ISIS has a 'war spoils' department to process slaves, captured documents show

An Iraqi Yazidi woman holds a sign in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdish territory
(Image credit: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

It isn't news that the Islamic State governs its self-proclaimed caliphate though a series of bureaucracies, but Reuters has some new details gleaned from a trove of paper documents, hard drives, thumb drives, and other electronic media captured by U.S. Special Operations Forces during a raid in Syria in May. ISIS has diwans, a rough equivalent of government ministries, that deal with securing revenue from natural resources — including oil and looted antiquities — and handling "war spoils," including slaves, the documents show. Many of the documents are fatwas, or religious rulings used as legal code in ISIS-controlled territory.

"Islamic State is invested in the statehood and Caliphate image more so than any other jihadist enterprise," says Aymenn al-Tamimi, an expert on ISIS's structure at the Middle East Forum think tank. "So a formal organization, besides being practical when you control so much contiguous territory and major cities, also reinforces the statehood image."

Among the fatwas, Reuters says, are ones dictating that female captives shouldn't be separated from their young children but also one giving ISIS fighters permission to have sex with their female slaves. Another fatwa deals with when it is acceptable for a son to steal from his father to finance his travel to wage jihad. Last week, Reuters reported on an ISIS fatwa sanctioning the harvesting of human organs. Along with the bureaucratization of ISIS spoils comes the petty infighting: One document on a battle for control of the Diwan of Natural Resources refers to one of the contenders as "a simpleton who can't manage the division."

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