Is­lamic State ups PR as base crum­bles

Ig­nores losses, touts new at­tacks

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Is­lamic State is try­ing to buck up ter­ror­ist fol­low­ers with a glow­ing re­port on killings around the globe as its home base “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria con­tin­ues to crum­ble.

In its lat­est edi­tion, the glossy on­line mag­a­zine Ru­miyah, Is­lamic State’s flag­ship me­dia pro­duc­tion, ig­nores the shrink­ing base and fo­cuses in­stead on the “mas­sacring” the ter­ror­ist group is still able to fo­ment.

“As the sol­diers of the [caliphate] con­tinue wag­ing war on the forces or kufr [non­be­liev­ers], we take a glimpse at a num­ber of re­cent op­er­a­tions con­ducted by the mu­ja­hedeen of the Is­lamic State that have suc­ceeded in ex­pand­ing the ter­ri­tory of the [caliphate] or ter­ror­iz­ing, mas­sacring and hu­mil­i­at­ing the en­e­mies of Al­lah,” the mag­a­zine states.

The pro­pa­ganda goes on to list what it calls suc­cess­ful at­tacks, in­clud­ing the Aug. 17 car­nage in Barcelona, Spain, and more ob­scure but deadly op­er­a­tions. Th­ese in­clude such tar­gets as the Tal­iban and al­lies in Afghanistan and the Philip­pine mil­i­tary.

“Th­ese op­er­a­tions are merely a se­lec­tion of the nu­mer­ous op­er­a­tions that the Is­lamic State has con­ducted on var­i­ous fronts across many re­gions over the course of the last few weeks,” says Ru­miyah.

Launched last year, the mag­a­zine is pub­lished in var­i­ous lan­guages, in­clud­ing English, French and Ger­man, with the aim of at­tract­ing re­cruits from the U.S., Europe and else­where. Ru­miyah is putting its best face on a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion that has stanched the flow of fight­ers.

Al­though Ru­miyah does not tell its read­ers, Is­lamic State is los­ing its main sell­ing point: a self-gov­ern­ing caliphate.

The one-of-a-kind ter­ror­ist army has been van­quished from its Iraqi cap­i­tal of Mo­sul and has lost the key towns of Ra­madi, Fal­lu­jah and, most re­cently, Tal Afar. In Syria, Arab and Kur­dish forces, backed by U.S. and al­lied air power and spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces, have taken a ma­jor­ity of the neigh­bor­hoods in Raqqa, Syria, Is­lamic State’s pro­claimed cap­i­tal. Rus­sian-backed Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces also have re­cap­tured large swaths of ter­ri­tory from the ter­ror­ist group.

As a re­sult, much of Is­lamic State’s cur­rent pro­pa­ganda fo­cuses on con­flicts far from its one­time Mid­dle East strong­hold.

“Lots of their pro­pa­ganda con­tent is deal­ing with Philip­pines and other ter­ri­tory and ac­tiv­ity like in Afghanistan-Pak­istan,” said Steven Stal­in­sky, who di­rects the Mid­dle East Me­dia Re­search In­sti­tute (MEMRI), which tracks ji­hadi me­dia. “Also, they are still putting out con­tent in­clud­ing life-as-usual [pieces] in the caliphate. Many of their known me­dia groups and fol­low­ers on so­cial me­dia are ex­press­ing that they are still win­ning.”

Try­ing to in­spire at­tacks

Even as it loses its grip on a swath of Iraq and Syria, Is­lamic State is still able to con­duct and in­spire mass-ca­su­alty at­tacks.

Ru­miyah ed­i­tors hope that that track record is suf­fi­cient to per­suade fol­low­ers glob­ally to keep killing.

The head­line “Mil­i­tary and Covert Op­er­a­tions” lauds the cell in Cat­alo­nia, which ex­e­cuted two deadly op­er­a­tions on a tourist-packed Barcelona street and in the nearby Span­ish town of Cam­brils.

“On [Aug. 17], two covert units com­prised of sev­eral mu­ja­hedeen set out in a co­or­di­nated man­ner and tar­geted the gath­er­ings of the crusaders in Spain,” the ar­ti­cle says. “The blessed raid re­sulted in the killings and wound­ing of at least 146 cit­i­zens of the cru­sader coali­tion.”

Span­ish of­fi­cials put the num­ber of vic­tims at a frac­tion of the num­ber claimed by the Is­lamic State pro­pa­ganda or­gan.

In Afghanistan, Ru­miyah claims that a bur­geon­ing Is­lamic State has at­tacked the Tal­iban and al­lies and re­pelled coun­teras­saults by the Afghan army. A fol­lower as­sas­si­nated a Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive, and an­other det­o­nated a ve­hi­cle bomb that killed Pak­istani sol­diers.

The mag­a­zine claims suc­cess­ful strikes in July and Au­gust in the Philip­pines, Tu­nisia, Ye­men, So­ma­lia, Egyp­tian Si­nai, Iraq, Syria, Le­banon and Rus­sia.

Ru­miyah makes du­bi­ous claims to back up its case, even list­ing an at­tack on an Iraqi army bar­racks that, rather than hap­pen­ing re­cently, oc­curred more than a year ago. Like­wise, the in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer was gunned down in 2016.

Then there is the piv­otal Iraqi town of Tal Afar, a cross­roads be­tween Mo­sul and the Syr­ian bor­der.

Ru­miyah de­picts Is­lamic State mil­i­tants wag­ing a heroic bat­tle to keep the city first seized from Iraqi gov­ern­ment con­trol in June 2014.

“The sol­diers of the [caliphate] for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive day re­pelled a cru­sader and Rafidi [caliphate re­jec­tors] cam­paign against the city of Tal Afar, whose west­ern and eastern axes wit­nessed fierce fight­ing,” the mag­a­zine said.

In re­al­ity, the city fell to the coali­tion in Au­gust.

“We are see­ing steady progress and over­whelm­ing mo­men­tum in the fight to de­feat ISIS in Iraq,” U.S. Army Col. Ryan S. Dil­lon, a com­mand spokesman in Baghdad, told re­porters on Sept. 7, us­ing an acro­nym for the Is­lamic State. “Iraqi se­cu­rity forces rolled over ISIS in de­ci­sive op­er­a­tions in Tal Afar. The [Iraqi Se­cu­rity Forces] are now quickly tran­si­tion­ing for fol­low-on op­er­a­tions in the few re­main­ing ISIS-held ar­eas in Iraq.”

He added, “We are wit­ness­ing the con­tin­ued degra­da­tion of a morally bank­rupt ter­ror­ist fight­ing force whose lead­ers are de­tach­ing more and more of­ten from their foot sol­diers.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

As the ter­ror arm con­tin­ues to lose ter­ri­tory to Iraqi and coali­tion forces, the Is­lamic States is us­ing pro­pa­ganda to boost the spir­its of ad­her­ents as well as lure new fol­low­ers with a re­port tout­ing the “mas­sacring” the ter­ror­ist group is still able to fo­ment world­wide.

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