ISIS’s new publication, called Rumiyah (Arabic for Rome) appears to be yet another typical ISIS media product, combining glossy pictures with Islamist propaganda. A terrorism expert says, however, that the publication suggests that the organization may be struggling to cope with the mounting pressures of unrelenting airstrikes and increasingly more effective Turkish, Kurdish, and Iraqi military offensives on the ground.
Al-Hayat, ISIS’s media wing, released the online magazine late on Monday in several different languages, including English, French, German, Russian, Indonesian, and Uyghur.
Levi West, the director of terrorism studies at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, told the Independent that ISIS’s media strategy already includes several online magazines in different languages, aiming to recruit fighters from across the world. The sudden appearance of a new publication could just be a savvy PR diversion, West says.
“It’s an interesting point in the group’s evolution,” he said. “We’ve all but decimated the leadership in airstrikes. My guess is they’re pretty rudderless, and having to get to grips with the fact they’re not expanding anymore. The balance has definitely tipped.”
The Independent notes that the English language ISIS publication, Dabiq, has only been produced irregularly for the last few months, and Turkish forces are about to capture the ISIS-held town in northern Syria from which the publication takes its name, leading some to speculate that Rumiyah is being issued as a replacement.
Experts say this is unlikely: They note that Rumiyah lacks the apocalyptic “fire and brimstone” narrative of Dabiq, and say that appears to be an editorially inferior publication: it relies largely on recycled material, lacks the unifying theme typical of other ISIS propaganda vehicles, and is significantly shorter.
The front cover carries a picture of Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, ISISsecond-in-command who was killed recently in an airstrike, and a large portion of the publication is devoted to a lengthy tributes to his work. The English language version also features an obituary of killed Australian fighter Ezzit Raad, of Melbourne.
One story stresses that all non-Muslims are valid targets for jihadists, including “businessmen … young adults … and the old man waiting in line to buy a sandwich.” The story is accompanied by a picture of a man at what appears to be a British market stall.
The first issue of Rumiyah also includes an interview from Al-Naba with the director of ISIS’s newly formed office for “grievances and complaints,” which West sees as “an internal sop” to mitigate concerns that the group’s leadership is losing control of its fighters and subjects.
The Daily Beast reports that documents leaked last week showed ISIS, in addition to heavy military losses, is suffering from financial mismanagement, excessive bureaucracy, and infighting among recruits from different countries.
There is no doubt that ISIS’s leadership is having to think hard about its next steps, but the group is far from vanquished, West added. “The idea that there isn’t still widespread support for ISIS in Syria, for myriad different reasons, would be laughable … they’re definitely not on the offensive anymore, but they’re not quite on the back foot yet.”
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