The latest issue of ISIS' English-language propaganda magazine, Dabiq, released on jihadi social media channels this afternoon, claims to offer proof that it was responsible for the bombing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula at the end of last month. It also includes praise and justifications for Friday's deadly attacks in Paris, which it describes as a "blessed assault" and "daring raid."
However, more pertinently the publication provides insight into how ISIS conceives of its attacks as a religious duty, and shows the strong ideological framework underpinning actions that may on the surface seem random and senseless.
ISIS claims to have images of passports belonging to the passengers (which it describes as "224 Eastern crusaders") as well as an image of the tin can improvised explosive device supposedly used to bring down the plane. ISIS-affiliated militants in the Sinai "exacted revenge upon the cross-worshippers for recently killing hundreds of Muslims." ISIS claims it will to continue to "retaliate with fire and bloodshed in revenge for the honour of the Prophet."
The language used to describe the Paris attacks is telling; ISIS claims to have "dispatched its brave knights to wage war in the homelands of the wicked crusaders," chiming with recent research from the that shows the prominence of romanticised chivalric imagery in ISIS propaganda, (appearing in 71 per cent of jihadi sources). A seamless connection of past and present combines these allusions to a glorious past with very modern rhetoric, with the attacks said to be intended to leave Paris' residents "shocked and awed."
ISIS are more determined than ever to show their fight to be a global one in their propaganda, laying claim to attacks in three continents. The group states that in Bangladesh a "security cell comprised of the [Caliphate's] soldiers" killed Italian "crusader" Cesare Tavella, as well as Kunio Hoshi, a citizen of Japan, for being "one of the member nations of the crusader coalition." They state that the 100s of Shia (they use the derogatory term 'Rafidah') wounded and killed by the bombing of a Shia mosque in Dhaka, was because of their conducting "shirki [idolatrous] rituals." ISIS is exporting their sectarian agenda to a context of rich religious pluralism. On the Beirut bombings that took place last week, ISIS describe their success in sending "a clear message to the Rafidi allies of Bashar in Lebanon that they are well within the vengeful reach of the Islamic State."
This issue of Dabiq includes an interview with an individual in Somalia named Abu Muharib, most likely is a former al-Shabaab fighter who has pledged allegiance to ISIS. The interview claims that there is overwhelming support for ISIS within al-Shabaab, and among Somalis. Several groups of al-Shabaab fighters have already sworn bayah to Abu Bakr al-Bagdhadi, others support him and the self proclaimed 'caliphate' in private but cannot yet publicly declare their support as al-Shabaab's security and intelligence wings hunt down and execute ISIS supporters. Abu Muharib implies that there are networks of ISIS supporters and members throughout Somalia and East Africa who are currently undertaking a "phase of coordination and cooperation...to achieve a synchronised media effort, tactical manoeuvring of forces, and securing of logistics to achieve strategic aims." The interview attempts to paint a picture that ISIS is already well embedded in Somalia.
This bellicose propaganda is supplemented by less violent but more reflective and insidious content, outlining questions of geopolitics and economics, loyalty and allegiance, and even an article aimed at women on the acceptability of polygamy, all of which help to build a more complete picture of the jihadi ideology, beyond the ultra-violence that captures headlines. ISIS seek to associate spiritual fulfilment to the act of jihad, rather than simply angry retribution and the resolution of grievance.
John Cantlie, the British journalist kidnapped by ISIS in November 2012, writes an article that tries to present ISIS as a successfully functioning state while others around the region are crumbling. Citing commentary in the Telegraph, the New York Times, and Foreign Policy, Cantlie uses analyses from international commentators on how ISIS functions to reaffirm that the group is acting like a genuine state, and therefore must be taken seriously. Cantlie writes that while it would not be an immediate option, negotiating a truce with ISIS may inevitably become a necessary option for international governments.
The most recent edition of Dabiq contains the usual aspects that have come to be expected from ISIS propaganda output. However, the release comes at a time where ISIS attempts to maintain its image of success and resilience despite reported losses of Sinjar town to US-backed Kurdish Peshmerga, intensified airstrikes by Russia, and French warplanes targeting their de facto capital, Raqqa. The emphasis on their expanding global strategy, from France to Bangladesh and Somalia, is an inevitable focus given the weeks' events.