Islamic State supporters have converted a series of al-Qaeda lectures on operational guidelines into a 12-chapter, 63-page English-language handbook for lone-wolf jihadists.
The tips in “Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen,” with hazy artwork of New York City in flames on the cover, were released in Arabic a few years back by al-Qaeda’s al-Fajr Media Center. The ISIS translators said they “tried to adapt it and pick what’s important and leave what’s not relevant for an individual Mujahid and small groups.” They also added updates to account for current technology.
“We thought a lot of non-Arabic speaking brothers would find it interesting and may apply it in their blessed operations,” add the translators in their foreword, stressing that lone wolves should also be reading al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine and ISIS’ Dabiq.
The handbook tells jihadists to draw upon the lessons of 9/11 when considering the element of surprise. “The US never thought we would hit them at home… Even the brothers that did the operation didn’t think it will be something of that magnitude… The only one that knew were the pilots. Why? To secure the operation. If one of the brothers gets caught and interrogated, he can’t say anything that will endanger the operation.”
The adaptation of the texts highlights that lone wolves are hardly the fallback strategy of desperate terrorist groups, but al-Qaeda envisioned many smaller cells “without the cells having a link with each other, and even with any group” as a much safer strategy.
“Always keep updated on the most recent news through radio, TV, newspapers, Internet everyday, both home events and those happening abroad,” jihadis are told. “Always stay informed. Also, if you have contact with brothers abroad, keep informed on how X or Y were caught? Was mistakes they made? What safehouses did the enemy search? What information they have about the enemy?”
The lone wolves are admonished that “prevention is better than cure,” with little margin for error. “Imagine you’re preparing explosives for an operation, well you can’t make any mistake there. Because if anything blows up while you’re preparing them, first you can get yourself killed or injured, then the operation is done, and most probably, the group will also be done as you would have drawn the worst kind of attention to yourself.”
Jihadis are also warned not to draw attention to themselves by falling into routines, whether eating at the same restaurant or taking the same route each day. And other habits are deemed security risks, as well: “One of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan used to love tea, he couldn’t stop drinking tea. So when he got arrested, they only needed to deprive him from tea and they started getting information from him.”
The handbook notes that lone wolves are especially valuable because they don’t catch attention for being fish out of water — they’re “already in their natural environment and know the customs around them very well.”
In addition, an ideal lone wolf candidate, they stress, “should make sure to not look particularly attached to religion.”
“Also, you shouldn’t be going too often to places like mosques, Islamic institutes or Islamic libraries. You should also wear western-style clothes as to appear neutral and not draw attention to yourself.” The text adds that “most operations that failed in the West did because of brothers who were unsufficiently prepared.”
“Keep your political and religious point of views to yourself, and don’t get yourself involved in any kind of debates with anyone. When asked, tell what people want to hear… Do not create any kind of problem with your neighbors or colleagues.” Indeed, the Arizona neighbors of the Garland, Texas, shooters — Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi — would say afterward that the men were friendly and neighborly.
The booklet goes into encryption techniques that U.S. officials acknowledge have put many online jihadis in dark, unreachable corners of the Internet. “Your mobile phone is a government spy with you on your pocket,” the guide advises. “Make sure to read enough about Android ways to protect your privacy. Never use iOS, as it’s compromised.”
Tips are also included for finding an appropriate safehouse, whether for living and planning or storing weapons: “make that apartment look un-Islamic” and devise secret knock-knock codes to alert others in the safehouse if you’re being followed or if everyone needs to flee, the guide states.
Jihadists are discouraged from holding “conferences,” and the translators disagree with al-Qaeda on good meeting spots. While the original text says nightclubs are poor places to meet because they may be subject to police raids, the ISIS translators note that because of “the loud music, the drunk people and the crowd,” a nightclub “could actually be a good location to secretly discuss the details of an operation – If the brothers are dressed accordingly and not acting too weird.”
If jihadis decide to go beardless to not attract attention, they’re advised to allow a 2-week beardless window to allow their skin to get some sun. The guide says it’s “permissible” for jihadists trying to blend in “to wear a necklace showing a Christian cross.” They’re encouraged to make the smartphone, tablet or music players they’re carrying “entirely un-Islamic” with “songs, music clips, funny videos, etc. No Quran app, no hadith app.”
They’re warned to be “extremely careful” about buying weapons, noting that would-be jihadis in the West have gotten busted buying guns from undercover FBI agents. “When you want to buy the weapon, test the dealer to make sure he’s not an undercover spy.”
The guide also includes extensive guidance on surveillance of people and places as potential targets. “Some brothers in Sudan wanted to make surveillance on the US Embassy so they made the decision to rent an apartment nearby with a view on the embassy,” it notes. With modern technology, they’re advised to start with Google maps and street view.
As far as the perfect cover for jihadis, the handbook stresses “the best cover is natural cover” — “so if you are an engineer, you use your own job as a cover, because you know your job, you understand it, so you can’t make any mistake on that field.” When talking about imaginary or temporary covers, they give examples of Israeli intelligence and suggest emulating their methods. “The advantage of the lone wolf here is that he is already established in the West, his entire life is a cover story – and a very strong one at that.”
Lone wolves are also coached on gathering intelligence through casual, polite conversations with people. “Don’t try to get all your info at once, this work can take weeks or even months. The Mujahid must be ready for a long-term work, and his main characteristic is PATIENCE.”
They’re also encouraged to make realistic operational plans and have backups in mind, such as main and secondary targets in the same location.
The handbook is notable for being more thorough and containing more useful information than many jihadi guides released by ISIS.
The account that tweeted the handbook Sunday was suspended two days later, not before the link had garnered significant retweets. The PDF was posted on a public file-sharing site popular with terrorist groups.