WASHINGTON - Islamic State extremists are advising their supporters and recruits in the West to shave their beards and pretend to be Christians to help evade detection by intelligence services as they plot so-called "lone wolf" terror attacks.
In 58 pages of do’s and don’ts for aspiring terrorists — an online manual adapted from a handbook once issued by its extremist rivals in al-Qaida — the Islamic State group tells supporters to encrypt their emails, recommends which cellphone apps are secure, and tells them how to ensure they can blend in with a crowd of Westerners. It even includes advice on wearing aftershave.
Displaying a cross or crucifix is a good way to avoid suspicion, Islamic State suggests, but not in every case.
“It is permissible ... for you to wear a necklace showing a Christian cross,” the manual reads, but it warns converts to skip that subterfuge “if you have a Muslim name on your passport," because "that may look strange.”
Lone Wolf guidelines
That bit of advice is amusing to analysts who have read the 12-chapter manual, entitled “Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mouthpiece and Small Cells.”
Overall, the text demonstrates the Islamists' determination to plot or inspire terror attacks, however, such as the mass attacks in Paris in November that killed 130 people, or the San Bernardino massacre in December, when a husband-and-wife team in California gunned down 14 people.
“We present you this modest work for lone wolf mouthpiece and small cells of brothers who want to bring victory ..." the introduction to the manual says, noting that it was adapted from a series of 30 lectures by Abu Cabbalah al-Adam about safety and security in jihad work. He was a senior figure in the al-Qaida network and served as the terror group's intelligence chief until he was killed in a 2013 U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The IS propagandists note, “If you can avoid having a beard, wearing kameez [a long tunic], using miswak [a twig to clean teeth, as recommended by Prophet Mohammed] and having a booklet of dhikr [devotional phrases and prayers] with you, it is better,” the manual advises.
“Don’t use the oily, non-alcoholic perfume that Muslims use; instead use generic alcoholic perfume as everyone does. And if you are a man, use perfume for men [men's cologne or after-shave lotion].”
The guide urges militants to work only with each other, and tightly limit information about upcoming attacks. They also are advised to avoid mosques and Islamic gatherings to avoid attracting attention or prompting security interest.
In the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, Western intelligence agencies monitored mosques, especially those with radical reputations, and active jihadist groups have long advised supporters to stay away from them.
More recently, jihadists in the West are thought to have resorted to worshiping at unofficial mosques.
Since the Paris attacks, and subsequent security alerts in Belgium, Italy and Germany, Europe’s intelligence services and politicians have been turning their attention to hundreds of unofficial or unlicensed makeshift mosques, operating in apartments and homes in migrant-dominated areas.
Politicians in several EU countries including France and Italy, where the government estimates 800 makeshift mosques are operating, are exploring legal ways to force their closure.
Since the Paris attacks, intelligence services and police forces are demanding more powers and more personnel. They also want looser rules on data collection and an easing of regulations governing house searches and raids.
Islamic State leaders are not unaware of this, and they have been cautioning their supporters in the West to keep a low profile, especially when it comes to posting their messages or thoughts on such sites as Facebook and Twitter.
Last month, for example, a pro-IS Twitter account under the name Mustafa al-Iraqi offered this guidance to the terror group's recruits:
Rule #1: Don't ever type stuff like 'kill all kuffar' [or] 'it's permissible to kill kuffar' [a derogatory Arabic term for non-Muslims]. Don't even use the word "kill" if you're living in the West.”
Rule #2: Don’t ever talk about hijra [or hegira, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca]. If you're going to do it or know how to do it, don't even let your left hand know that you know.
Rule #3: if you live in a country that is in direct war with IS, don't use social media & talk about IS unless you have taken precautions.
Rule #4: Don't ever propagate [spread and promote news about] IS attacks. Don't show that you're happy about it if you haven't taken precautions. Report it normally.
Anxiety among security experts also is on the increase because hundreds of battle-hardened veterans of the civil war in Syria have been returning to Europe, and hundreds or even thousands more could be going home to Europe in the future.
Intelligence analysts say one of their biggest fears is the possibility of multiple, simultaneous attacks across Europe this year — “a European 9/11,” as Yves Rotenone, a former analyst for France's DIGS intelligence service, puts it.
“I know that in European capitals, particularly London, specialized services are working on this theory,” Rotenone told The Associated Press. “If the quality of the attackers improves, we will have a problem. Maybe we will say that 2015 was just a rehearsal."