Al Qaeda’s ultra-extremist Syrian offshoot known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is stepping up efforts to recruit Americans and other westerners for jihad in Syria and possibly for future domestic terror attacks, according to U.S. officials.
A new media outlet affiliated with ISIL recently began producing recruiting materials in both English and German that U.S. intelligence analysts say is a sign they are targeting western jihadists for recruitment.
It is the first time ISIL, one of the most prominent ultra-violent jihadists among Syria rebels groups, has set up a western-oriented media arm.
ISIL also is leading the major military operations now under way in Iran that has produced the group’s take over of several Iraqi cities, including Mosul, the second largest.
According to U.S. officials, the new media outlet is called the Al Hayat Media Center that is under the authority of the ISIL’s official propaganda arm, the Al-Itisam Establishment for Media Production.
Recent ISIL recruitment products include English-language videos, pamphlets, and a magazine.
Analysts say the products appear to have been produced by competent English speakers and are devoid of spelling and grammatical errors, while including Arabic phrases and words.
Patrick Poole, a counterterrorism analyst, said ISIL’s media arm has made a major push over the past month to produce material targeting potential western recruits.
The ISIL appears to be copying a similar propaganda and recruitment model used by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, he said in an email.
“We know from recent reports that their recruiting efforts in the U.S. have been successful, with at least 15 Somalis from the Minneapolis area leaving to fight jihad in Syria, some fighting with ISIL itself,” Poole said.
“With as many as 70 Americans fighting with Syrian jihadist groups, and thousands of westerners, counterterrorism authorities have been rightfully worried,” he added. “Now that we have known cases of Americans fighting with ISIL, that is considered even too extreme for al Qaeda, and ongoing recruitment inside the U.S., we're only going to see the potential domestic terror blowback from the Syrian jihad grow even more.”
The center on May 31 produced a seven-page pamphlet called “Islamic State News” with a series of photographs covered with phrases that condemn military attacks on ISIL and tout the terror groups operations in Syria and Iraq. It also highlighted the groups public outreach programs that include humanitarian and education programs as well as showing how the group governs territory.
A second pamphlet of Islamic State News was published June 5.
For broadcast media, the ISIL between June 2 and June 4 unveiled three short videos that were promoted via links on Twitter.
The first was an ISIL recruitment video containing photos of the group’s fighters and military operations overlaid with a sound track of an Islamic religious chant.
The June 2 video urges English-speaking Muslims to take up arms in jihad, or holy war.
The video was produced by Al-Itisam Establishment for Media Production, the official propaganda arm of ISIL in Syria.
Titled, “Soldiers of Truth,” the video contains images of jihadists in the Syrian conflict. Superimposed over the photos are English phrases urging the creation of an “Islamic state,” along with anti-western and anti-Semitic propaganda phrases superimposed over them.
The sound track is an ISIL Islamist chant that includes the phrase “Jewish rabbis will be humiliated.”
For potential German terror recruits, a second ISIL video featured a German jihadist fighter, Steffen Koblitz, chanting in German. This video can be seen here.
A third video showed ISIL terrorists distributing candy and ice cream to children.
On June 3, the ISIL media center published a seven page Islamic State Report in English with several articles and interviews with ISIL officials who discussed how the group governs through Sharia law.
Officials said the English language media are part of a major push by ISIL to recruit westerners through social media like Twitter and Facebook.
The creation of the Al Hayat Media Center and the new recruitment materials is a step up from ISIL’s activities in the past, which were limited to producing a series of posters during the latter half of 2013 promoting violent jihad.
The ISIL is an offshoot of the central al Qaeda organization headed by Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri.
The two groups are engaged in fierce competition in Syria. The official al Qaeda rebel group in Syria is the Al Nusrah Front, which also has conducted some limited recruitment activities aimed at creating foreign jihadists.
American intelligence officials told reporters last year that dozens of Americans have made the journey to Syria to join Islamist rebels and the activities have raised new concerns that the trained jihadists will return to the United States and Europe to conduct terror attacks.
The attack on a Jewish facility in Belgium recently was traced to a French jihadist who had returned from Syria.
Around 600 westerners from Europe, North America, and Australia are believed to be in Syria as part of the Islamist rebels.
Around 6,000 to 11,000 foreign fighters are believed to be in Syria from all over the world.
An American known as Abu Hurayra Al-Amriki took part in a suicide bombing attack in Syria, U.S. officials have said.
U.S. intelligence agencies estimate there are dozens of Americans traveling to join the Islamists.
“It’s a very steady increase, and I expect that to continue as long as the fighting there continues,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told the New York Times in November.
FBI Director James Comey also told reporters in January that Islamist are working hard to recruit and train Americans and westerners for future terrorist attacks in their home countries.
“We are focused on trying to figure out what our people are up to, who should be spoken to, who should be followed, who should be charged,” Comey said in a meeting with reporters, according to the New York Times.
“I mean, it’s hard for me to characterize beyond that. It’s something we are intensely focused on,” he said.