‘ISIS Files’ launch: Thousands of documents reveal the terror group’s inner workings

The documents were obtained around the beginning in 2015.
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The long-awaited “ISIS Files” have launched online at the George Washington University, offering researchers and others a window into the inner workings of the terror group that called itself “The Islamic State.”

The New York Times and GWU announced a partnership in 2018 to digitize, translate, and analyze more than 15,000 pages of internal ISIS documents. Now, those documents are beginning to appear on the ISIS files website, which is based around themes such as ideology, war spoils, agriculture programs, and religious police files.

“The launch is the culmination of an exclusive research partnership between the Program on Extremism and The New York Times to create a virtual public platform to host The ISIS Files, a collection of more than 15,000 pages of internal ISIS documents collected by New York Times investigative journalist and Program on Extremism fellow Rukmini Callimachi during embeds with the Iraqi army,” GWU said in an emailed statement Friday announcing the launch.

According to Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, the director of the GWU Program on Extremism, the ISIS files constitute one of the largest collections of original ISIS files in the possession of a non-governmental entity. 

The documents were obtained by Callimachi beginning in 2015, when the Times reporter spent several months embedded with the Iraqi military. She collected tens of thousands of documents, including photos, police files, grammar books, military strategies, and tax returns.

The largest tranche of files, according to Vidino, relates to ISIS’ Department of Agriculture and Livestock, which shows the group used taxation and confiscation as key sources of revenue. 

Other files include instruction manuals and textbooks on military education, strategy, and analysis of great historical battles such as the Battle of Dunkirk, “which reflected the Islamic State’s strategic focus at the time,”  wrote Vidino, referring to the group’s holding of territory in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though it’s now a shell of its former self, in 2014 ISIS took over broad swathes of territory, capturing major cities in Iraq and Syria. A U.S.-led coalition was launched against ISIS a month after it declared itself a “caliphate.” By Dec. 2017, the group had lost 95% of its territory, U.S. officials said. And the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in Oct. 2019 by U.S. special operations forces.

You can access the ISIS files here.