True to its promise, the Islamic State terrorist group released a 55-minute video (see below) narrated by an operative in Syria with an American accent. At the same time, Al-Qaeda has released a new video featuring an American recruit named Adam Gadahn calling on Muslims to pursue regime change in Pakistan.
The Islamic State video is far above the Al-Qaeda video in terms of production. The 55-minute film, titled Flames of War, is professionally edited and highlights the Islamic State’s seizure of the Syrian Army’s 17th Division base near Raqqah.
Footage is shown from the attack and then the film shows an Islamic State fighter near the base speaking in fluent English with an American accent. Captured Syrian soldiers are shown digging their own graves. One claims that 800 of Assad’s troops were at the base and were defeated by only 20-30 Islamic State members. The captives are then shot point blank and shown gruesomely falling in the ditches.
Flames of War uses the narrator to explain the Islamic state’s version of the events, namely, that they are merely trying to establish Allah’s law on earth but are being attacked by Assad, the Americans, the West and various other foes.
The film utilizes romantic imagery carefully crafted to appeal to dissatisfied and alienated young men, replete with explosions, tanks and self-described mujahedeen [jihadist warriors] winning battles. Anti-American rhetoric provides the voice-over to stop motion and slow motion action sequences. The use of special effects such as bullet-time is interspersed with newsreel footage.
This up-to-date, sophisticated cinematography combined with the bloodthirsty message makes the film Flames of War reminiscent of Hitler propagandist Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 film, Triumph of the Will.
The film finishes with a written statement from Islamic State “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi referring to the U.S. as the “defender of the cross.” The message appears to indicate that the group believes U.S. combat forces will be sent to Iraq.
“As for the near future, you will be forced into a direct confrontation, with Allah’s permission, despite your reluctance. And the sons of Islam have prepared themselves for this day, so wait and see, for we too are also going to wait and see,” it says.
The new Al-Qaeda video with Adam Gadahn is simple and only features a lecture from him. The contrast between the two videos is a microcosm of how Al-Qaeda has faded into the background as the Islamic State has risen and is winning the next generation of jihadists.
Gadahn is from California and converted to Islam in 1995. He moved to Pakistan in 1998. He has been acting as an Al-Qaeda spokesman since 2004 and is often called “Azzam the American.”
The name of Gadahn’s newest video is, “The Pakistani Regime: The Agent of the Devil.” The Pakistani military began an offensive in North Waziristan, a terrorist stronghold, in June. A senior Pakistani Taliban commander was just killed in the fighting.
It is undated, but Gadahn mentions the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, dating it to before August 15 when al-Maliki resigned. Gadahn last appeared in a video in March confirming the death of Abu Khalid al-Suri, the official liaison between Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and terrorists in Syria.
The focus of the new Al-Qaeda video is to urge Muslims to topple the Pakistani government and attack its military and intelligence services in order to replace it with a “just and prosperous Islamic state.” He preaches that Muslims are to follow Taliban leader Mullah Omar as their emir.
Gadahn tells the audience that only overthrowing the Pakistan government can prevent invasions by India and China, the dismantling of its nuclear weapons arsenal and the dividing of the country into several states. He states:
“The fastest way to achieve regime change in Pakistan is to target American and other Western and Zionist interests on our soil and theirs and besiege their diplomatic compounds and enclaves until the occupiers go back home where they belong.”
By “occupiers,” Gadahn is referring to any foreign presence that impedes the creation of an Islamic state with sharia governance. The native Muslim population that opposes such a goal would be branded as apostates, carrying the punishment of death.
Although Al-Qaeda is urging jihadists to focus on Pakistan, Gadahn singles out the government of Saudi Arabia as the “biggest Western tool of them all.”
Gadahn’s video comes at a time of increased concern about an Al-Qaeda attack on the West because of a special unit it has established in Syria named Khorasan.
It consists of top operatives from Pakistan that were trained by Ibrahim al-Asiri, an operative from Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He is known for inventing bombs that can penetrate airport security by hiding them in underwear and ink cartridges. It was previously reported that al-Asiri had switched allegiance to the Islamic State.
CBS News reports that intelligence sources described al-Asiri as “the most innovative bomb-builder in the jihadist world.”
The Khorasan operatives were sent to Syria with the specific objective of recruiting jihadists with Western passports so they can potentially get onto airliners and blow them up.
One commonality in the two videos is that both groups preach that battlefield success is proof of Allah’s approval. The Islamic State video, for example, says “Allah helps you and grants you victory” and repeats that point several times.
“Allah is with his believers and it is he who directs the RPG grenade, punishing the enemy with the hands of the mujahadeen,” the film states.
If battlefield successes indicate Allah’s approval, then battlefield defeats must indicate Allah’s disapproval or even divine judgment. That is part of the reason for the Islamic State’s rise and Al-Qaeda’s decline.
Understanding this doctrine can help the West undermine the enemy’s support. Jihadists can spin their setbacks and tell supporters that Allah rewards patience, but it is hard to convince audiences that Allah is on your side if you repeatedly suffer defeat. If moderate Muslims reinforce that doubt, then the group’s troubles increase exponentially.
View Flames of War, Full film:
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 TV and radio programs.