Want to Be an Islamic State Suicide Bomber? Get in Line.

Even in the self-declared caliphate, it’s hard to shake the yoke of nepotism.

Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA        (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)

Earning that promotion can be tough, and it can be even harder when that top job goes to the boss’s friends and family instead of the most deserving candidate. In the Islamic State, where martyrdom is the aspiration of many militants, reports are circulating that “wait lists” to become suicide bombers in Iraq are being manipulated to favor Saudi fighters over militants from other regions. Even in the self-declared caliphate, it’s hard to shake the yoke of nepotism.

The accusation of favoritism comes from Kamil Abu Sultan ad-Daghestani, a pro-Islamic State preacher from Dagestan, a region in Russia’s North Caucasus where many have gone to wage jihad in Iraq and Syria. In a recent post on the Russian language jihadi website Qonah, Kamil reiterated complaints of nepotism passed on to him by Akhmed Chatayev, also known as Akhmed al-Shishani, a senior Chechen militant in charge of the Islamic State’s Yarmouk Battalion in Syria.

"Those Saudis have got things sewn up, they won't let anyone in,” wrote Kamil, expressing concerns passed on to him by Chatayev. “They are letting their relatives go to the front of the queue using blat," a Russian word meaning connections or informal agreements.

Earning that promotion can be tough, and it can be even harder when that top job goes to the boss’s friends and family instead of the most deserving candidate. In the Islamic State, where martyrdom is the aspiration of many militants, reports are circulating that “wait lists” to become suicide bombers in Iraq are being manipulated to favor Saudi fighters over militants from other regions. Even in the self-declared caliphate, it’s hard to shake the yoke of nepotism.

The accusation of favoritism comes from Kamil Abu Sultan ad-Daghestani, a pro-Islamic State preacher from Dagestan, a region in Russia’s North Caucasus where many have gone to wage jihad in Iraq and Syria. In a recent post on the Russian language jihadi website Qonah, Kamil reiterated complaints of nepotism passed on to him by Akhmed Chatayev, also known as Akhmed al-Shishani, a senior Chechen militant in charge of the Islamic State’s Yarmouk Battalion in Syria.

“Those Saudis have got things sewn up, they won’t let anyone in,” wrote Kamil, expressing concerns passed on to him by Chatayev. “They are letting their relatives go to the front of the queue using blat,” a Russian word meaning connections or informal agreements.

In another anecdote, Kamil tells of a would-be suicide bomber who, after waiting on the list for martyrdom in Syria, moved to Iraq where there is a much shorter wait. “He went there [Iraq] because in Syria there is a very long line,” wrote Kamil. But after waiting for three months with no chance to be a suicide bomber, the young militant found that senior Islamic State members from Saudi Arabia were favoring other Saudis by putting them to the top of the list. With his opportunity to be a suicide bomber thwarted by nepotism and bureaucracy, the frustrated young militant returned to Syria where he told his story to Chatayev, who in turn passed it along to Kamil.

The fact that aspiring suicide bombers are placed on a waiting list was revealed in July 2014 by British militant Kabir Ahmed. “An emir decides who to choose. There is a waiting list. I am lobbying him to move me up,” Ahmed said in an interview aired on the BBC.

The path to becoming a suicide bomber is also illustrated in a 100-page English-language guidebook published by the Islamic State. Like any competitive process, new recruits must first pass boot camp and prove themselves on the battlefield before becoming eligible to put their name on the list of potential bombers. “Those who want to sign up to be suicide bombers have to be patient,” reads the guidebook.

But according to Kamil, the waiting list for suicide bombers is becoming so long that many militants are dying on the battlefield before getting their chance at martyrdom. Except, of course, those with the right Saudi connections.

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

More from Foreign Policy

Two unidentified military vessels off Taiwan
Two unidentified military vessels off Taiwan

Beijing’s Taiwan Aggression Has Backfired in Tokyo

Military exercises have stiffened Japanese resolve.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

How to Take Down a Tyrant

Three steps for exerting maximum economic pressure on Putin.

A Taiwanese military outpost is seen beyond anti-landing spikes along the coast in Kinmen, Taiwan, on Aug. 10.
A Taiwanese military outpost is seen beyond anti-landing spikes along the coast in Kinmen, Taiwan, on Aug. 10.

Why Doesn’t China Invade Taiwan?

Despite Beijing’s rhetoric, a full-scale invasion remains a risky endeavor—and officials think the island can be coerced into reunification.

Crosses, flowers, and photographs mark the graves of victims of the battles for Irpin and Bucha at the cemetery of Irpin, Ukraine, on May 16.
Crosses, flowers, and photographs mark the graves of victims of the battles for Irpin and Bucha at the cemetery of Irpin, Ukraine, on May 16.

Russia’s Brutal Honesty Has Destroyed the West’s Appeasers

Yet plenty of Western intellectuals and politicians still ignore what Moscow is saying loud and clear.