Militants behind the jihadist advance in Iraq launched a fresh attempt to attract foreign recruits on Thursday with a polished video featuring British fighters urging their compatriots to join them.
The film posted by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which showed five men claiming to be British and Australian jihadis calling for western Muslims to leave for Syria and Iraq, was part of a co-ordinated social media campaign launched by the extremist group to capitalise on its territorial gains.
In a sign of the growing sophistication of its propaganda operation, ISIS said it was aiming to get one billion Muslims to post messages of support for a hardline Islamist state on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
The public relations operation followed a warning this week from Prime Minister David Cameron that ISIS was also planning attacks in Britain. According to Kurdish intelligence sources in Iraq, up to 450 British nationals have joined ISIS in Iraq.
Mr Cameron said on Friday: “We should recognise the danger to Britain of this situation where you have got Islamist extremists and terrorists in control of part of Iraq.”
The 13-minute video, entitled “There is no life without jihad”, showed a group of foreign ISIS recruits - including three claimed Britons - explaining their motivation for travelling to Iraq and Syria and seeking to persuade British Muslims to give up “the fat job…. the big car” to follow them.
Intercut with images of groups of fighters socialising together and set to a soundtrack of Koranic singing, the film eschews the imagery of atrocities committed by ISIS fighters used in other propaganda films and presents instead a call to leave behind the west and join a “purist” Islamic warrior state.
One apparently British fighter, speaking with an educated English accent and named as “Abu Muthanna al Yemeni - from Britain”, named Bangladesh, Cambodia, Australia and the UK as sources for ISIS recruits and said his group was ready to fight in Iraq.
Quoting from the Koran, he claimed ISIS fighters were able to enter “Jordan and Lebanon with no problems” and had set their sights on reconquering “Muslim” lands in Israel and “Al Andalus” - Spain.
Another alleged Briton, named as “Abu Bara al Hindi”, who wore sunglasses in an apparent attempt to disguise his identity, seeks to appeal to persuade westernised Muslims that “jihad” represents fulfillment.
Sat alongside other speakers in a sunny glade, the man said: “Are you willing to sacrifice the fat job you’ve got? The big car you’ve got? The family you have? Are you willing to sacrifice this for the sake of Allah? Definitely, if you sacrifice for Allah, Allah will give you 700 times more than this.”
He added: “The cure for depression is jihad… Feel the honour we are feeling, feel the happiness we are feeling.”
Professionally produced with the badge of ISIS’s in-house “Al Hayat Media Center”, the video represents a growing confidence in the senior ISIS ranks following its advances across a Sunni-majority swathe of Iraq, according to analysts.
Charles Lister, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Doha Centre, told The Independent: “The latest gains made and catalysed by ISIS in Iraq have lent the group a massive opportunity to capitalise on their ‘front page’ status and gain an even further expanded following around the world.
“Videos like this are but one facet of an all-encompassing strategy aimed at encouraging recruitment of foreign fighters. ISIS has proved remarkably adept at managing a slick - sometimes decentralised - media operation, which always stays loyal to the group’s central objective, which is to remain and expand.”
Charlie Cooper, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, said: “This is further proof that ISIS is able to run a very, very sophisticated propaganda operation. What is interesting with this video is the different tone to push the idea of itself as a brotherhood and away from the idea of victimhood. If you are a young Muslim, perhaps slightly lost in the world and you come into contact with this type of material, they know what effect it can have.”
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