I thought I was inured to the horrific excesses of violence perpetrated by Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) — especially as I am about to publish a new book on the subject — but I was unable to watch all of its latest video depicting the burning to death of Jordanian pilot Muath Al Kaseasbeh. I turned it off, shaking with revulsion … but not before I had seen the first grim moments, the pilot suspended in a cage, the masked man lighting the trail of petrol leading into the cage, the look of utter terror on the unfortunate victim’s face.
I found the actual sequencing of events and the quality of the filming highly disturbing. Every step of the execution, every detail was so carefully considered; the camera angles had been thoughtfully set up and the gruesome images were of the highest definition. The thought that a group of individuals sat down and planned this, perhaps even story-boarding it like Hollywood filmmakers, makes me shudder.
The response was harsh and immediate. Jordan hanged two terrorists in its custody, including failed suicide bomber Sajida Al Rishawi whose release Daesh had demanded in exchange for sparing Al Kaseasbeh — and threatened ‘earth-shaking’ repercussions. King Abdullah was in Washington for a previously scheduled meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when news of the video broke. US President Barack Obama immediately rearranged his diary for an emergency meeting with the monarch. Given that the murder was committed a month ago, according to the Arab press, it seems likely that Daesh chose to release the grisly film to coincide with King Abdullah’s visit, perhaps hoping to provoke a joint military response. The Jordanian government (which has much to fear from Daesh) will certainly use this appalling deed to rally public opinion behind ramping up its military effort in Iraq and Syria. Yet, our correspondents suggest that the Jordanians are divided on this issue, with many maintaining that their nation should not have joined the US-led alliance against Daesh in the first place. The question everybody asks me is: What could the extremists possibly hope to gain from such a horrendous act? There are several answers:
First, Daesh needed to reassert its credentials as the ‘meanest kid on the block’, following the loss of Kobani and around 300 square miles (483 square km) of territory in Iraq. This sadistic deed was devised to generate maximum global media coverage — and it has.
Second, this is a warning to all other Arab countries in the US-led alliance against Daesh. Western hostages have been beheaded in graphic videos, but the group has made a point of dealing with Arab opponents in even more sensational ways: When it captured 18 Syrian pilots in November last year, they were decapitated en masse by 17 unmasked and uniformed, knife-wielding militants — and one black-clad, masked British, “Jihadi John”. The message to Arab leaders was that if their own soldiers were captured, they would be executed in a horrific manner and the film of their agonising death would also be broadcast around the world.
Third, Daesh follows the strategy outlined in a 2004 terrorist treatise titled ‘The Management of Savagery’, whereby, a numerically superior and better-equipped opponent can be vanquished by fear. Extreme, well-publicised, violence generates a level of such trepidation that the enemy will flee rather than fight — 30,000 Iraqi soldiers put down their arms and ran away when a brigade of just 500 Daesh terrorists overran Mosul because the latter’s reputation for ferocity had preceded them — thanks to the internet.
Unlike previous terrorist groups, Daesh does not employ covert means to reach the mainstream media — audio and video messages from Osama Bin Laden, for example, were secretly handed to Al Jazeera, who could choose whether or not to broadcast them. The group has established a vigorous and highly effective digital network, using social media, which ensures that videos and other propaganda material are instantly disseminated and uploaded onto myriad platforms. It is impossible for internet service providers to police this level of activity because it involves thousands of individuals, each with their own network and system. Daesh communicates directly and openly as if it has nothing to fear from the world’s security services. My online newspaper Rai al-Youm received a large number of messages from its activists on Wednesday because they were annoyed by an editorial I wrote condemning Al Kaseasbeh’s murder. While the late Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the emir of Al Qaida’s Iraqi branch, alienated moderate Islamists and previously sympathetic tribes with his extremism, Daesh clearly does not fear losing support due to the heinous barbarity which has, instead, become part of its ‘brand’.
Nor do Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s men fear the imminent arrival of alliance soldiers’ boots on the ground. Like Bin Laden before them, their aim is to ‘provoke the ponderous American elephant’ into sending troops to their killing fields — drones and fighter jets are much harder to hit.
Indeed, with Daesh, provocation is the name of the game.
Abdel Bari Atwan is the editor-in-chief of digital newspaper Rai al-Youm: https://www.raialyoum.com. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@abdelbariatwan. His book Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate will be published in May by Saqi books.
أربعة تطوّرات مُهمّة في المشهد الليبي تَرسُم خريطة طريق الحرب القادمة؟ ولماذا يرى الرئيس الجزائري في القبائل الليبيّة الخِيار الثالث؟ وهل اقترب من رؤية حليفه التونسي؟ وهل الطائرات “المجهولة” التي قصفت الدفاعات التركيّة بقاعدة “الوطية” فرنسيّة أم مِصريّة أم روسيّة؟ ولماذا تتقدّم “الصّومَلة” على “السّورنة” فجأةً؟
الكورونا والقوّة العسكريّة الصينيّة الصّاعدة تُفسِد الاحتِفالات الأمريكيّة بيوم الاستِقلال.. هل الحِوار الأمريكيّ الصينيّ الحاليّ بالمُناورات العسكريّة وحامِلات الطّائرات سيتطوّر إلى مُواجهة؟ ولماذا يتحوّل حُلفاء أمريكا الأربعة في الشّرق الأوسط إلى عبءٍ استراتيجيٍّ ثقيل؟
إثيوبيا حسمت أمرها وقرّرت مَلء خزّان سدّ النهضة دون اتّفاقٍ مع مِصر والسودان والجُوع في انتِظار 4 ملايين أسرة مِصريّة.. مشروع أمريكي إسرائيلي لتدمير مِصر على طريقة سورية وليبيا والرّد قد يكون حرب استِنزاف كمُقدّمة للحرب الشّاملة