BERLIN – Germany's federal criminal police said Thursday they are in possession of files containing personal data on members of the extremist Islamic State group and believe them to be authentic.
The announcement came after Britain's Sky News reported it had obtained 22,000 Islamic State files on the border with Turkey and Syria, files that detail ISIS fighters' real names, where they were from, telephone numbers, and even names of those who sponsored and recruited the militants.
Though the significance of these files is yet to be gauged, they could be the largest yet treasure trove of documents found on ISIS and the most significant leak on its past and present fighters and operations across the Mideast.
They could also shape the campaign against the extremist group, which emerged from Al Qaeda in Iraq. The cache, exposing its members and their families, could undermine its future ability to recruit and inspire would-be members.
US Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, said the information could help the coalition fight the Islamic State group by aiding in a crack-down on ISIS's foreign fighter networks.
He said that while he was not able to verify the documents, he hoped that "if there is a media outlet that has these names and numbers, I hope they publish them." This would help bring attention to the problem of foreign fighters joining ISIS, and would help law enforcement crack down on the problem, he said.
"This would allow the law enforcement apparatus across the world to become much more engaged and begin to help do what we can to stem this flow of foreign fighters — so we're hopeful that its accurate and if so we certainly plan to do everything we can to help," he said.
Sky said the files were passed on to them on a memory stick stolen from the head of Islamic State's internal security police by a former fighter who had grown disillusioned with the group.
Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported it had also obtained "dozens" of similar files on the Turkey-Syria border, where it said Islamic State files and videos were widely available from anti-ISIS Kurdish fighters and also members of the Islamic State group itself.
A spokeswoman for Germany's Bundeskriminalamt, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter with the media, said her agency is currently evaluating the files. She declined to say where the agency obtained the files, how many documents are involved and how long it has had them.
Sky reported that the documents are a collection of forms filled out by recruits when they were inducted into the Islamic State. The forms have 23 questions and include nationals from at least 51 countries, Sky reported.
Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the dpa news agency that the material would give authorities a better chance to track down and prosecute people who had fought with ISIS.
The material also seems to have the potential to help authorities crack recruitment networks in Europe and elsewhere that have been sending fighters to join the Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq and declared a self-styled caliphate on the territory under its control.
There are no clear estimates of how many Islamic State fighters there are in Iraq and Syria, but the numbers range between 30,000 and 100,000. A CIA assessment in late 2014 put the number of ISIS fighters at around 31,500.