Milestones in Jihadist Propaganda
Remember the days when a bunch of ragtag hoodlums in ski-masks and training suits would hover over a hapless victim to read their jihadist manifesto? Remember those same thugs brandishing Kalashnikovs and RPG-7s under crackling fluorescent lighting, with a tattered banner advertising their group’s name and slogan as a backdrop?
Well, times have changed if the latest video installment from the “Media Division of the Jaish Ansar Al-Sunna” is any measure to go by. In this 30 minute video, we see two individuals, Abu Munther Al-Ansari, and Abu Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, comfortably sitting in a studio modeled along a talk-show format. Yes, they are SITTING IN A STUDIO! And I’m not talking about two stools and a desk; this is a modern studio with ample lighting, three camera angles and nice woodwork. They’ve even got the name of their organization, Jaish Ansar Al-Sunna (‘JAS,’ the no. 2 organization on the terrorist charts after Al-Qaeda in Iraq), engraved up at the front.
[Sorry, I was unable to get any stills from the RealAudio file.]
Abu Munther sits sporting a black blazer and a white turtleneck, even though the ski-mask is still a mandatory part of the wardrobe, and he’s performing the role of the host of this setting. Today’s guest is Abu Ahmed from the Military Council of JAS, who is underdressed for the occasion because “I didn’t know that this was going to happen,” as he apologetically explains towards the end.
This professional production is supposed to “counter the agencies of the Crusaders’ propaganda.” Abu Munther promises to conduct field visits to areas—‘liberated areas’ in his jargon—where the insurgents hold sway and “there are no Americans or Iraqi National Guards.” He keeps jabbing a pen in the air to emphasize key points. And he delivers the goods: the screen cuts away to insurgents—no more that 20 or 25—riding in sedans, and taking over a section of Baghdad’s southern Dora neighborhood amid a hail of bullets.
The next operation, as Abu Ahmad explains, occurred on the Baghdad-Basra road near Yusufiyah and involved a nighttime ambush of a military convoy. The insurgents first laid IEDs and then opened-up with heavy machine guns after detonation. The exchange of gunfire goes on for some time, while a jihadist battle-song (sung with a Saudi accent) is played as background. We are told that a vehicle was destroyed and many had died inside, but we are not informed as to who they were. Abu Ahmad’s point is: “we choose the time and place of our operations irrespective of the curfew.” At another instant, he claims that all these explosive devices are locally-made with very simple raw materials.
A key point of this video, released two days ago on various jihadist websites, is to drive home the message that JAS does not target civilians.
Then we are shown a montage of JAS’s ‘Greatest Hits,’ which run the gamut from blowing up Humvees in Ramadi to firing-off C5K missiles in Samarra. We are shown about twenty such operations, including one in which an observation tower within a US base is blown-up in broad daylight. Abu Ahmad explains that JAS has spies operating inside US military installations. These spies are equipped with GPS navigation devices and their job is to deliver the coordinates of sensitive points within these far-flung bases to those rigging up missiles or setting-up mortar attacks. We even glimpse a scene of a man sitting down with a calculator and a notepad making preparations for just such an attack.
When asked about the military effectiveness of these tactics, Abu Ahmad claims that the psychological effect of rockets and projectiles landing inside American bases at night has caused a state of hysteria leading to many suicides and AWOLs among Coalition soldiers. As to the effectiveness of IEDs, Abu Ahmad claims that the Americans are now so confused by the regular topography of an urban landscape that even a dead dog in the street would grind a convoy to a halt. But, he re-iterates, JAS tries to stay away from civilians and minimize casualties.
At one point, the wreckage of a downed helicopter is shown in the vicinity of Kirkuk, and in an act of false modesty, Abu Ahmad says that JAS cannot take responsibility for shooting it down, but that rather God had blinded the pilot and caused him to drive his chopper into a hill.
The half-hour interview, interspersed with footage and commentary, ends with a customary handshake and a plug for future programming. End credits include “Pray for us” and “Copyright is reserved for any Muslim, 2005.”
Yesterday, JAS issued a statement claiming responsibility for several recent car bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere. The statement purports that 16 car bombs, 10 IEDs and several missile and mortar barrages were conducted by JAS throughout Iraq on January 1st in what they called “The Day of Renunciation.” It seems that JAS is flexing its muscles and telling the newly elected Sunni leadership that whatever agreement there existed for damping down the insurgency during the elections cycle is now null and void.
[The Jaish Ansar Al-Sunna had put out videos last year that involved two people I knew well and liked. I watched Sheikh Ali Al-Maliki have his head severed, and images of 'Nizar' Menhel Al-Kinani were aired on Aljazeera. Nizar's burnt corpse was later found in the Mahmoudiya area. I can't describe how it feels to watch these things happen to people you know. The terrorizing effect hits deep into the soul, and one wonders if those victims had given away your name and other personal data, and that consequently JAS has you on a list for capture/decapitation somewhere. To see them sitting around in a studio and evidently making progress, feels like a personal defeat.]
In another video of what seems to be the Week of Jihadist Sweepstakes, Al-Qaeda in Iraq was determined not to be outdone by JAS and their slick studio. So what did they come up with? They own version of COPS, which itself is a response to a popular version of that show being shown on the official Iraqi TV network, Al-Iraqiyya, and called “Terrorism in the Grip of Justice.”
But this time around, Zarqawi’s Omar Brigade (set-up to kill and capture members of SCIRI’s Badr Brigade) showcases a bunch of captured Badrists and has them utter their confessions on tape. This 11 minute video, also released two days ago and signed by Abu Maysara Al-‘Iraqi, ‘interviews’ about seven men, all of whom seem to have been recruited by ‘Abu Zemen’—a Badr Brigade officer who signed-up 1.5 years ago and whose real name is Abdullah Mahmoud Jasim Al-Mifreji (born 1954). They all confess to all sorts of crimes from “raping Sunni virgins” to spying on the insurgents and giving away the locations of safe-houses and arms caches.
We are introduced to Falah Hassan Jassim Hamad Al-Karbouli, who describes himself as “a Sunni who switched to being a Shia” and who fesses-up to raping 20 women in the Ministry of Interior HQ. He, like the others, was recruited for Badr membership from within the Iraqi National Guard by ‘Lieutenant’ Abu Zemen. Another recruit, ‘Uday Hassan Abdullah Al-Mehiawi, who was a facilities guard at the Yusufiyah power plant, allegedly wanted out of the Badr Brigade after receiving two payments of 100,000 Iraqi Dinars (roughly 70 USD), but Abu Zemen threatened to kill him.
Abu Zemen, whose confession is shown towards the very end after we hear voice-overs from Zarqawi condemning Shias in general, lists the goals of the Badr Brigade as follows: to distribute drugs, to kill Sunnis and rape their women, and to kill Sunni university professors, doctors, and ex-officers.
The video ends with Abu Zemen being shot in the back of the head, as well as having his house blown-up.
Today, Abu Maysara Al-‘Iraqi put out another Al-Qaeda press release claiming that they had killed a top Badr officer named Salih, who is supposed to be a cousin of Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim’s.
Jihadist propaganda is a means for the various insurgent groups to highlight their exploits and generate more recruits and funds from among the ranks of like-minded sympathizers around the Middle East. Filming inside a studio and mimicking popular TV formats is a big step forward in their operations.
But is this news-breaking development important to the multitudes of commentators in the west? No, they are too busy being indignant at the Lincoln Group for paying for some good press, and they want to know just who may or may not have been on its payroll. What these commentators, together with the folks over at Karen Hughes’ outfit, fail to realize is that this is not a battle for ‘winning over’ the hearts and minds of young Arabs; rather it is a battle to manipulate their hearts and minds in a dash to the finish before the fundamentalists get there.
If the folks running Washington were thinking straight, then it would be time to bring back the Office of Strategic Information, and good old-fashioned brass-knuckles propaganda.