“Turn the disbelievers’ night into day, bring destruction to their homes, make their blood flow like rivers, for therein you will find the richest share of reward and means for achieving great success, attaining the companionship of those upon whom Allah has bestowed favor: the prophets, the truthful, the martyrs, and the righteous.”
Abu Bakr Al-Husayni Al-Baghdadi
Audio release through Al Furqan Media Agency, November 02nd, 2016
As the coalition forces started to enter the Iraqi city of Mosul, many have seen Al-Baghdadi’s speech as desperate plea, exhorting his fighters to stand and fight for the Caliphate until their dying breath while he was cowardly running away from the fray.
But the truth may very well require a more in-depth analysis though. As we monitor hundreds of protected channels, correlate trends and analyze communication patterns at Global Intelligence Insight, for some months the idea of a “new” type of jihad – in terms of methodology – has been gaining significant strength and popularity among online jihadists, who seem increasingly engaged and eager to learn and play an active role in it. And this idea is set on two main pillars:
After losing the cities of Fallujah, Manbij and Dabiq, and the eventual fall of Mosul and Raqqah – it’s just a matter of when – the self-proclaimed Islamic State is facing severe difficulties in recruiting, smuggling and funding its operations and resistance. Plus, precise chirurgical drone strikes have been taking down important figures one by one, like the instigators Mohammed Al-Adnani and Al-Furqan, or even the minister of war Mohammed Al-Shishani, among many others of the group’s core. Allegedly, Al-Baghdadi himself escaped from an American reaper’s hellfire as the battle for Mosul begun.
Nonetheless, even when faced with such apparent adversity, it seemed to us that the senior online pro-ISIS subjects under our monitoring grid were accepting these events as if they were already expecting them. A good example is this brief interview/chat that George Washington University’s Fellow and Researcher Amarnath Amarasingam, had with an ISIS fighter following the loss of Dabiq, posted on Twitter in mid-October:
Looking beyond the “play-it-cool & and play-it-down” attitude (and do not be surprised, they use slang terms like ‘LOL’ just as everyone else), the main idea of having a physical caliphate confined to Syria and Iraq is deeply erroneous and short-sighted. As matter of fact, they believe the caliphate lives in each mujaheed’s heart, especially of the ones spread out across the West, living under the anonymity of major European cities. Hence, the “we don’t fight for land” and “there will always be land” speech.
We have been observing this idea of a “new” non-physical caliphate growing stronger online, as the group’s fighters on the ground in both Syria and Iraq – the ones who did not defect, firmly convinced they’re fighting a holy war – know they will lose but are ready and more than willing to die fighting.
The bottom line is: Iraq and Syria can be purged of ISIS’s physical presence. But the idea of an immaterial caliphate, set on a twisted metapolitical conception of violence, spread out and festering through underground cells and lone wolves – many of them seasoned ex-fighters with tactical experience that managed to flee the conflict zones – will be much harder to tackle.
But how do they intend to proceed? Through hundreds of non-centralized online command structures, not necessarily interconnected, aiming to organize persistent but low-level attacks to soft targets in a first stage, that may gradually increase in terms of scope or degree.
Instructions on how to carry attacks with knives and/or other sharp objects in public places, US Army and US Marine Corps manuals “Close Quarter Combat”, “Kill or Get Killed” and “Military Ops in Urbanized Terrain”, kravmaga manuals, CIA manuals on how to live a double life and avoid detection, and detailed manuals on secure online comms clearly written by IT professionals were widely distributed throughout hundreds of encrypted, protected and/or invite-only pro-ISIS communication platforms. All of this aiming to train lone wolves and sleeper cells to be immediately activated upon request.
The following stage of this urban warfare is planned to be focused on the use of homemade bombs (pressure cooker bomb, trapdoor bomb, magnetic car-bomb and parcel bomb), suicide drones rigged with explosives and DIY fire weapons in crowded areas. We have also noticed a growing investment of resources in how these instructions and incitements are being released: firstly, through somewhat dense manuals, then in pro-ISIS media agencies’ magazines like Dabiq, Inspire, Rumiyah or Al-Risalah using easy-to-read flowcharts, and more recently through videos with gore executions.
The dedication spent on how well the message is convened and how effectively it will be assimilated by who reads/sees it, is also a clear sign of their commitment. We can see it also on the languages used by their propaganda machine. Some examples:
As we have been explaining in every report we have been delivering to our clients, one of the most direct and clear indicators of the spread of radicalization in a certain country, is not only the language(s) used in propaganda, or in which language sleeper cells or lone wolves communicate. Instead, it’s the quality of the languages used. The translation of the latest Dabiq to native Finnish is a perfect example of this, besides the common use of native Arabic, French, English, Italian, German and Urdu – these are always a given.
While everyone has their eyes set on the physical caliphate in Syria and Iraq, with western and eastern media clashing every day, each side constantly trying to sell us their story on what is happening in Aleppo, other pieces of this intricate chess table are moving.
The idea of having a new underground spread-out worldwide caliphate of terror – a new model of caliphate – is already being prepared, and it has now become the focus for pro-ISIS online instigators and preachers, and a growing general trend among hundreds of encrypted communication channels under our surveillance.
NOTE: This brief article is part of a full intelligence report developed by Global Intelligence Insight, available under subscription. Contact us to access our database.
About the Author Paolo Cardoso, Senior Intelligence Analyst – Global Intelligence Insight
(Security Affairs – Terrorism, Intelligence, ISIS, Khilafah)