Islamic State’s brutal videos send message to friend and foe alike

07/31/2014 5:47 PM

07/31/2014 6:04 PM

The Islamic State, the radical Islamist group that now controls large swaths of eastern Syria and northern and central Iraq, posted another slickly produced video online this week that warns its religious and political rivals that they face brutal torture and execution if captured.

But the 36-minute film, “On the Path of the Prophets,” does much more than that, analysts said, and shows that the Islamic State has a remarkably sophisticated understanding of messaging that makes it clear that the group is probably the most tactically and strategically adept terrorist organization the world has ever seen.

The overall impression that analysts draw from the film is that far from being just a group of psychotic killers, the Islamic State’s leaders have thought out carefully how to harness the group’s brutality to spread its influence. The group’s targets aren’t valuable just militarily but also on a number of other levels that underscore the Islamic State’s communications goals.

“Executing several hundred men is one thing,” said Charles Lister, an expert on jihadi groups at the Brooking Institution’s center in Doha, Qatar, referring to one of the scenes that unfold in the video. “But to purposely film it in high quality and release it precisely at the end (of the holy month of Ramadan) . . . is a very purposeful message.”

“Not only is such a message directed towards its direct enemies _ the Shiite, Alawite, and Syrian and Iraqi armies _ but it also intimidates competitors and rivals towards submission and pledging of loyalty,” he said.

Such pragmatism in selecting targets _ combining the practical with the spectacular _ adds to the group’s reputation for ruthlessness toward friend and foe alike. The videos also help recruit adherents, despite the brutal nature of what they depict.

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