ISIS Video: A Change of Tack?

Briefing Note

ISIS Video: A Change of Tack?

04 Jan 2016

A recently released ISIS video features a masked jihadi with a noticeable British accent directing threats at Britain. What does it reveal about the group after recent setbacks?

A recent video released by ISIS has gained attention for the alleged British child featured at the end, but it includes many of the facets typically associated with the group's gruesome executions. The orange jumpsuits, the kneeling captives, and masked executioners standing behind are all familiar traits of the group's videos, but what makes this video stand out is the rhetoric employed by the chief executioner. The Arabic title of the video translates to "They are the enemies, so warn them," and this 'warning' aspect plays a key role in the overall message of the video.

It begins with five captured men introducing themselves to the camera and then going on to describe their 'crimes.' Rather than an ISIS militant dominating the screen and saying what they have done, the majority of the video shows only the suspects themselves explaining exactly what they did. As with any propaganda material, there is a need to err on the side of caution with these 'confessions', which would have undoubtedly been produced under duress.

ISIS attempts to highlight the apparent futility of military action.

ISIS alleges that the men have been spying for the UK, including taking photographs and images of ISIS sites and activities in exchange for money, as well as supplying media outlets like the BBC with such material. The group only refers to the captured men as spies once; the majority of the charges are relayed by the men themselves. This detachment from the story allows ISIS to present the situation in a somewhat impartial manner, as it is built around confessions, not accusations.

The latter part of the video shows the oft-repeated setup of orange-clad prisoners kneeling before masked executioners, one of whom reads out a message addressed to British Prime Minster David Cameron. The constant reference to Britain throughout the video is not a coincidence. The video is certainly targeting a British audience, with the message to David Cameron being read in English by a militant with a noticeably British accent.

Having forged some degree of territorial control over parts of Syria and Iraq, the militant in the video refers to the Islamic State as "our country" and reiterates that it is here to stay. Moreover, it highlights the group's disdain for the British government and the British people by saying that "your citizenship is under our feet."

The video seeks to sow doubt in the minds of its British audience.

The message may address the prime minister for emphasis, but its content is aimed at all Britons, combatants and non-combatants. "O people of Britain," the speaker says, "we will continue to wage jihad, break borders and one day invade your land." This clear threat of violence is compounded as the speaker warns "your children will pay for your deeds." This notion is echoed with the closing shot of the video showing a child in military fatigues and threatening to kill the disbelievers "over there."

The video also seeks to sow doubt in the minds of its British audience. The speaker refers to British security personnel "on the minimum wage," asking "do you really think your government will care about you when you come into our hands?"

The content and tone of the video is not surprising. Despite Britain's recent extension of its airstrikes against the group to Syria, the country has been a target for the group for some time. The tone, however, seems a change of tack, from boasting of its military victories to warning against further military action. Calling members of ISIS "people who love death the way that you love life" echoes a popular refrain used by jihadi groups, a further attempt at highlighting the apparent futility of military action.

Assertions that the so-called Islamic State is here to stay, the overt dissuasion from fighting against the group, trying to present campaigns against the group as futile, and the referencing of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are all indicators of a group seeking to exploit the fears of its opponents to gain breathing space while saving face. Referring to Britain as a "small island" that is using a "handful of planes" is further evidence that ISIS is trying to present itself as formidable and undeterred in the face of increased international military action.


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