As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continued its advance toward Baghdad this weekend, the group released a new video that shows that it has a wide reach far outside the borders of Syria and Iraq.
On Sunday, ISIS militants overtook the majority of Anbar province, giving the group control of most of Iraq’s western border. The group advanced quickly, with four towns in the province falling in just two days and Iraqi soldiers fleeing before ISIS arrived.
The fall of Anbar, Iraq’s larger province, now gives ISIS the platform to launch an assault against Baghdad. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the capitol yesterday in an effort to bolster the government of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"The future of Iraq depends on decisions made in the next few days and weeks," Kerry said after meeting with Maliki. “Our support will be intense, sustained.”
Not surprisingly, Kerry’s arrival prompted a rebuke from Iran’s top Islamic cleric. Iran, a Shiite state, has offered to assist Iraq in its fight against ISIS, a group comprised of Sunnis.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denied that the conflict was sectarian. Maybe it’s not the entire cause, but it surely reveals fractures between Iran’s political and religious elite, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had warned of the dangers posed by ISIS a day before Khamenei’s statement.
“The United States is trying to portray this as a sectarian war. But what is happening in Iraq is not a war between Shiite and Sunnis," Khamenei said in a statement.
The fast-moving developments in Iraq come as fears about ISIS’ international reach loom. On Sunday in a speech in Egypt Kerry warned that ISIS poses a threat outside of the Middle East.
“The greatest threat to all of this region … is these terrorists,” Kerry said in Cairo. “No country is safe from that kind of terror…. It’s important for us to work together [to address] the challenges of the spillover effect of terrorism and extremism,” Kerry said.
Kerry was referencing spillover in the Middle East. But his warning also applies to the United States and Europe. ISIS and other terrorist groups have been openly recruiting westerners to fight for their causes. In some cases, they’ve had success.
ISIS is the latest to recruit from the west. In a video released June 19, a British man who identifies himself as Brother Abu Muthanna al Yemeni urges Muslims from all over the world to join ISIS’ Jihad. He calls on Muslims “to answer the call of Allah and his messenger when he calls you to what gives you life…what he says gives you life is Jihad.”
A second man speaking with an Australian accent echoes al Yemeni’s call. “When it comes to Jihad, there are two types of people: those who will find every excuse to come to Jihad, and those who will find every single excuse not to come to Jihad,” he said.
ISIS’ efforts to recruit online follow in the footsteps of other terror groups. Earlier this year, al Qaeda-linked militants in Syria released a video attempting to draw Americans into the fight. Last August, al Shabaab, the al-Qaeda endorsed militants terrorizing Somalia and Kenya, released a recruiting video aimed at the west featuring three Americans who joined the group in 2007 and died fighting for it in 2009.
The video, “The Path to Paradise: From the Twin Cities to the Land of the Two Migrations,” includes footage of the three encouraging young Muslims living the West to come fight the unbelievers in Somalia, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute.
Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) is also attempting to recruit westerners to its ranks. In 2012, the FBI/Homeland Security intelligence bulletin said that AQAP was creating videos that “encourages Western-based Muslims to commit violence” “and that the “video could inspire violent extremists in the West to conduct attacks."
All of these videos share certain traits. They are targeted at disenfranchised Muslims in the west by ranting against the evils of the United States and Europe. They all say that devout Muslims have the responsibility to answer the call of Jihad. They also have better-than-average production values, suggesting competency with shooting and editing.
Finally, they appear to be effective. According to the Economist, some 3,000 foreigners are fighting for ISIS.
A larger percentage of these fighters come from Australia, a peculiarity given the country does not have a large Middle Eastern diaspora. Between 150 to 300 Australian citizens and residents have joined ISIS, according to multiple reports in the Australian media.
Two Australians recently released a video, "There Is No Life Without Jihad.” They urged Americans and Australians to join the fight to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.
“"In Australia, in America, the reasons for coming to Jihad – the reasons are plenty,” one of the men says in the video.
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