A mysterious jihadist who left her home in Canada in late November to join ISIS has toured the caliphate like a VIP, appearing in key locations throughout Syria and Iraq and prompting intel analysts to wonder what is behind her seemingly elevated status.
Little is known about the woman who calls herself "Lama Sharif al-Shammari" on Twitter and who terrorism experts simply call “L.A.” They believe she left Canada some time after Nov. 23 to join Islamic State, arrived on Dec. 8 and was in Syria as recently as Tuesday. Analysts believe she may be a Sunni Muslim of Saudi descent.
"We have never seen someone move about this rapidly."
- Veryan Khan, of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium
But what sets "L.A." apart from thousandsof radicalized foreigners who have flocked from North America and Europe to the terrorist army's killing fields is that her Twitter account shows she has been to virtually every corner of Islamic State's bloody realm within a three-week period, according to analysts. They believe her whirlwind itinerary indicates she is somehow significant and has risen inexplicably through the ranks.
"What is really surprising is that in a very short period of time, L.A. appears to have taken an extremely active role with ISIS," said Veryan Khan, of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), a Florida-based global research firm specializing in political violence and terrorism.
Government and private intelligence agencies closely monitor social media accounts of known jihadists, not only for the substance of their chatter, but also for its origin. Khan said the woman known as L.A. has sent Tweets applauding Islamic State atrocities from "virtually every major city that ISIS controls.”
“We have never seen someone move about this rapidly," Khan said. "What makes it even more unusual is that she is newly traveled to Islamic State. Having only been there since Dec. 8, it is odd that she would become so active so quickly once arriving,” said Khan.
Intel analysts want to know more about her, and what is responsible for her lofty status in the world’s biggest terror army. Hundreds of women are among the radical Islamists who have traveled to join Islamic State, but have so far served primarily in supportive roles or as brides, according to experts.
None are known to belong to self-professed "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's inner circle, and none have appeared in the videos in which ISIS fighters have executed captives or issued threats to the West.
Khan believes this makes L.A.'s movements even more significant.
“Based on L.A.’slocations and congruent battles in these locations, it is been assumed that she is conducting, at least on some level, surveillance for the Islamic State,” Khan said.
L.A. – or “Toronto Jane” as she has also been dubbed by Khan’s group - has been to at least five cities within the vast territory controlled by Islamic State, leaving tracks in strongholds like Raqqa, Syria, as well as appearing in Kobani, where the terror group fought its most ferocious battles with Kurdish forces supported by U.S. airstrikes. She has also turned up in the Syrian cities of Dier ez Zur and Aleppo and in Mosul, Iraq.
“It is not merely the amount and location, but also the time frame — she has been very active in what essentially adds up to three weeks,” Khan said.
Tweets sent by L.A. reveal a committed radical enthusiastically promoting Islamic State's signature atrocity - beheadings. While FoxNews.com will not link to L.A.’s Twitter feed, her banner is an image of a severed head, taken from an infamous ISIS propaganda video in which an Islamic State leader orchestrates an unprecedented simultaneous beheadings of 22 people.
“Though we have seen this trend of using the images of the foreign fighters of this video as avatars on Twitter, it is pretty bold to feature the severed head,” Khan said.
L.A. has posted 131 tweets, all in Arabic, to her 145 followers, according to her Twitter page. Her most recenttweet, from Syria, came on Jan. 23, the day Saudi monarch King Abdullah died.
"Fill the world with the noise of his news, like he filled the land of 'Al-Haramain' (Saudi Arabia) with the bases of the American Military invader," read the tweet, according to a translation provided for FoxNews.com by Craig Smith,chief investigator withBrightStar Investigations. "Write him (King Abdullah) as many laments as are his treasons."
Based on an analysis of her tweets, Smith believes L.A. is aSaudi Arabian whose family is from the Al-Shamry tribe, and that she harbors "extreme hatred" for the Saudi royal family for allowing the U.S. military on Saudi soil during the Iraq War.
Her posts were first noted by the Ontario-based intelligence research company iBRABO, which worked with TRAC while monitoring her cell phone location matching it up with corresponding tweets. The firm claims it has pinpointed her recent presence in Kobani and Mosul down to specific homes.
“She had interactions with key players known in the region," Khan said. "Plus there is no way to fake the location services pinging from the actual phone.If you look at her locations outside of Kobani and Mosul — they were all strongholds we can pinpoint down to the actual house on the street.”
Geo-mapping the locations of people has been around for a number of years, said Chris Roberts, founder of One World Labs, an organization that specializes in cyber security and threat intelligence.
“Most people on the planet don’t seem to realize they are being tracked by several applications on their phone,” Roberts said, adding that Twitter development has a “geo tag” that uses two pieces of data, the “reference” to the user’s location, which can be set, and the latitude/longitude code from the phone’s triangulation capabilities.
The terrorist group has been active on social media, using it to issue threats and post videos of its bloody handiwork, but top ISIS brass apparently realizes that they can be tracked through tweets.
Al-Baghdadi and Islamic State spokesman Mohammad al-Adnani issued a statement earlier this week about unauthorized messages from within their organization in which they said neither has a personal account.
“The Caliph Abu Baker Al Baghdadi and Shaykh Abu Mohammad al-Adnani al-Shami do not have accounts on social media,” read a translation obtained by Fox News.
But social media is a powerful recruitment tool for Islamic State, and sick messages and images sent by devoted adherents like L.A. help swell its ranks.
According to Canadian media reports, the Canadian Security Intelligence Services has documented 130 to 145 citizens who allegedly left Canada to participate in terrorist activities, including 30 fighting with terrorist organizations in Syria.
About 80 returned to the country, the agency reported, allegedly for terrorism-related purposes. The government has opened investigations into another 90 citizens with suspected extremists ties.
The Canadian government also is working to stop recruitment of its citizens by revoking citizenship and passports of extremists.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed new legislation last week that would crack down on homegrown terrorism, including making it a crime to promote terrorism online.
Speaking to a group at Richmond Hill, he said last week: “Violent jihadism is not a human right. It is an act of war, and our government's new legislation fully understands that difference."
According to Ryan Mauro, national security analyst for the Clarion Project, L.A.'s new prominence could even help Islamic State lure more women to Syria and Iraq, he said.
“These men are interested in having ‘wives’ come to the so-called caliphate to live with them,” Mauro said.
He said promotion of women like L.A. could be a deliberate effort by Islamic State to change its image.
“Islamic State wants to redefine feminism by characterizing Western society as oppressive towards women," he said. "They choose to highlight women to show that their ideology treats women fairly as equals in jihad.”
Malia Zimmerman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Malia Zimmerman is an award-winning investigative reporter focusing on crime, homeland security, illegal immigration crime, terrorism and political corruption. Follow her on twitter at @MaliaMZimmerman