Magazine article The Spectator

The Truth about Islamic State: They're in Trouble

Magazine article The Spectator

The Truth about Islamic State: They're in Trouble

Article excerpt

Disillusioned Islamic State recruits are deserting the bloodthirsty terror group as it loses territory

The latest video from Isis introduces a new British executioner, a successor to 'Jihadi John', and it is a classic of the genre: bombastic, pompous, ridiculous yet terrifying. 'O slave of the White House, O mule of the Jews,' says a man in a ski mask, addressing David Cameron, 'how strange it is that the leader of a small island threatens us with a handful of planes. Only an imbecile would dare to wage war against a land where the law of Allah reigns supreme.' He has a cold, arrogant look in his eyes and brandishes a pistol held sideways, aping American 'gangsta style'. Kneeling before him are five men in orange jumpsuits identified as 'British spies'. In fact they may just be Syrian journalists whose 'crime' was simply trying to do honest reporting about the so-called Islamic State. I have a sickening feeling that one of them supplied pictures I used in a piece for the BBC when I was on the Syrian border last year. Of course, the men are killed in the video.

We have become wearily used to such brutal 'propaganda by deed'. Isis's new year message to Britain is much the same as it was last year: Be afraid! We are coming for you! It is still chilling. But Isis is not the force it was 12 months ago, and its video nastiness seems now more a sign of weakness than strength. The group has suffered a string of defeats in recent months. The tally so far includes the town of Kobani in northern Syria; Sinjar, in Iraq, which fell to the Kurds in November; and Ramadi, taken back by the Iraqi army two weeks ago. Fighters who promised to love death as we much as we love life appear to be losing their nerve. In Sinjar, there are reports that two 'brigades' of fighters deserted. In Ramadi, there was no bitter struggle to the last suicide vest. Instead, Isis melted away, leaving behind booby traps and car bombs to slow the Iraqi advance. So far, US officials claim, American bombs have killed 20,000 Isis jihadis.

A friend of mine, a diplomat, has developed sources within the group and he describes a very different Isis from the one we see in their propaganda videos: 'Morale is plummeting within Isis, especially among foreign fighters,' he says. 'Many European foreign fighters in particular are packing it in. Many want to defect. Whole units have just gone away in Iraq... the Islamic State is in crisis.' There was a struggle within the Isis leadership between hawks and doves, the diplomat said, with the hardliners gaining the upper hand. But they were frustrated at being unable to mount big, shock attacks as they did in 2014 -- because of western bombing. 'Inherent Resolve [the US-led campaign against Isis] is much more effective than it is given credit for... the further expansion of Isis has been stopped.'

The leadership is still striving to attract new recruits to 'God's Kingdom on Earth'. A video in English and French shows an Isis loyalist taking his three small daughters to the shops -- all well-stocked -- and then to a fairground. 'Brothers and sisters, come to caliphate,' says the narrator, making a special appeal for engineers, doctors and nurses.

Some do find they like life under the caliphate. A British recruit to Isis described the attraction to me once. 'It's a really good feeling. You can go around without anybody trying to harass you [for being a Muslim],' he said. 'I don't miss a thing about Britain. Here, I can drive, I don't need a licence. If I want to watch TV, I don't need a licence for that either. I can walk around with a Kalashnikov, with an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] if I want to. It's total freedom, thanks be to God. It's like I'm flying.'

But as my diplomat friend says, many others have become disillusioned. Last year I met an activist called Abu Ibrahim who runs a network that gets people out of Isis territory. 'Most of those who go to the caliphate are true Muslims,' he told me. …

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