate also had a kind of moving judge. The police force of terrorist group IS, the Shurta, played this role and was crucial to the rapid growth and relative success of the caliphate. This is evidenced by thousands of internal documents from IS.

These documents, called the IS-papers, contain a wealth of information about the functioning of the grouping. They‘re owned by The New York Times and George Washington University.

Anatomy of the caliphate

Terrorism expert Beatrice de Graaf is one of the researchers who already had access to the pieces from the bureaucracy of IS, exploited during the period when coalition forces recaptured the caliphate. Today she publishes about it. โ€œIt is not often that a state disappears and leaves its paper traces behind. It happened to the Third Reich and to the Stasi. You can now map the anatomy of the caliphate.โ€

IS was founded in 2006 as an organisation of several Sunni groups, initially affiliated with al-Qaeda. After a rapid advance, the terror group proclaimed the caliphate in 2014. At its peak, IS was in control of an area in Iraq and Syria where more than ten million people lived.

Even before the proclamation of the caliphate, IS had taken possession of police offices and other facilities โ€œbehind the scenesโ€, says De Graaf. โ€œIS was from the outset setting up a state and settling in the heart of the population. And that was unique.โ€

The caliphate had several police forces. Known in the West are the horrific acts of Security Service Emni and the Vice Police, Hisba. De Graaf: โ€œHere we have the image of IS cutting off hands and decapitating people. That certainly happened to the enemies, like the Yazidis.โ€

But in local Sunni culture, the Shurta police played a much more important role. Together with Turkish-American researcher Ahmet Yayl, De Graaf presents today with a report on hundreds of documents from the Shurta.

The police service ensured that there was order and stability, that taxes were paid and that people behaved and recognized the authority of IS. The money that IS fighters robbed, they put into provision for Sunni Muslims who submitted to the Caliphate. De Graaf: โ€œThey gave people care, food and safety and put plaques everywhere in which they promised.โ€

That way they got the support of those locals. โ€œYou have to remember that this area, Mosul and Raqqa, was not safe at all,โ€ says De Graaf. โ€œAs a mother told us, at any time of day Assad’s soldiers could bomb us, rape our daughters or rob things. With the IS police, you knew where you were, and they were honest, she said.โ€


In exchange for guaranteeing that relative safety, the police requested information. De Graaf: โ€œThe success of the Shurta can be explained by thousands of people complained and betrayed each other. In fact, as in the Third Reich, it was a system that was based on snitching on each other.โ€

The Shurta had eyes and ears everywhere. โ€œThere were about three thousand policemen, but in fact they had a lot more people, informants.โ€

Ayham al-Hussein, a former resident of Raqqa, saw with his own eyes how people turned on each other. โ€œWhen people had a fight, they threatened to turn each other in.โ€

The Shurta was also โ€œa kind of driving judgeโ€, says De Graaf. โ€œPeople sent all kinds of complaints, very banal complaints. Like ‘the goat of my neighbor grazes on my terrain’ or ‘his daughter does not dress well’.

After such a complaint, the police went to mediate. โ€œPeople were put to the table. The idea was, if you two come out together and make sure that the goat doesn‘t graze anymore, then it’s okay. If you don‘t, we’ll escalate and blood will flow.โ€

So doing good things was accompanied by the threat of violence. De Count: โ€œIS existed by the grace of terror and threatening to slaughter anyone who did not join the authority. That was constantly hanging above the market.โ€

Here again, De Graaf makes the comparison with Nazi Germany. โ€œEven then, people knew that if you got into the hands of the Gestapo, you‘d be tortured. Everyone went for their own ass, tried to give information to the regime to stay out of the hands of those martyrs. If you did, you’d have money, light, water and security. It was a very double regime, it had a janus head.โ€

Same strategy in Africa

In 2019, IS lost the last areas of the self-declared caliphate. In March of that year, the Americans reported that the caliphate was โ€œ100 percentโ€ defeated.

But in African countries, the terror group is still alive and well. Here too, the jihadists apply the ‘strategy of two faces’, says De Graaf. โ€œEspecially in Mozambique they do the same trick. Go to theoutside world watch you see a lot of violence, the attack on the hotel in Palma. But what we do not see is that they use money immediately to do things for the local people, who are disadvantaged, who have grievances, which are not seen and known by the government in Mozambique. This gives them a base among the population.โ€

โ€œ IS comes with thunder and violence, but also with manipulation and with informants. You need both sides to explain how IS works.โ€