Islamic State is running out of ideas

Having a toddler front their latest video may be the only idea Isil had left to shock its audience, writes Richard Spencer

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is running out of the power to shock.
Once you have released videos of your members decapitating people en masse with knives, burning them alive, drowning them in swimming pools, and killing literally hundreds in Nazi-style round-ups, you begin to lose effect.
Even children they have used before: a boy whose voice hadn’t broken was shown carrying out one execution, nervously stepping up to shoot a captive in the back of the head.
Having a toddler front their latest video - warning of killing the “kuffar” - may be the only idea they had left.
The purpose of the video is clear: it is to show that Isil has not given up on its grand ambition, despite the toll taken on its leadership by months of pinpoint Coalition bombing.
A picture of Isa Dare posted on Twitter by his mother Grace in 2015A picture of Isa Dare posted on Twitter by his mother Grace in 2015
The new “Jihadi John” speaks in exactly the same way, and brandishes his gun with exactly the same gestures, as the old one.
This is unlikely to be a coincidence. Jihadi John - Mohammed Emwazi - was killed in an air strike in November - as this video seems accidentally to confirm, by showing his replacement.
The video is a way of saying “nothing has changed”.
That message can be read more widely: Isil has suffered losses recently, both by the deaths of other, more senior leaders, such as Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, the deputy head, who is mentioned by name, and by territory.
It has been driven back from Ramadi and Sinjar in Iraq, and even its capital in Raqqa is under threat. A coalition of Kurdish forces, some “moderate” Sunni Arab rebels, and coalition air strikes is forming a front all across northern Syria.
The warning to “Prime Minister David Cameron, the imbecile” harks back to Jihadi John’s message on the death of David Haines in September 2014, and is a way of saying “nothing has happened since to change anything”.
Some details have changed, however. The video deliberately obscures the place where it was filmed more than those early “snuff” movies. The site of execution then was pinpointed by online sleuths using the clues available.
In this video, the background to the executions is a desert landscape but with no identifying features. It may even have been “green screened”, as with some previous productions - the film superimposed on an artificial background.
Most dramatically, the captives are shot in the back of the head, rather than beheaded. There is no clear explanation for this. But last year, it was reported that an edict had gone out from the “Caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying that the plethora of freelance “head” pictures being tweeted by fighters was doing damage to Isil’s reputation.
Since those reports, most killings shown even in “official” videos have been by shooting.
Even an organisation whose most striking propaganda weapon has been gore can have too much of a good thing, apparently. Or perhaps the attempt to portray its fighters as psychopathic was regarded as having succeeded, and the next phase - to portray the caliphate as a state regularising its practices - had come into operation.


Islamic State (Isil)

What is Isil?
An Islamic extremist group controlling territory in Syria and Iraq
What is it called?
In the West, the group is usually known as Isil (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). In June, the militants said that wanted to simply be called Islamic State in recognition of the self-declared caliphate 
What about 'Daesh'?
Daesh is an abreviation Dawlat al-Islamiyah f'al-Iraq wa al-Sham, and is the derogatory name used by many Muslims for Isil. Following the Paris attacks, the French government is now using this term 
What are its aims?
A worldwide Islamic caliphate - a religious government - without borders
What terror attacks has it carried out?
Isil has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks of 13 November 2015, the explosion of a plane travelling from Egypt to Russia, and the individual killings of Western hostages, including James Foley and Alan Henning
How is the group funded?
Looting, extortion and the possession of oilfields providing an estimated £1.8m in revenue per day
How much territory does Isil control?
An area of the Middle East that is roughly the size of Belgium
Where is it based?
Isil's HQ is understood to be in the city of Raqqa, Syria



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