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ISIS Recruitment Documents Show Large Diversity Among Volunteers

Recently, NBC News obtained a bevy of ISIS personnel records. It has been analyzed by experts at West Point, who say it's the largest and "most significant" document cache of its kind, providing new insight into the terror group's grand ambitions and diverse recruits.

The files are on jihadists who joined the Islamic State in 2013 and 2014. The findings were surprising as many of them were not very interested in suicide missions, were well traveled and better educated than expected. A Syrian man contacted NBC News saying he stole the information, stored on a flash drive, from a senior ISIS commander. The analysts believe the documents are genuine. It was also given to a British media outlet.

Brian Dodwell, deputy director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, told NBC News "The largest takeaway from these documents is the massive diversity of the population." Dodwell continued, "We are talking an average age of around 26, 27 years old but we're talking about everywhere from teenagers up until men in their 60s. We're talking about very diverse backgrounds from an education perspective — individuals who list their education as none up to those who listed their educations as Ph.D.s, masters degrees, MBAs ... Everything from laborers to doctors and lawyers."

The papers were written in Arabic and fully translated by NBC and West Point. Candidates were asked if they wanted to be a fighter or a suicide bomber. Only 12 percent responded to suicide bomber. Of fighters who joined Al Qaeda in 2006 and 2007, over 50 percent wanted to sign up as suicide bombers.

In addition, around two-thirds of the enlistees were in the 21-30 age group, but the other ends of the spectrum were also well-represented. Some 40 recruits were under age 15 and about 400 were under 21. Almost a quarter fell between ages 31 and 40. About 4 percent were between 41 and 50 and there were even 42 men over the age of 50. The document also shows that the biggest recruitment period was July 2014, following some of ISIS' most significant territorial seizures and the announcement that it was establishing a caliphate with dominion over the world's Muslims.

Their listed occupations included perfume salesman, beekeeper, airline steward, soldier in the Tunisian army and Saudi intelligence worker. One worked at Starbucks in London. Only 104 had high-skilled or white-collar positions. There were 255 jobless and 656 students. Saudi Arabia had the most signed up (797), Tunisia had 640 and Morocco had 260. The United Kingdom had 57, the United States had 14, France had 129 and Germany had 80.

Dodwell said, "They were from all over the world and the individuals had traveled all over the world. I wouldn't say a majority of them, but a good number of them were heavily traveled. One individual said he had been to 38 countries around the world. So some of them certainly have international experience and significant experience moving throughout the region and throughout the world."

The recruiters notes stated things such as "Important, he has expertise in chemistry." Another wrote, "He has experience in making explosives. He refused to provide his mother's name out of concern for her safety." Furthermore, the West Point center cross-referenced them against a repository of ISIS records maintained by the Defense Department and corroborated about 98 percent.

Dodwell added, "What it shows us is that it's very difficult to determine who exactly these types of programs should be targeted towards because they come from all walks of life."

Photo: The Atlantic

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