The Emni – Islamic State’s not so secret Intelligence Wing.

The Emni is Islamic States (IS) not so secret intelligence wing. IS from its inception, placed a great deal of significance on the gathering and use of intelligence. It was also responsible for the counterintelligence activities of IS. Translated into English. It means safety, trust and security. Which in their own way IS hopes to achieve by using its Emni unit to conduct intelligence operations for the group.

  1. The Emni protected the group against infiltration.
  2. Manages the organisation’s communications and
  3. Operates specialist squads of suicide bombers and assassins.

The Emni is part of the most important council within the Islamic state, The Defence, Security and Intelligence Council. Headed up by Abu Luqman. A former Syrian Intelligence Officer prior to joining IS.

1. Origins of The Emni

We can trace Emni’s origins back to 2012. This is when form Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib detainees reunited. Haji Bakr and the soon to be ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Haji Bakr was a colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s Air Defence Force.  Furthermore, we know Bakr as the architect of the intelligence organisation of IS. Structuring the Emni along to same lines as the Baath party intelligence apparatus in Iraq.

1.1. Haji Bakr: the beginning of Emni

Haji Bakr was sent to Syria by al-Baghdadi in 2012 to capture as much territory as possible and plot out the future of the burgeoning Islamic State. Consequently, a Syrian rebel group killed Haji Bakr in 2014. However, he was still able to pass his deep knowledge of intelligence operations to the budding Islamic State. (source). The documents captured after his death laid out the structure of what would become the omnipresent Emni.

Under the guidance of Haji Bakr the group recruited local spies in Syria under the auspices of a dawa or Islamic teaching centres. Using a dawa, they could win the hearts recruit locals that provided intelligence on local leaders and power structures.

1.2. Iraqi influence

Following the instruction of Haji Bakr IS took over vast swathes of Syria often without bloodshed. The blueprint used was one that we have seen before in Iraq under the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein. With individuals spying on each other, they could ensure that those within the Islamic State lived in a state of fear. This was the origins of the Islamic State’s Emni. The not-so-secret intelligence wing of the Salafist group. (source)

1.3. From Bakr to Luqman

If Haji Bakr oversaw the genesis of the Emni then we can see Abu Luqman as man who cemented the Emni as the force it has become. Like Bakr, Luqman spent time in captivity and was a former member of Syrian intelligence.

Luqman’s rise within the Islamic state is down to two events. First, he was able to recruit a large number of new fighters for ISIS through tribal connections. Second, he led a large number of former al-Nusra fighters to defeat members of the Free Syrian Army. A hated enemy of IS.

After IS took over Raqqa in April 2013 Abu Luqman became a prominent figure. He became Wali of Raqqa and ran the Emni from official offices within the city. Under Luqman the Emni evolved. Like Bakr before him, Luqman’s service in the Syrian regime would influence the direction of the Emni.

In 2017, Luqman become the general director of the Emni in both Syrian and Iraq. This gave him power over the Emni in both countries. He was now the highest ranking Emni official in IS. As IS was on the back foot in both Syria and Iraq in 2017 Luqman travelled to Libya. He possibly travelled there to set up another office of the Emni. In this sense Luqman was futureproofing the Emni. Consequently, setting up an Emni office in Libya, given the smuggling routes to the West would increase the Emni’s ability to orchestrate attacks in Europe. (source)

2. The Structure of Islamic State Emni – Secret Service

The Emni – structure (source)

As set out by Haji Bakr in the documents collected after his death, the Emni operated with a centralised structure. As seen there is a central ‘commander’ or emir that is in charge of the group, with other emirs to monitor the other emirs. Which gave even the highest ranked members of IS the feeling that they, too, were being watched at every moment. (Source)

The structure and omnipresence of the Emni is much like that of the Stasi in East Germany. They have people everywhere in all layers in society. Spying not only on civilians but on members of IS and members of the Emni to ensure the group’s survival and to suppress descent at all levels. This was not just an Islamic State, but an Intelligence State. (source)

3. Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

The Emni had a vast array of responsibilities. Since it is in charge of all things ‘security’ and intelligence related to IS. Below is a list of their responsibilities, but this is not exhaustive.

  1. Collecting intelligence for battles in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere;
  2. Gathering intelligence about everyone who lives inside the “Islamic State”;
  3. Studying new recruits to the group, especially those that appear without “referrals”;
  4. Gathering and analysing intelligence about possible attacks against IS;
  5. Spreading ISIS propaganda and fear inside IS and globally, beyond its own borders;
  6. Recruiting and deploying foreign fighters for intelligence gathering and attacks in their home countries;
  7. Monitoring ISIS’s logistical support operations inside Turkey to ensure that there are no leaks or interruptions;
  8. Any kind of critical “dirty job” including organizing slave, oil, wheat and antiquities; trade, as well as assassinations, kidnappings, and bartering for hostages.


We can compare many of the TTPs used by the Emni to that of the authoritarian regime that operated under Saddam Hussein and Assad in Syria. After all, the Emni was borne out of the work of a former Iraqi intelligence chief and most recently headed by a former Syrian Intelligence officer.

3.1. Emni ORBAT Intelligence

The Emni were adept at using spies to survey territory they wish to conquer in Iraq, often sending spies in before the battle to get detailed ORBAT intelligence, giving them the upper hand in any ensuing conflict. They also utilised informant networks to gather information on the social structures of villages and towns before conquering them. Once, IS took over their modus operandi would be to root out those already tagged as potential dissident and assassinate them (source). These informants were also placed in territory that was already controlled by IS, again creating the feeling of fear among the population.

They were also responsible for vetting new foreign fighters, those would be IS militants. This was to root out any potential foreign spies who would act to harm the group. IS would hold its new recruits for up to a week whilst their stories we vetted and credentials analysed. (source)

3.2. Emni Propaganda

The Emni, as shown above, handled the control and use of propaganda for IS. We can describe IS as being a propaganda machine. Their use of white propaganda is overt; they want those viewing it to know who produced it. The propaganda used by IS, serves a multiple number of functions. It aims to drive recruitment, to increase funding and to drive fear into the hearts and minds of its enemies. The release of video of beheadings of westerners and the successful attacks in Paris, et al. cast into their enemies this fear.

Their sophisticated media use is akin to that of a marketing agency on 5th Avenue. IS aim it at a wide and diverse audience, to reach as many people as possible. (source) (source)

3.3. Emni COMINT

The Emni conducted communications intelligence within the area controlled by IS. So it could monitor and control internet use. Only allowing it to be used in closely watched internet cafes. Then looking at the internet searches of those who had visited. Another tactic used by IS ‘police’ would be to be spot check mobile phones of those living under its control. These tactics, again, would have given the feeling of an omnipresent organisation who had control over every aspect of life.

4. External operations of the Emni

The Emni was also heavily involved with the export of IS terror around the world. They did this by identifying those who they believed would be able to successfully carry out attacks around the globe. Those selected for such missions by the Emni were selected based on several criteria. This included nationality and language.

They then divided the recruits into small groups, often not meeting until just before departing to the target country. Its specially selected recruits were involved in the attacks in Paris, Tunisia and Brussels. ‘Clean men’ those with no previous ties to terrorist groups, carried out these attacks (source)

4.1. Paris attacks 2015

Interviews conducted with those that left or defected from IS have shown that the Emni had a direct role in the recruiting of those that carried out the deadly Paris attacks in 2015. Those same interviews also highlighted the how the Emni’s underground networks in Europe act as a junction between the central command and recruiting those willing to carry out suicide attacks. (source)

4.2. Brussel Bombings

Evidence also suggests that it was Emni trained operatives that were involved in the planning of not just the Paris attacks but also the building of the bomb that was used in the Brussels airport and metro attack.

The Emni also mentored the perpetrators of the Jewish Museum shooting in Brussels and the Thalys train attack in France in 2015. (source)

4.3. Brussels Jewish Museum shooting

The attack on the Jewish Museum in May 2014 claimed the lives of 4 people. The 82 second shooting spree was conducted by Mehdi Nemmouche. He trained in Syria; the Emni mentored him in how to evade detection before carrying out an attack.

4.4. The Thalys train attack

Although an unsuccessful attack the Thalys train attack that took place in August 2015 demonstrates the reach of the Emni. This attacked was a well-planned out and well-resourced operation. The police found the attacker, Ayoub El-Khazzani with 270 rounds of ammunition, a pistol and assault rifle. This level of preparedness is indicative of Emni operations and training. (source)

4.5. The Emni connection

These attacks highlight the scope and reach that the Emni enjoyed in the years between 2012 and 2017. Able to plan and execute successful attacks against their enemies in the West. These attacks were orchestrated by Emni trained terrorist Abdelhamin Abaaoud. A man who had links to all of the attackers of the spate of operations conducted by IS in the period. (source)   

5. Summary

From its inception, the Emni was strongly influenced by former Iraqi and Syrian intelligence officers, especially Haji Bakr and Abu Luqman. The architects of the IS intelligence infrastructure. They created a fear amongst the civilian populations who lived within the Islamic State territories and IS members themselves. Mirroring the secret police of dictatorships past and present. They could recruit and train operatives who successfully carried out attacks against enemies of IS, and successfully use propaganda to drive recruitment and strike fear into the hearts and mind of their enemies. Following IS defeat in 2019 it is highly likely that the Emni will focus is operations on new territories and domains. Without doubt their tentacles will reach into the internet to spread propaganda and recruit new members.

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