Photo from Business Insider
Every now and then in war, one side or the other finds itself with an intelligence source they were not expecting. Such is the case with Umm Sayyaf, widow of the former ISIS chief finance point man Abu Sayyaf, who was killed in a raid by U.S. forces. She fell into American hands in May along with all of Sayyaf’s electronics that detailed the $2 million per day operation. (Source: The Daily Beast)
What Sayyaf’s widow is able to provide, though, is the sort of intelligence that just doesn’t come from computers and intercepted communications. Due to her unique position in ISIS – being married to one of the people in charge – Umm Sayyaf has intimate knowledge of life inside the caliphate including details on recruitment of fighters and women, confirmation that in the lower ranks of ISIS women are pretty much used as sex slaves and lures to get young men to give up everything and fight for the cause, and the hierarchy of women within ISIS. (More or less, a woman’s rank is equated with her husband’s. The higher up a man is, the higher up his woman is on the org chart.)
“Behind every successful man is a woman, and ISIS is no exception,” said a senior administration official who is closely following the interrogation of Umm Sayyaf.
But that doesn’t mean Umm Sayyaf was part of the ISIS’s military chain of command, nor that she was helping design ISIS’ plan to take and hold territory, the official said.
“Was she influential? Yes. Did she have a commanding role? No,” the official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “She was not calling the shots on the direction of the ISIS enterprise,” though she was helping run the women’s network within ISIS, according to her and according to the documents retrieved by U.S. special operations from the site.
While that may be the case, Umm Sayyaf’s bean spilling does confirm stories that came from lower level ISIS women who have escaped the caliphate and a report from Strategic Dialogue that followed the social media accounts of a number of self-described ISIS women. According to information available at this time, women who are captured and are put into the ISIS system are first taken to a hotel to determine their value by women higher up on the food chain. Then they are taken to the marriage bureaus to be married off in order to give the fighters all the comforts of home and produce future fighters. A network of female spies has formed to keep the lower level women in line. That women are being used as a recruiting tool for ISIS fighters is no great secret, but the details of how this is done is not widely known.
The other information U.S. officials are most enthusiastic to have is what Umm Sayyaf knows that cannot be conveyed in communications:
U.S. defense officials said she has pulled back the curtain on ISIS’ operations, giving details about the organization and the men who run it in ways that could not have been understood though ISIS’s public statements or its aggressive Twitter propaganda campaign.
Those are the pieces of information that make captives like Umm Sayyaf invaluable in a war. At this time, Mrs. Sayyaf is in American custody, and being questioned. Her fate has yet to be determined as Abu Sayyaf’s crimes against U.S. law, if any, have not been charged. If that does not come to pass, the U.S. government will have to have another plan.