You know you have made it as a para-government when you get your very own leakers — and ISIS, which aspires to set up an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the growing swathe of territory it controls, has been having some problems containing the spill of sensitive and strategic secrets.
While the group mastered the art of social media, they have yet to figure out a way to control the information they do not want shared online — from the identity of its leaders to its alliances with other groups across the region.
There is one Twitter account in particular, @wikibaghdady, which seems to have access to a whole lot of information about the group, the Daily Beast reported yesterday.
Nobody knows who’s behind it — whether one, or many, disgruntled former member of ISIS, a rival Islamist, or a foreign government’s intelligence agent. But the handle @wikibaghdady has been on the radar of those monitoring the Syrian war on social media for several months.
'He’s someone close to the group, providing the kind of details that only come from intimacy.'
The account, active since last December, has been spewing details ISIS would presumably prefer to keep confidential to its nearly 38,000 followers.
Among its leaks, @wikibaghdady reportedly outed the identity of ISIS’ mysterious leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. More recently it highlighted the group’s connection with Iraq’s Baathists — Saddam Hussein’s former party.
“In the event that Baghdad falls there’s an agreement that Izzat al Douri will become the de-facto leader as an alternative to ISIS that the international community cannot refuse,” the account, which seems to have a penchant for predicting ISIS’s next moves, tweeted as late as last week.
Al Douri, a former army commander under Saddam Hussein who has escaped American and Iraqi capture, has been missing in action for years, and is now reportedly leading ex Baathists in an alliance with the ISIS.
7 )??? ??????? ?? ??? ???? ????? ??? ????? ??? ?????? ????? ???? ?? ?????? ?????? ???? ?? ????— ?????? ???? ???????? (@wikibaghdady) June 13, 2014
"Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a real person who has a fake nickname and title. This is also the case with everyone around him and there isn’t a member of Al-Baghdadi’s inner circle with a real name. Every person in Al-Baghdadi’s inner circle is 100% Iraqi and he doesn’t accept any other nationality because he does not trust anyone," the account spilled back in December. "The number of members in the Al-Baghdadi’s military council is about 8 to 13 people. The Military Council is headed by three people from Saddam's army who also belonged to the former Baath Party. The main leader is Brigadier General Haji Bakr who was previously an officer in Saddam's Baathist army. Who exactly is Haji Bakr?! What is his relationship to Al-Baghdadi and when did it start?"
'@wikibaghdady is based in Saudi Arabia and is managed by Saudi intelligence.'
On other occasions, @wikibaghdady spilled the beans about internal fighting within ISIS.
"There were about twenty to thirty fighters who split from the ISIS on a daily basis. They found that fighters from Saudi Arabia were the most likely to split and that Tunisians were the least," he revealed in January. "This is when [Al-Baghdadi] ordered that the suicide bombers should be Saudi as much as possible, and that Tunisians shouldn’t be involved since they’re the most loyal."
If accurate, that's a lot of detail for someone with no ins on the organization.
“Whoever @wikibaghdady is, two things about him are clear,” Jacob Siegel wrote in the Daily Beast: “He’s a fellow Islamist who has a beef with ISIS, and he’s someone close to the group, providing the kind of details that only come from intimacy.”
But not everyone’s buying that — with some critics saying the mysterious account might not be all that privy to the inside decisions of the group.
'There are several accounts that spread misinformation, and some of them pretend to be former ISIS members.'
Abu Bakr al Janabi, a prolific ISIS supporter who often translates and distributes the group’s messages, told VICE News that @wikibaghdady is “based in Saudi Arabia and is managed by Saudi intelligence” — a claim that is as unverified as any other about the mastermind of the account.
“There are several accounts that spread misinformation, and some of them pretend to be former ISIS members. They spread info in a nasty way,” he said, acknowledging that some of the tweets are accurate. “They can’t lie openly, so what they do is they mix truth with falsehood to deceive people.”
“One lie that they spread is that the ISIS council is only Iraqis, which is a pure lie, the council members are Iraqis, Syrian, Saudis and from Chechnya,” he added. “Another lie is that nobody in ISIS has seen Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, which is also a pure lie, he has shown himself many times. The third lie is that Abu Muhammed Al-Adnani — a spokesman for ISIS — is Iraqi, which is false; Adnani is a Syrian from Idlib.”
VICE News could not independently verify al Janabi’s claims — nor @wikibaghdady’s.
But some analysts agree with the ISIS supporter.
“The account does seem to offer credible insider information about ISIS,” Hassan Hassan, an expert on radical groups in the region, told The Daily Beast. “But it is not wholly accurate…and should be taken with a pinch of salt.”
Up next, ISIS's very own NSA.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter:@alicesperi