After a selection of tunes, the presenter with an American accent offers “a glimpse at our main headlines.” IS militants have just seized three Iraqi cities. A bomb blows up a factory, killing everyone inside. Militants destroy four enemy Hummers and an armored vehicle.
The newscast’s tone sounds much like National Public Radio in the United States. But this is Al-Bayan, the Islamic State radio targeting European recruits — touting recent triumphs in the campaign to carve out a Caliphate.
All news is good news for Al-Bayan’s “soldiers of the Caliphate.” In this narrative, the enemy always flees in disgrace or is killed. The broadcasts end with a swell of music and a gentle English message: “We thank our listeners for tuning in.”
The tension between the smooth, Western-style production and the extremist content shows how far the hardcore Islamic propaganda machine has come since 2012, when an aging Frenchman posed in front of a black-and-white jihadi flag and threatened France in the name of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The footage was grainy, with minimal production values, and released on a relatively obscure regional website. By contrast, Al-Bayan reaches thousands of listeners every day via links shared on social networks, helping to swell the ranks of Westerners — projected this year to reach a total of up to 10,000 — fighting for the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
In the time it took to bring the Frenchman Gilles Le Guen to trial, his European successors in violent jihad have overturned the recruitment script in ways that might impress a New York PR agency.
Islamic State videos come with thrumming beats, handsome clear-eyed young men and editing techniques that call to mind tourism commercials or ads for the latest console game. A typical week of recruitment now includes multiple newscasts in three languages, except the “good news” is about suicide attacks instead of traffic reports and baseball scores. A polished video directed at French recruits shows trainees leaping through burning hoops and swinging across monkey bars over flames. Multilingual blog posts by jihadis urge people to follow them. And a metastasizing network of tweets spills forth from the smartphones of armchair cheerleaders.
Cameramen themselves are heroes in this information war: Media, an unnamed fighter says in a video dedicated to these PR muhajedeen, is “half of the battle, if not its majority.”
An April video calling for doctors to join IS shows physicians in immaculate scrubs, as well as clean and functioning medical equipment. It features a clean-shaven, blue-eyed Australian moving about in a pristine neo-natal ward, promising new recruits that they will be helping Muslims who suffer from “a lack of qualified medical care.” The video has the feel of a daytime television public-service message.
In an exchange on jihadi radio station Ask.fm the same week, a person identifying himself as a British resident of Islamic State territories promised newcomers free medical school with minimal entry requirements. Meanwhile, in a series of tweets, another person purporting to be a Briton praises subsidized gas, free water and dental care superior to anything offered in the West.
“Naturally the arrogance will kick in & they would deny the truth and claim there (sic) way is better. Lol next time you pay your bill smile,” the person said, according to a selection of tweets culled by the SITE Intelligence Group.
A handful of people show up repeatedly as key recruiters: a Glasgow woman who reportedly helps British girls reach Syria; a Dutch fighter who gives jihadi interviews and set up a Tumblr page; a blue-eyed Frenchman who appears in multiple videos calling on his countrymen to emigrate to IS territories.
When Le Guen was arrested in April 2013, France’s defense minister said the government could “count on the fingers of one hand” those who, like him, wanted to fight alongside Islamic extremists. Now, the mass recruitment of Western Islamic radicals is considered one of the greatest security threats faced by Europe and the United States.
“They want Europeans in general. They want anyone to come, to fight, to create the Islamic state, to make the caliphate,” said Sebastien Pietrasanta, a French lawmaker who is spearheading nascent efforts to de-radicalize young extremist recruits. “We estimate there could be 5,000 and within the year, there could be 10,000. … We are facing not just a problem of security, but a problem of society.”
And the group isn’t just calling for weathered would-be fighters. As its new multimedia drive shows, anyone willing to help in the war zones of Syria and Iraq is welcome. One-way travel is encouraged, but not mandatory — at least, for men.
Read more: ABC News