While mainstream media attention is laser-focused on the battle for Mosul, the Islamic State (ISIS / ISIL) has suffered its biggest defeat yet by losing Dabiq – a small town in Syria upon which ISIS’ basis its claims of prophetic legitimacy.
Ever since ISIS began dominating our TV screens, the Clarion Project has educated about the apocalyptic, prophecy-centric ideology that sets ISIS apart from other Islamist extremist groups. We reported in June 2016 that various anti-ISIS forces, unfortunately including al-Qaeda, were closing in on Dabiq.
Although all Islamists reference End-Times prophecies to varying degrees, ISIS’ claims of fulfilling specific prophecies has been one of its main growth mediums, with the capturing of Dabiq being the most emphasized.
In so doing, ISIS became dependent upon its holding of Dabiq as a life-sustaining vertebrae in its ideological spine. As we’ve explained in greater detail previously, ISIS’ claims of prophetic fulfillment required there to be a big, bloody battle with the infidel in Dabiq. That’s why Dabiq was until very recently the title of its English-language publication.
There was supposed to be a “Roman” invasion (of which they argued America to be the current incarnation) to rescue American hostages. ISIS was supposed to win, albeit after one-third of its fighters were top die and one-third flee. It was supposed to lead to the conquering of Constantinople in Turkey.
None of this happened. It didn’t even come close. The battle was over in less than 24 hours.
About 2,000 Syrian rebels from various groups, supported by Turkey on the ground and the U.S.-led aerial forces, took the area without much noise. A commander from one of the Syrian rebels groups involved, the Hamza Brigade, described “minimal resistance” as ISIS retreated to al-Bab.
The leader of the Sultan Murad group, which consists of fighters from the Turkmen minority, said, “The Daesh [ISIS] myth of their great battle in Dabiq is finished.”
Even before the fight for Dabiq began, ISIS relaunched its English Dabiq magazine as Rumiyah (Rome). This remarkably transparent admission of coming defeat will not be overlooked by ISIS supporters. It will seem as if ISIS had lost faith in its own prophetic destiny before a defense of Dabiq was even mounted. No matter what the content of Rumiyah is, its very name will be a reminder of this.
The various Syrian rebel forces operated under the loose banner of the Free Syria Army and did not include the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the Turkish-aligned Syrians are rivals.
The groups that now hold Dabiq are acting as proxies of the Islamist government of Turkey, so they can’t be expected be the pioneers of a pro-Western, modernist reformation in Islam. Reported participants include the Levant Front (“moderate” Islamists desiring Sharia governance) and Nour al-Deen al-Zinki, which is also regularly described as Islamist.
But it’s a big loss for ISIS, the group responsible for about 80 percent of the terrorism investigations in the U.S. right now. And it isn’t held by al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing either, although that could easily change as more rebel groups are attracted to the al-Qaeda affiliate after it undertook minor cosmetic changes.
The loss of Dabiq is a defeat so resounding that even the master propagandists of ISIS cannot effectively spin it. Any ISIS terrorist who has an ounce of critical thinking left (and reports of defections and coups indicate many do) must now seriously doubt whether they picked the right group for which to hold the banner of jihad.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.