To Catch a Terrorist

As a terrorist organization, ISIS exploited the conflict in Syria and sectarian tensions in Iraq to seize control of territory.

The U.S. Intelligence Community focused on gathering information on senior ISIS members, including a man known as Hajji Iman, to gain insight into ISIS’s plans, prevent terrorist attacks, and retake terrorist-controlled territory.

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During Hajji Iman’s tenure as a senior ISIS leader, ISIS issued multiple public calls for attacks against U.S. and Western interests around the world. ISIS members and sympathizers responded by planning or conducting numerous attacks.

I. Rising to the Top


Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, the man who would later be known as Hajji Iman, was an Islamic cleric and a high school teacher living in Northern Iraq.

Hajji Iman joined Al-Qaeda in 2004. He quickly rose through the ranks, working with Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and becoming Al-Qaeda’s liaison for operations with Pakistan. After a brief time in prison in Iraq, Hajji Iman joined ISIS as a senior leader in 2012. By 2015, Hajji Iman acted as the ISIS Minister of Finance and coordinated planning with ISIS fighters across Syria and Iraq. His central role in ISIS operations made his capture a high priority for the Intelligence Community.

Haji Iman

NAME: Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, a.k.a. Hajji Iman
DATE OF BIRTH: 1957 (Possibly 1959)
PLACE OF BIRTH: Mosul, Ninawa Province, Iraq

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II. Tracking Down Hajji Iman

In 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Hajji Iman as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” As part of this designation, the U.S. Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on Hajji Iman, froze his assets under U.S. jurisdiction, and prohibited U.S. persons from doing business with him. In 2015, the State Department also offered a $7 million reward for any information leading to the capture of Hajji Iman.

During this time, the National Security Agency was gathering intelligence about Hajji Iman’s activities, whereabouts, and associates.

The NSA, along with its IC partners, spent over two years looking for Hajji Iman. Based in large part on information collected under Section 702, the NSA developed a robust body of knowledge concerning Hajji Iman's personal network and produced intelligence on his associates that led to identifying their location.

Eventually, the NSA and its IC partners were able to consolidate their intelligence, including Section 702 collection, to identify the reclusive Hajji Iman and track his movements.

FISA Section 702

What is Section 702?

Section 702 is a key provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that permits the government to conduct targeted surveillance of foreign persons located outside the United States, with the compelled assistance of electronic communication service providers, to acquire foreign intelligence information.

The government uses the information collected under Section 702 to protect the United States and its allies from hostile foreign adversaries, including terrorists, proliferators, and spies, and to inform cybersecurity efforts.

Who Can the IC Target Under Section 702?

The IC can target non-U.S. persons who are located abroad and are expected to possess, receive, or communicate foreign intelligence information. Section 702 does NOT allow the IC to target U.S. persons, no matter where they are located, or foreigners living in or visiting the United States.

III. Making the Move


The NSA and IC partners tracked down intelligence leads related to Hajji Iman’s associates that eventually led to the identification of Hajji Iman’s location. Analysts tracked his movements, and an operational mission was planned to attempt to apprehend him and two of his associates.

On March 24, 2016, U.S. Special Operations forces launched an operation in Syria to capture Hajji Iman. During the attempt to capture Hajji Iman, shots were fired at the U.S. forces' aircraft from Hajji Iman's location. The U.S. forces returned fire, killing Hajji Iman and the other associates.

IV. A Section 702 Success

After years of careful intelligence work, the United States successfully neutralized Hajji Iman. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which enables the Intelligence Community to gather and analyze foreign intelligence information related to foreign persons located outside the United States, was instrumental in enabling the operation.

V. Continuing the Fight

The U.S. military has continued to work with coalition partners to build on successes against ISIS. Within three months of Hajji Iman’s death, Iraqi troops had taken the Iraqi city of Fallujah back from ISIS.

Since then, U.S. forces have accomplished many missions successfully, eliminating ISIS leaders and helping Iraqi forces take back Mosul. It is a constant struggle to keep the momentum on the side of U.S. and allied forces.

The U.S. IC continues to use FISA Section 702 to gather intelligence, disrupt operations, and keep a step ahead of ISIS.


Learn More About
The Value Of FISA Section 702

Regional Stability

NSA has used collection authorized under FISA Section 702 to acquire extensive insight into the highest level decision-making of a Middle Eastern government. This reporting from Section 702 collection provided U.S. policymakers with the clearest picture of a regional conflict and, in many cases, directly informed U.S. engagement with the country. Section 702 collection provides NSA with sensitive internal policy discussions of foreign intelligence value.

Enforcing Sanctions

NSA has used collection authorized under FISA Section 702 to develop a body of knowledge regarding the proliferation of military communications equipment and sanctions evasion activity by a sanctions-restricted country. Additionally, Section 702 collection provided foreign intelligence information that was key to interdicting shipments of prohibited goods by the target country.

Protecting the Homeland

NSA FISA Section 702 collection against an email address used by an al-Qaeda courier in Pakistan resulted in the acquisition of a communication sent to that address by an unknown individual located in the United States. The message indicated that the United States-based individual was urgently seeking advice regarding how to make explosives. The NSA passed this information to the FBI. Using a National Security Letter (NSL), the FBI was able to quickly identify the individual as Najibullah Zazi. Further investigation revealed that Zazi and a group of confederates had imminent plans to detonate explosives on subway lines in Manhattan. Zazi and his co-conspirators were arrested and pled guilty or were convicted of their roles in the planned attack. As the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) found in its report, “[w]ithout the initial tip-off about Zazi and his plans, which came about by monitoring an overseas foreigner under Section 702, the subway bombing plot might have succeeded.”


Based on FISA Section 702 collection, CIA alerted a foreign partner to the presence within its borders of an al-Qaeda sympathizer. Our foreign partner investigated the individual and subsequently recruited him as a source. Since his recruitment, the individual has continued to work with the foreign partner against al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates within the country.

Uncovering Imminent Threats

CIA has used FISA Section 702 collection to uncover details, including a photograph, that enabled an African partner to arrest two ISIS-affiliated militants who had traveled from Turkey and were connected to planning a specific and immediate threat against U.S. personnel and interests. Data recovered from the arrest enabled CIA to learn additional information about ISIS and uncovered actionable intelligence on an ISIS facilitation network and ISIS attack planning.

Supporting Military Action

Last year a foreign attack resulted in the deaths of more than 20 people. Who was behind it? Had they also taught others how to carry out such malicious acts? It was NSA's Section 702 collection that revealed the identities of the overseas terrorists who were responsible. This collection provided the necessary insights and reporting on the attack that refuted the terrorist organization's denial of any involvement. Specifically, Section 702 collection provided a direct claim of responsibility from the terror group's leaders and included a list of terrorists trained for the operation. This was crucial for supporting timely U.S. and coalition force planning and operations against terrorists in the region.

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