Islamic State media operatives appear to have regrouped, at least in part, intent on showing the world that the terror organization is living up to its motto of “remaining and expanding” despite its lack of a physical caliphate.
For almost a month, the group’s core media channels have been pumping out a series of videos showing fighters pledging allegiance, or renewing their pledges, to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Intelligence officials and analysts say, so far, the group, also known as ISIS or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh, has produced and disseminated eight of these videos under the title, “The Best Outcome is for the Pious.”
The video series “aims at proving that ISIS has not been defeated and that its militants in several parts of the world remain loyal to their leaders,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told VOA.
IS media operatives issued the most recent of the videos this past Wednesday, the first-ever video from the terror group’s Turkish province.
“If you think that by weakening the Islamic State and its soldiers, that they will divert from their path or leave their jihad, you have great delusions,” said a fighter, identified as Abu Qatada al-Turki, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Turki further threatened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling him an “arrogant tyrant.”
“Do not think that the swords of the soldiers of the Caliphate are far from you or from those who stand on your side,” he warned.
Previous videos highlighted fighters from IS provinces in West Africa, Sinai, East Asia (Philippines), the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Libya and Azerbaijan, another first.
Some of the videos have featured large groups of fighters. Others, like the video from Turkey and another from Azerbaijan, feature just five and three fighters, respectively.
Yet there is a sense that, in this case, size does not matter.
“Do we really expect ISIS to show us a terror training camp with 200 fighters primed and ready,” Raphael Gluck, the co-founder of Jihadoscope, a company that monitors online activity by Islamist extremists, told VOA in an email.
“ISIS is in insurgency mode but wants to remind you, its presence and influence remains everywhere,” he added.
And while IS has long been practiced in the art of smoke and mirrors, finding ways to make itself look bigger than it really is, dismissing the latest videos could be a mistake.
“There’s no doubt that the group has a presence in these spots,” according to Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Additionally, that the videos have been disseminated by the group’s official media outlets is significant.
“It is one thing for groups to make bay’at (pledges of allegiance), but it is a much more serious affair when the highest levels of Islamic State leadership accept their allegiance,” said Jade Parker, a former counterterrorism analyst in support of U.S. military activities.
“Is it possible that Islamic State central is recognizing their external governance entities earlier in the provincial development process than they previously did? Yes,” Parker added. “The external provinces would still need to surpass a common minimum benchmark of organizational requirements, though.”
That IS has retained such a strong degree of organizational integrity has worried U.S. intelligence officials for months, some warning that fighters fleeing the collapsing caliphate in Syria and Iraq would find refuge with IS branches in more than a dozen countries, including Turkey.
Just as concerning for analysts is that along with the videos, there has been a steady drumbeat of IS claims, celebrating attacks on government forces and civilians in places like Nigeria, Mozambique, Afghanistan, the Philippines and Tunisia.
Jihadoscope’s Raphael Gluck believes, at the least, the steady stream of propaganda is unlikely to abate.
“ISIS could possibly still spring a few surprises with more videos from Europe and the West,” he said. “From this point, it looks like ‘Wilayat Internet’ [ Internet province] is very much a thing.”