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Western security services probe IS identity leak reports
[LONDON] Western intelligence services examined on Thursday a potential treasure trove of leaked IS files, some of which were deemed likely to be authentic by German officials despite the doubts of many experts.
The documents contain details including the names, dates of birth and phone numbers of Islamic State group recruits, according to British and German media.
Copies of the documents broadcast by Sky News showed that recruits had to answer 23 questions including on their blood type, mother's maiden name, "level of sharia understanding" and previous experience.
Sky said the documents contained the identities of some 22,000 IS group members from 51 countries, including from northern Europe, the Middle East, north Africa, the United States and Canada.
Richard Barrett, formerly a senior figure in Britain's MI6 overseas intelligence service, said the leak would be "an absolute gold mine of information of enormous significance and interest" if genuine.
The information could help Western security agencies trying to track down returning jihadists by bringing to light the connections between them.
Tens of thousands of foreign jihadists - mostly from north Africa and the Middle East - have joined the ranks of the IS group in Iraq and Syria.
The group has suffered setbacks on the ground following a US-led campaign for its eradication but it still controls large swathes of territory and has a supply of new recruits, experts said.
Britain's interior ministry said it did not comment on national security matters but Prime Minister David Cameron's spokeswoman said the government would "look at how this information can be used in the fight against Daesh," another term for Islamic State.
"If it can, then we would welcome that," she said, adding that the government had not been aware of the story before it was reported although Sky said it had shared its findings with the authorities.
German federal police spokesman Markus Koths said there was "a very high probability" that documents concerning German jihadists that were reported by media were genuine.
"We are therefore taking them into account as part of our law enforcement and security measures," he added.
Fredrik Milder, a spokesman for Sweden's Sapo intelligence service, meanwhile told TT news agency: "We are aware of the existence of this list." "Our security services have received such information," he said.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere earlier this week said they would help "a better understanding of the structures" of IS and pave the way for "faster, clearer investigations and higher prison sentences".
Experts said the documents would be valuable if authentic, although they pointed out mistakes and uncharacteristic language in the forms.
Charlie Winter, a researcher at Georgia State University, said: "There would be big alarm bells for me, because when I've seen inconsistencies like that in the past they've been on really shoddily-made forgeries." The Arabic name for "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria," IS's previous nomenclature, is written in two different ways, including one that is not consistent with past practice.
Files documenting the deaths of IS militants use the words "date of killing" instead of the typical jihadist term "martyrdom." Romain Caillet, an independent jihadism expert, also noted that some documents feature a second, circular logo not previously used on IS files.
The biggest concerns, Winter said, were the different names, logo, and grammatical mistakes that he described as "very much out of character" for IS documents.
"With something as important as this, it's important to look at it with as suspicious, discerning, and cynical an eye as possible," Winter said.
Syrian opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl said there were thousands of repetitions in the leaked documents and the names of only 1,700 people could be identified in the 22,000 documents.
Sky reported that a disillusioned former member had handed over the documents on a memory stick that had been stolen from the head of the group's internal security police.
Names on the list include Reyaad Khan, a 21-year-old British jihadist who Britain's government said was planning attacks on Britain before being killed by a British drone in Syria last year.
Another on the list was Junaid Hussain, a British computer hacker described by British authorities as a key IS operative, who died in a 2015 US air strike.
The alleged leak comes with Western security services on high alert against the possibility of fresh jihadist massacre following the Paris attacks spree last November.