European hopefuls seeking to join the ranks of Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria are finding themselves subject to stricter entry requirements, as the extremist group fears infiltration by Western intelligence agencies, according to a report by pan-Arabic newspaper "Asharq Alawsat."
Western recruits can no longer just show up at the Syrian border and join IS, according to the report. Instead, they need to present proof of identity and a character reference from "at least one sheikh known to [Islamic State] leadership," Islamist leaders in London told Asharq Alawsat.
According to the report, British jihadis already in Syria are providing character references for new recruits.
Outside the United Kingdom, another group, Sharia4Belgium (currently on trial in Belgium on charges of enlisting young men to fight in Syria) is providing endorsements for Islamic State recruits.
For those without references, IS will run security checks, the report said.
Apart from character references and security checks, IS's new regulations include detailed instructions on what potential recruits should wear (recruits should not dress "too conservatively") and carry with them (recruits should avoid carrying "religious books"), and how they should behave to avoid detection during the journey to Syria.
The new requirements come as Britain and other Western European countries have stepped up counterterrorism measures in a bid to prevent their nationals from traveling to Syria to fight with extremist groups.
Several hundred British nationals are suspected to be fighting in Syria, many with Islamic State.
A British militant is suspected of carrying out the brutal murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as British aid worker Alan Henning. The most recent British jihadi to hit the headlines was Kabir Ahmed, a 32-year-old father of two from Derby, who is understood to be responsible for a suicide truck bombing in the Iraqi town of Baiji on November 7.
Though "Asharq Alawsat's" sources say that IS has tightened up its recruitment methods for Western jihadis, some of the requirements mentioned in the report remain the same as previously. Recruits, for example, are asked not to inform their friends and family members before traveling. These instructions were passed on informally before now, by militants already in Syria via sites like Ask.fm.
Western militants in Islamic State are still using such methods to advise potential recruits, but refer to some of the new requirements demanded by IS.
One British Islamic State militant, who calls himself Abu Fariss, answers questions from potential new recruits via his Ask.fm account.
New recruits should bring "warm clothes, good boots, gloves etc" to Syria, he advises.
Telling Your Parents
Abu Fariss also brings up the issue of IS's new regulations of character references for new recruits.
"Aki [brother], I would like to migrate to [IS], will you be my tazkiya [character reference]," he is asked.
"I won't be your tazkiya, however I can help bring you in and [IS] will sort you out. Giving tazkiya is a very big thing," Abu Fariss replies.
While Abu Fariss answers some questions openly, when more sensitive issues are raised he asks the potential recruits to contact him via the Kik chat service, where he can chat with them privately.
One question that was referred for private chat concerned how a potential recruit should deal with his parents' reaction if he joins an extremist group in Syria.
"I am scared. I knw my pqrents will be in deep pain and sorrow wht should i do," the potential recruit asked.
Abu Fariss is happy to talk openly about his own family's reactions, however.
"Some understand, some think what I'm doing is wrong but support my intention...some think I'n completely misguided. You cant always please everyone, so why not please the one worthy of it, Allah," he wrote on November 1.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk