THE centre is in the group’s Syrian stronghold, Raqqa, where technicians from around the world have been plotting to wreak chaos outside the borders of the caliphate declared by the militant Islamic State (IS) group, according to the group’s own fighters and members of the Syrian opposition who seized the film from an IS member in Turkey.
The footage, obtained by Sky News, sheds light on a research and development arm of the organisation that has long been the subject of speculation, but has not previously been confirmed.
It also confirms accounts from IS members, as well as the fears of European intelligence agencies, that the group is working to step up attacks in Europe following the coordinated bombing and shooting rampage that killed more than 130 people in Paris in November.
Among the new revelations, which IS did not intend, are efforts to make defunct surface to air missiles operational again by replacing thermal batteries - a feat that has so far been beyond the capabilities of other militant groups.
The footage does not establish that such a goal has been achieved, but it does show the technological ambitions of a group that has carved out its influence in Syria and Iraq through car bombs and suicide belts.
The thought of surface-to-air missiles falling into the hands of IS, or any other group, is considered near the top of worst-case scenarios for western and regional officials. Such weapons have been repeatedly demanded by the western-backed Syrian opposition over the past three years of the Syrian war. However the US has insisted that none be allowed into Syria, fearing that no group could safeguard them.
Among the eight hours of video, which was seized by the Free Syrian Army and passed on to Sky News, is a segment showing IS members trying to manoeuvre a driverless car. They are also shown busily strapping tape and padding to a mannequin, in the hope it will give off the same heat signature as a human when it passes by imaging scanners, which are often used near sensitive buildings.
Te militant group’s aim to carry out attacks in Europe has steadily been revealed over the past three months, via a rash of propaganda videos that clearly state intended targets. Since early last autumn, intelligence agencies have found evidence of numerous new plots in the making.
Electronic “chatter” as well as information from defectors and still serving IS members underscores that the group is now more intent than ever on exporting chaos to cities such as Rome, Paris, Brussels and London.
In particular, intelligence agencies fear IS has managed to smuggle a small number of members into Europe.
They are intended to act as sleeper cells that can train local recruits in how to carry out the attacks. There are fears that the eight hours of captured footage was to be used as a blueprint for attacks and that other members have made it through Turkey and to their destinations.
By arrangement with The Guardian
Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2016