Wednesday, October 7
One night in 2012 the Devil came calling in Syria. Islamic State's mastermind designed it to be a police state, not an Islamic one.
When the men later learned who they had killed, they searched the house, gathering up computers, passports, mobile phone SIM cards, a GPS device and, most importantly, papers. They didn't find a Koran anywhere.
Haji Bakr's state continued to work even without its creator. Just how precisely his plans were implemented -- point by point -- is confirmed by the discovery of another file. When IS was forced to rapidly abandon its headquarters in Aleppo in January 2014, they tried to burn their archive, but they ran into a problem similar to that confronted by the East German secret police 25 years earlier: They had too many files.
The report created a sensation and immediately became the subject of scholarly debates in the USA and around the world about Islam; trouble was, it was nonsense, although Wood and the Atlantic editors had no way of knowing this until April 18.
That was when the German news magazine SPIEGEL, having finished lengthy and probably very expensive negotiations to obtain a cache of papers that showed how Islamic State was conceived, set up, and administered, published Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State. Beautifully written by Christoph Reuter in almost novelistic fashion, the report tells a campfire tale for our era.
The cache reveals how it's theoretically possible to subjugate all of humanity using low-tech tactics that are the basis of every police state. Yet if the papers had been obtained by say, an American or British publication, it's unlikely the editors would have been able to tell the story the way it needed to be told -- from the viewpoint of people with memories of what life under a totalitarian police state is really like.
True to Haji Bakr's plan, the phase of infiltration was followed by the elimination of every person who might have been a potential leader or opponent. The first person hit was the head of the city council, who was kidnapped in mid-May 2013 by masked men.
The next person to disappear was the brother of a prominent novelist. Two days later, the man who had led the group that painted a revolutionary flag on the city walls vanished.
"We had an idea who kidnapped him," one of his friends explains, "but no one dared any longer to do anything." The system of fear began to take hold. Starting in July, first dozens and then hundreds of people disappeared.
Sometimes their bodies were found, but they usually disappeared without a trace. In August, the IS military leadership dispatched several cars driven by suicide bombers to the headquarters of the FSA brigade, the "Grandsons of the Prophet," killing dozens of fighters and leading the rest to flee. The other rebels merely looked on.
IS leadership had spun a web of secret deals with the brigades so that each thought it was only the others who might be the targets of IS attacks.
Reuter doesn't specify whether Haji Bakr first arrived in Syria in the daytime or at night, but I figure someone also known as "The Lord of the Shadows" would have arrived by night.