Islamic State has released a Hollywood-style propaganda video seemingly meant to counter a U.S.-led military and diplomatic drive targeting the media-savvy extremist movement.
The slickly produced video, clocking in at 55 minutes, is the group's most ambitious agitprop effort to date, and again highlights Islamic State's social media prowess. It initially appeared on YouTube but was removed.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post incorrectly gave Sept. 17 as the date President Obama vowed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State. His statement was on Sept. 10.
The piece is a manifestly self-glorifying project for a group widely reviled for its cruelty and sectarian-fueled ruthlessness. Previous videos have included the beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker, and an "interview" with a captive British journalist.
The new video, titled "Flames of War" and largely in English with occasional subtitles, highlights the group's deft use of filmmaking techniques. Soft-focus shots sharpen in dramatic moments; slow-motion sequences are augmented by special effects; audio manipulation reminiscent of scenes from Hollywood blockbusters is used. Islamic chants punctuate the soundtrack.
The video opens with stock images from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, culminating in President George W. Bush's "mission accomplished" declaration, before moving on to President Obama citing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
After each clip, a narrator declares, "They lied!" adding that the fighting "had only begun." Action scenes are interspersed with religious quotations, all generally delivered in a self-righteous tone and over-the-top language.
The effort seems intended to exalt Islamic State and project an image of invulnerability and the inevitability of its triumph. Its timing suggests it is aimed at countering the U.S.-led effort to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the group, as Obama on Sept. 10 vowed to do.
One potential audience could be future recruits for Islamic State, both in the West and the Muslim world. Some reports have suggested that the U.S.-led air campaign has brought a flood of new volunteers.
Toward the end of the video, one militant with his face covered is heard speaking with what might be an American accent.
After the introduction, the film recounts in heroic and often gruesome terms Islamic State's exploits in Syria, describing its rise as a "ravenous flame [that] continued spreading, roaring in hunger for the fuel of Nusayri blood."
The word "Nusayri" is a derogatory term for Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam whose members include Syrian President Bashar Assad. Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim group, views the conflict as an epic sectarian struggle pitting Sunnis against Shiites and others condemned as infidels, a viewpoint shared by some opposition factions operating in Syria.
"Flames of War" labels Islamic State fighters "men unmatched in their fearlessness," singling out for adulation the "martyrdom seekers," presumably referring to suicide bombers, a key strategic asset. The narrator praises the "highly disciplined, fearless and patient tank hunters" seen targeting U.S.-manufactured Abrams tanks and Russian-made armor in Iraq and Syria.
While lauding its own "martyrs," the film also graphically depicts the group's brutal treatment of its adversaries.
One chilling sequence purports to show scenes from the group's recent capture of the Syrian military's Division 17 base in the eastern province of Raqqah. Militants dispatch wounded government soldiers with multiple shots to their heads fired at point-blank range. As one captured soldier slumps over, the camera lingers on his mutilated face as blood leaks from fresh wounds.
Captured Syrian government troops are forced to dig their own graves under the supervision of an English-speaking Islamic State fighter, who explains, "We are the harshest toward the infidels, and the flames of war are only beginning to intensify."
Before the prisoners are lined up, kneeling before a ditch that will be their tomb, one soldier is asked whether he has anything to say to families of fellow Syrian troops.
"I advise them to get their sons out of the army as quickly as possible ... because it's as if God has blessed Islamic State," he replies. "They captured the base in a matter of seconds."
Bulos is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.