January 5, 2015

ISIS press release: "The Day of Punishment"

Title image of ISIS press release - "The Day of Punishment"

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - it calls itself "The Islamic State" - has established provinces loosely based on the provinces of the areas in Syria and Iraq over which it now exercises control.

As ISIS seizes new territory, it establishes the trappings of governance - Islamic courts, taxes, charities, vehicle registration, school curriculum, social services - and just recently banks and issuance of currency. It also establishes an active information office to document and publicize its activities.

This is not surprising since much of the leadership of ISIS is composed of former members of the Ba'ath Party. Between ISIS's former Iraqi military officers and these party functionaries, it understands both military operations and governance.

This particular press release originates in the information office of the Salah al-Din province in Iraq (see map). The province is located north of Baghdad in the Tigris Valley - the area in which ISIS has made remarkable progress not only in seizing, but holding despite the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and repeated failed assaults by the Iraqi armed forces.

The press release is entitled "The Day of Punishment." It is a chronicle of the execution of eight Iraqis found guilty of betraying the Islamic State (the verb of committing apostasy appears numerous times in the Arabic text). The original Arabic-language press release can be accessed here (as of this writing - it may be taken down as social media object to its publication.)

I would caution that these press releases must be read with a bit of skepticism - ISIS has mounted an effective propaganda campaign to shape its message to the world, primarily the Muslim world, be it in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, Europe or even North America.

These images are the most pertinent from the original press release. The prisoners are all accused of repenting to ISIS and then becoming apostates working for (collaborating with) the "Safavi government" - a derogatory slang term for the perceived pro-Iranian Iraqi government.

Although the press release does not specifically state, it appears this was an Iraqi government military/intelligence operation that was discovered - this is the price intelligence assets pay when captured.

A police colonel accused of "repenting" to ISIS but working for the "Safavi" government.

A secret intelligence informant who provided locations for coalition bombing.

A police captain who later returned to collaborate with the "Safavi" government.

Preparing for the "execution."

The actual murder, or as they call it, the execution.

While we view these murders with disgust, these press releases are a powerful recruiting tool. ISIS has attained the reputation of practicing the most pure form of Islam - reminiscent of the 7th Century. Radicalized youth, disenfranchised youth, young men from all over the world who feel they have no future in their societies are drawn to this extreme form of Islam.

ISIS publishes these press releases for several reasons. Among them is an appeal to disaffected youth - potential recruits - around the world, and the chilling, frightening effect it has on potential adversaries.

ISIS has thought this out.