In the last issue of Terrorism Focus (February 20), we examined the attempt by Iraq’s Islamist insurgents to recruit trained professionals for jihad in Iraq. In this follow-up, we examine the use of jihadist internet forums to present would-be jihadis with safe routes to infiltrate into Iraq (al-ekhlaas.net, January 28). Maps, orthophotos and other materials are included on the website. The orthophotos are aerial photographs that have had normal photographic distortions removed while being geometrically corrected for use as highly accurate maps.
On January 28, a jihadist internet forum member nicknamed “al-Battar al-Salafi” posted a set of instructions entitled: “Urgent: How to migrate to Iraq and reach al-Qaim and Mosul provinces; Migration road.” The posting pointed to safe routes for entering Iraq illegally from Syria. The roads are not safe for those on the security services’ watch lists, notes al-Salafi, before giving detailed descriptions of the following infiltration routes:
• First route: For those with ample funds, it is preferable to fly to Syria through Lebanon and travel by bus to the Syrian-Iraqi border city of al-Bukamal through the city of Hims. From al-Bukamal, the infiltrator should walk at night along the Euphrates River to the Iraqi city of al-Qaim, 18 kilometers from al-Bukamal. Upon arrival, the jihadi must proceed to the nearest mosque in Mosul. Without entering, the jihadi should watch for men from the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
• Second route: A less secure route is through the Syrian city of Qamishli to al-Yarubia, the main city on the border of Syria and Iraq. With a heavy Iranian and Syrian intelligence presence, the border city is a security choke-point the potential jihadi has to pass with extra caution, says al-Salafi. The jihadi should proceed by walking along the Tigris River until he reaches Mosul, 70 to 75 kilometers from al-Yarubia. At Mosul, the jihadi should avoid police and military personnel and report directly to the nearest mosque, for Mosul is the cradle of the Islamic State of Iraq.
• Third route: Traveling by land, the road is safer due to security slackness at the Syrian border crossings with Jordan and Lebanon. There is also the convenience of not needing to have a visa to enter Syria—Arab nationals are allowed to enter and transit Syria without entry or transit visas, provided they are properly registered in arrival and departure records. This is a cheaper route that only requires $300, as opposed to a cost of $1,000 to travel the first route. When in Syria, the jihadi should travel to the Syrian border cities mentioned earlier and proceed on foot to Iraq.
Ending his posting, al-Salafi lists the names of jihadi safe heavens in Iraq such as Rawia, a stronghold of the ISI; al-Tharthar village, where many ISI men reside; Arab al-Jubur; al-Mansuria district in Baghdad; al-Tarmia; and al-Yusufia.
For a week after al-Salafi’s original posting, other forum members made inquiries about these access routes, varying from Syrian visa requirements to the availability of desert survival manuals. Another forum participant nicknamed “Irhabi dot com,” posted a link to a very useful orthophoto of the pertinent area from Wikimapia.org. Yet another important contribution came as a critique of al-Salafi’s infiltration instructions from an Iraqi forum member nicknamed “Wilaiat Ninawa.” Ninawa affirms that anyone seeking to join jihad in Iraq has to have a local coordinator before arrival, since not all mosques in Mosul would prove welcoming. Moreover, the new arrivals might end up in mosques dominated by the Islamic Party, antagonists of the ISI. “My advice to you [is] if you don’t have coordinators in Iraq, don’t attempt to come here. I’m from the land of steadfastness and telling you your entrance is very difficult,” says Ninawa.
U.S. pressure on some neighboring countries has had a positive effect, preventing a large-scale jihadi influx into Iraq, but it would be unlike the Salafi-jihadis to abandon attempts to infiltrate the country. Furthermore, jihadis who were already in Iraq and fled the concentrated Coalition counter-terrorism campaign are expected to regroup and cross back into Iraq to get back into the fight, bringing with them jihadi novices eager to engage U.S. forces.