More than 600 captured personnel files of foreigners who joined the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in Iraq tell the individual stories of Muslim extremists who made the difficult journey to Iraq—and most likely died or were captured there.

According to the paperwork, Abdallah Awlad al-Tumi met his recruiter at a large mosque in Dublin. Al-Tumi, who was 36, took a flight from Turkey to Syria before entering Iraq, carrying his marriage certificate, a knife, and $5,000 in cash. His occupation back home: “massage specialist.”

But the records, which were analyzed and released by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, also point out a trait that has been unique to al Qaeda and many of its offshoots: They are surprisingly bureaucratic. “Al Qaeda is different from any other terror group in history because it was so large and had such a sophisticated logistical structure,” says Bruce Hoffman, an expert on terrorist groups who teaches at Georgetown University. “It’s a bureaucratic pathology.”

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