Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, March 3, 2017:
The US military announced today that a senior Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda official was killed in an airstrike on Mar. 25 in Al-Qa’im, Iraq. The propagandist, Ibrahim al-Ansari, was killed along with “four of his associates,” according to Joe Scrocca, the public affairs director for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR).
Al-Ansari “was a leader in producing and disseminating propaganda to direct, encourage and instruct terror attacks, as well as to recruit foreign terrorist fighters,” Scrocca said. He “promoted terror attacks against US and Turkish citizens” and was also responsible for “the brainwashing of young children to perpetuate ISIS’s brutal message,” Scrocca added.
The Islamic State is not only “brainwashing” children, but has also used dozens of them in suicide bombings, including during its defense of the city of Mosul. And the group openly boasts of using children in its vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks. See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Islamic State uses improvised weapons of war in Mosul, Iraq, for two photos of children recently used in VBIED operations. The Islamic State’s propaganda machine regularly produces many more examples.
Some of the organization’s gruesome videos also feature children performing executions on behalf of their elders.
Al-Ansari’s “propaganda encouraged ISIS followers to conduct knife attacks, vehicle attacks and arson attacks against American and other Western citizens,” Scrocca explained. “This strike will disrupt ISIS’s ability to create propaganda — propaganda to [incite] terror into the region as well as in our homeland, and has struck communications between other ISIS members.”
The US and its coalition partners have repeatedly targeted the jihadists’ senior media personnel. This effort goes back to the height of the Iraq War, when al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) became a prolific producer of videos, photos and other media. AQI and its successor, the Islamic State, have repeatedly replaced these propagandists. But the targeted strikes do, at times, slow the group’s ability to produce content.
Al-Ansari was not alone in promoting knife and vehicle attacks. This is one of the Islamic State’s long-standing themes.
For example, the group’s first spokesman, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, implored followers to use such crude tools in the West. “The best thing you can do is to strive to your best and kill any disbeliever, whether he be French, American, or from any of their allies,” Adnani said in one speech (titled, “Indeed Your Lord Is Ever Watchful”). Adnani continued: “If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or
run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”
Adnani was killed in a US airstrike near Al Bab, Syria in Aug. 2016. Another jihadist, known as Abu al Hassan al Muhajir, was announced as Adnani’s successor in Dec. 2016. In his first message, al Muhajir promoted attacks Turkey and the West.
The Islamic State has continued to promulgate Adnani’s guidance long after his death. The third issue of Rumiyah (Rome) magazine, which was released in Nov. 2016, included an article devoted to vehicle attacks that was entitled, “Just Terror Tactics.” The author wrote: “Having a secondary weapon, such as a gun or a knife, is also a great way to combine a vehicle attack with other forms of attacks. Depending on what is obtained, the kill count can be maximized and the level of terror resulting from the attack can be raised.”
The so-called caliphate’s followers have apparently followed through with this advice on multiple occasions, sometimes using knives, trucks, or both. Just weeks after Rumiyah was published last November, a Somali refugee named Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove his car into a crowd of people at Ohio State University before exiting the vehicle and using a knife to assault his victims. Eleven people were hospitalized as a result. Artan was quickly shot dead by a campus police officer. Amaq News Agency, the Islamic State’s main propaganda arm, claimed afterwards that Artan was a “soldier” of the caliphate.
On Mar. 22, Khalid Masood drove his car into a crowd near the British parliament in London and then jumped out and used a blade to assault others. Four people were killed and dozens more wounded. Amaq again claimed that Masood was a “soldier” of the caliphate. Still other Islamic State supporters have driven their vehicles into large gatherings elsewhere.
The Islamic State celebrates its media personnel as “martyrs” after they are killed either in combat, or in airstrikes by the US-led coalition. For instance, the two photos below purportedly depict members of the group’s propaganda division who were recently killed. The first one was identified Abu Ibrahim al-Iraqi.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.