ISIS propaganda video hints at vulnerability of terror cells: analysts

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo


An ISIS element equips a gun with a silencer in preparation to carry out assassinations against civilians. [Screenshot from video posted on the Telegram app]

In a video posted online on June 24th, the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) seeks to threaten would-be collaborators in Syria, where it is under pressure from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and international coalition.

According to terror group experts and analysts, the video came in response to SDF and coalition attempts to hunt down and eliminate ISIS sleeper cells, which these forces have been pursuing since the group's military defeat.

The video is noteworthy as it directly threatens civilians and civilian collaborators, they told Diyaruna, and in so doing reveals the mass rejection of ISIS and its presence among the civilian communities in Syria.

The video, released by ISIS's so-called "Wilayat al-Sham/al-Baraka" (Levant province/al-Hasakeh) is just over 12 minutes long and was posted on a number of social media platforms, said Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah.

Its message is largely focused on threatening civilians and warning them about the consequences of collaborating with the SDF and international coalition, he told Diyaruna.

This is done through a montage of video clips that show ISIS attacks against these forces, as well as ISIS elements executing civilians and SDF elements in the areas of al-Hasakeh, Ras al-Ain, al-Shaddadi and Deir Ezzor, he said.

ISIS is reviled

"If this shows anything, it is the societal rejection of ISIS, which ruled these areas with iron and fire and killed many of their people," al-Abdullah said.

He pointed out that the video's focus on the execution of SDF fighters who belong to local tribes stems from the fact that tribesmen are flocking to join the ranks of the SDF and affiliated forces.

The video is intended as a threat to these young men, designed to prevent them from joining any forces that are hostile to ISIS, he said.

This effort will be futile, he said, as ISIS is generally rejected by the people of these areas, where tribal leaders wield a huge influence on the decision-making process.

"Tribal leaders have rejected the group on more than one occasion," he noted, "and have instead strengthened their relations with the SDF and its allies."

Commenting on the video for Diyaruna, military expert and terror group specialist Yahya Mohammad Ali noted that the weapons and gear ISIS elements are wearing and using are different from those it has previously showcased.

He said he noticed that in more than one scene, the extremists are shown carrying or equipping guns with silencers, which indicates the group is under close surveillance in those areas, and that the cordon is tightening around them.

"ISIS remnants and sleeper cells are being battered by raids, security operations and arrests," he said, "which is why the group has resorted, in its new video, to threats and intimidation tactics."

These threats are designed to keep civilians from volunteering information about the group and reporting suspicious activities, he said.

Against principles of sharia

In the video, ISIS labels as kuffar (infidels) all those who oppose its presence, said Rajeh Sabri of the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments' Religious Guidance Directorate.

The group makes a point of using this takfir terminology as a justification for the heinous assassinations it is carrying out, he told Diyaruna.

"But this goes against the principles of sharia, as neither the group's elements nor its so-called emirs are authorised to issue takfir fatwas."

In fact, according to the highest Islamic spiritual authorities, takfir requires "deep consideration, study and review, and such rulings are not issued easily", he said, noting that no takfir fatwas have been issued in a long a time.

Sabri said the group is trying to reassemble its fighters and draw back those who fled or deserted in the wake of the blows it was dealt in Syria and Iraq.

"It also is trying to win over some weak souls who might be swayed by its propaganda videos and its self-serving distortion of religious precepts," he said.

But this will be an uphill battle for the group, he said, owing to wide-scale awareness-raising campaigns conducted across the region that showed the group's true colours for all to see.

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