An extremist Islamist faction operating in war-torn Iraq and Syria has released a video calling upon Westerners to join its ranks, demonstrating the group’s media savvy.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria appears to be trying to capitalize on its battlefield victories in Iraq, where its fighters are threatening the U.S.-backed government.
The new video, which was uploaded to YouTube but later taken down, features members that the militants say are from Western countries, including Britain and Australia. They call upon fellow believers abroad to join them in what they refer to as the “land of Sham and Furaat” -- an archaic reference to lands encompassing modern-day Syria and Iraq.
The group, which began as an Al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, took advantage of the civil war in neighboring Syria to expand its operations there. Joined by battle-hardened veterans of other conflicts, ISIS has proved effective in recent battles.
Local residents have often chafed under ISIS rule. The militants embrace a harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law. In areas under their control, they have imposed penalties such as beheadings, crucifixion and the amputation of limbs.
In December, Syrian rebels inflicted punishing losses against ISIS fighters, restricting the group’s influence in the oil-rich eastern provinces of Hasakah, Raqqa and Dair Alzour.
Since then, ISIS has made a comeback in Iraq, blitzing through the troubled nation’s northern provinces. Iraqi police and security forces fled, despite being better equipped and outnumbering the militants. They left behind weapons caches that included armored vehicles and even a helicopter.
The slickly produced video, titled, “There is no life without jihad,” opens with a montage of five men trudging through a tranquil, leafy setting before convening in a semicircle. Their names signal origins in Yemen, Iraq, India and elsewhere.
A man identified as Abu Muthana al-Yemeni, who says he comes from Britain, says, “Allah has made this the best of his lands” and “chooses the best of people to do this.” He boasts that ISIS has the most foreign fighters among the different militant groups.
Another member of the group says these fighters “understand no borders” and have participated in battles in Syria. He says they will go to Iraq in a few days and are also willing to go to Jordan and Lebanon with the goal of “making Allah’s word the highest” in the lands they claim for an Islamic caliphate.
“No problems,” he says, “wherever our sheik sends us.”
The video was posted the same week that ISIS claimed to have slaughtered 1,700 Iraqi soldiers and posted gruesome images on social media to back up the assertion.
The photos purporting to document an attack on the Iraqi city of Tikrit began with typical images of ISIS fighters raising their black banner atop pickup trucks and sedans.
More disturbing photos followed, including ones showing rows of men lying in shallow trenches as an ISIS fighter sprays them with gunfire.
One caption boasts of the “killing of the herds … that have escaped from the military bases."
Bulos is a special correspondent.