Another IS threat – ho hum

You have to hand it to Islamic State (IS) and its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi – whose demise by the way has achieved Mark Twainian status (“rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”).  Despite the loss of the Caliphate, the deaths of thousands of its members, the virtual drying up of its fighter pipeline and its near total rejection by 99.99999% of the world’s Muslims, the group is still hanging in there.  UN estimates are that upwards of 30,000 fighters are still in Iraq and Syria (given that tens of thousands are believed to have been killed this really shows how many there were to start with) and Iraqi news for one reports attacks or planned attacks every single day.  So no, the group is not nearly as effective as it was a scant four years ago, but no it has not disappeared from the face of the earth either.

Another domain where IS continues to have success is in the online world.  Its main propaganda organ, the Amaq News Agency, churns out messages despite Herculean efforts by many organisations and governments to remove their bile from the Internet.  Amaq does what it does to keep IS at the forefront of the news cycle and to strike fear into all our hearts, whether or not that is actually happening.   At least no one seems to be raising the ‘free speech’ argument when its material is excised.

It remains a viable question, however, whether Amaq is engaged in pure propaganda or is actually telling the truth.  Two recent incidents shed some light on this.  On August 22, Al Baghdadi issued a statement on Furqan, another IS media arm, in which he called for the killing of secular people, apostates, and atheists, and urged Muslims in Saudi Arabia and Jordan to oust their governments.  The terrorist head honcho also called out the US, Russia, Europe and even Canada (yay!  We got a mention!) for attacks, especially ones that “terrorise the hearts and send brains flying” (ew, gross!).

Today a man who has been on France’s terrorist watch list since 2016 killed his own mother and sister outside Paris with a knife and wounded a third person before he was shot dead by policeAmaq issued a statement claiming the assailant was one of theirs, although it failed to give any details.  For the record, IS also said that the shooter on Toronto’s Danforth Street back in July was an IS soldier: this is problematic as it is far from certain that the attack was even a terrorist one.

You see, that is the point.  Amaq or Furqan or IS can make any claim they want: it is not as if anyone fact checks their material.  It is often said that there is no such thing as bad publicity and IS gets this in spades.  The more it puts its brand out the more it can claim it is relevant.  It’s kinda like Donald Trump’s tweets: no matter how outrageous or fictitious they are they ensure that we all keep talking about him.

As societies though, we can choose how to react to IS drivel.  We can run around and say the sky is falling or we can sit back and let cooler heads  – and analysis – prevail.  Does the fact that Al Baghdadi threatened  us here in Canada directly mean we should panic and raise the threat level to critical?  No, it does not.  The threat level should only be upped when there is credible intelligence warranting it, not some blather from a terrorist leader on the run.

We need to take all news these days with multiple grains of salt. A lot of what we read and see is not in fact true and we all have to figure out how to winnow the pieces of real from the morass of false.  The same goes for terrorist propaganda.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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