“ISIS was looking for scientists,” said Ahmed, a 36-year-old follower of the so-called Islamic State who holds a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry and drug design. And Ahmed was looking for a chance to put his scientific knowledge to use.
This would not be theoretical research. ISIS and al Qaeda before it have been working since at least the 1990s to obtain biological and chemical weapons. But as with many gruesome enterprises, ISIS has been more methodical than its predecessors and competitors.
We also know that ISIS, through its global social media and internet recruiting, managed to create a corps of scientists interacting in person and on dark web forums to support the creation of a WMD arsenal, and Ahmed, whose name has been changed here, was part of the team. We interviewed him last month along with other ISIS prisoners being held in the Iraqi capital.
At the height of its power four years ago, ISIS’ worldwide recruiting effort offered top dollar to equip labs and support scientists to an extent much greater than anything Ahmed had been offered in Iraq, which basically was nothing.
“I knew I could synthesize the biological and chemical weapons I researched on the web,” he told us. “I just needed the supplies and a well-equipped lab.”
U.S. coalition and Iraqi forces have recently announced the discovery of an installation in Mosul where ISIS was indeed working on such weapons, and Ahmed says he was involved in that same lab’s operations