Islamic State executes dozens 'in hunt for informers'

Islamic State executes dozens 'in hunt for informers'
5 min read
06 June, 2016
Dozens of IS militants have been executed on suspicion of acting as informants after US-led drone attacks killed a string of top IS commanders in recent months.
Dozens of IS militants have been executed over accusations of spying [Getty]
Dozens of Islamic State group militants have been executed by their own leaders in recent months in a vicious hunt for informants, after a series of airstrikes killed some of the group's most prominent figures.

In just one example, at least 38 IS militants were reportedly executed after a US drone attack killed a senior IS commander as he drove through northern Syria on orders to lead the fighting there.

The killing of Tunisian national Abu Hayjaa al-Tunsi last March sparked a panicked hunt within the group's ranks for informants who could have tipped off the US-led coalition over his closely guarded movements, or planted a GPS chip on his vehicle.

The more recent killing of the commander of IS forces in Fallujah, Maher al-Bilawi, also by US-led coalition airstrikes, reportedly led the militant group to escalate its hunt for moles.

In recent months, the US announced its killing of a string of top commanders from the group, including its minister of war Omar al-Shishani, notorious Iraqi militant Shaker Wuhayeb, also known as Abu Wahib, as well as a top finance official known by several names, including Haji Iman, Abu Alaa al-Afari or Abu Ali al-Anbari.

"We are systematically eliminating ISIL's cabinet," US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter said at the time, using an alternative acronym for IS.

[Click to enlarge]

But as the US continues to target leading IS figure in drone attacks, increasing reports are emerging of defection and desertions by the group's lower ranking militants.

A significant number of IS militants have fled for fear they could be accused of being an informant by their commanders, according to Syrian opposition activists, Kurdish militia commanders and several Iraqi intelligence officials and an informant for the Iraqi government who worked within IS ranks.

Those considered to harm the IS cause are often accused of apostasy, which under the group's version of Islamic law, carries a death penalty.

"Daesh is now concentrating on how to find informers because they have lost commanders that are hard to replace," said a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Baghdad, using the Arabic acronym for IS. "Now any IS commander has the right to kill a person whom they suspect is an informer for the coalition."

Dozens of IS militants have been executed over accusations of spying.

A significant number of IS militants have fled for fear they could be accused of being an informant by their commanders

"They have executed dozens of fighters on charges of giving information to the coalition or putting [GPS] chips in order for the aircraft to strike at a specific area," said Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

As a warning to others, IS regularly displays the bodies of executed "informants" in public.

Reports of particularly gruesome execution methods, including dropping victims into a vat of acid, are spread to increase discipline within the ranks of IS militants.

Last month, the IS-stronghold city of Mosul saw one of the most brutal killings of suspected informants when about a dozen fighters and civilians drowned in a vat filled with acid, a senior Iraqi intelligence official said.

IS militants hunt their own

[Click to enlarge]

Some IS fighters feed information to US-led coalition about targets and movements of the group's officials in exchange for money, Abdurrahman added.

Many militants have had their salaries from the group sharply cut in the wake of coalition and Russian airstrikes on IS-held oil facilities earlier this year.

The damage and the loss of important IS-held supply routes into Turkey have also reportedly hurt the group's financing.

The group's leaders have responded with methods of their own for rooting out spies, an Iraqi informant told AP.

They have fed false information to suspect members about the movements of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and if an airstrike follows on the alleged location, they know the suspect is a spy, the informant said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for his life.

They stop fighters in the street and inspect their mobile phones, sometimes making the fighter call any unusual numbers in front of them to see who they are contacting.

They stop fighters in the street and inspect their mobile phones, sometimes making the fighter call any unusual numbers in front of them to see who they are contacting

Non-IS members are also often caught up in the hunt for spies.

In Tabqa, near Raqqa, IS fighters brought a civilian, Abdul-Hadi Issa, into the main square before dozens of onlookers and announced he was accused of spying.

[Click to enlarge]

A masked militant then stabbed him in the heart and, with the knife still stuck in the man's chest, the fighter shot him in the head with a pistol.

Issa's body was hanged in the square with a large piece of paper on his chest proclaiming the crime and the punishment. IS circulated photos of the killing on social media.

There is panic in IS-held areas where the group has killed people simply for having telecommunications devices in their homes, said Sherfan Darwish of the US-backed Syria Democratic Forces, which has been spearheading the fight against IS in Syria.

"There is chaos. Some members and commanders are trying to flee," Darwish said.

The US-led coalition has sought to use its successes in targeting IS leaders to intimidate others.

In late May, aircraft dropped leaflets over IS-held parts of Syria with the pictures of two senior militants killed previously in airstrikes. "What do these Daesh commanders have in common?" the leaflet read. "They were killed at the hands of the coalition."

The militants responded in an audio message release last month.

"America, do you think that victory comes by killing a commander or more?" IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said. "We will not be deterred by your campaigns and you will not be victorious."

Yet as reports mount of IS executions by their own leadership, it seems likely such recorded messages are more intended for internal consumption.


Agencies contributed to this report.