A Russian response strategy on ISIS

The two Japanese hostages, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, have both been beheaded a few days apart by ISIS, who has released a video, with all the typical characteristics of previous others, showing the beheading and the usual masked fanatic, "jihadi John", sending threats to Japan, which has now become a target of the Islamist terrorists.

Addressing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Jihadi John said: "Because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife will not only slaughter Kenji but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin".

And again:

"'To the Japanese government: You, like your foolish allies in the Satanic coalition, have yet to understand that we, by Allah's grace, are an Islamic Caliphate with authority and power, an entire army thirsty for your blood".

ISIS had offered to release Goto in exchange for Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi terrorist who faces execution for her part in a series of suicide bombings in Jordan that killed 60 people, but the jihadists had also asked for a 200 million dollar ransom for the two Japanese.

Although Jordan insisted that the release of Muath al-Kasabeh, the Jordanian pilot recently captured by ISIS, would also be part of the deal.  Negotiations conducted with the help of local tribal leaders became deadlocked, however, after Jordan insisted on seeing proof that al-Kasasbeh was still alive before releasing Rishawi.

ISIS' move to provoke Japan doesn't seem very clever since Tokyo's government hasn't taken any active role in the offensive against the Islamic State and has only contributed with humanitarian aid for refugees in Northern Iraq.  It is important to keep in mind that ISIS is not going through a very positive phase; they have just been defeated by the Kurds in Kobane and by Iraqi troops in the Dayala area, while in western Syria Hezbollah is giving them a hard time. The last thing ISIS needs is an expansion of the Coalition.

On the other hand it is true that ISIS' strategic capabilities should not be overestimated. A good part of its activity is linked to propaganda; the group's "horrific" utilization of social media and the violent videos that they spread have specific and easily predictable objectives:

1- spread anxiety and fear among the enemy population in order to disrupt everyday life activities (psychological warfare)

2- pressure the political decision makers to take certain steps

3- attract criminals and extremists from around the globe in order to expand their ranks

4- earn a reputation not only as major worldwide Jihadist organization but also as the first real "Islamic State", in opposition to other Muslim countries accused of not following the real doctrine of Islam.

5- it is also possible that ISIS is trying to create a clash between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe and that is done by trying to spread attacks on "enemy territory" in order to pressure European institutions to take steps that can be perceived as anti-Islamic and by increasing the hatred against Muslims among Europeans.

It is evident that the media is a major tool in ISIS propaganda strategy and as a consequence, in order to take appropriate counter-measures, it is important to contrast such tool in the most drastic way.  Let's ponder on a few questions:

-       How serious is the ISIS threat to Europe and Russia? Are the medias actually magnifying the threat by giving too much coverage to the various ISIS threats and elements such as al-Baghdadi and Jihadi John?

-       Is this excessive coverage helping ISIS in increasing the level of fear among people?

-       Is it helpful in raising awareness among the population?

-       Why do some European governments raise the level of terror alert and make it public? Does it help in protecting civilians or is it just a tool to show that the decision makers are actually doing something about it?

In Europe there have been cases of so called "analysts" that wrote articles and participated in interviews where they exposed details about counter-terror measures taken by the Institutions. That is an extremely irresponsible act as it is useless if not counter-productive.

Anti ISIS measures require else and a possible first step could be limiting the echo of ISIS media propaganda such as beheading videos, sermons, as well as websites and forums. It would also be useful that decision makers and analysts would stop telling the public about increased alert levels and strategies taken by the security apparatus. Administrations that take efficient measures to prevent and contrast terrorism have no need to make it public, because what really counts is the result.

Another important step is to target specific key-individuals among terror organization (such as the leaders and the ones appearing in the videos), in their territories, in order to emphasize their vulnerability and destroy their symbolic elements of propaganda.

Russia is an interesting case when dealing with ISIS and other jihadist organizations:

in the summer of 2014 Umar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili) had made a phone call to his father in Georgia, days after the jihadists had conquered Mosul and said that Russia would be next:

"He said 'don't worry dad, I'll come home and show the Russians.........I have many thousands following me now and I'll get more. We'll have our revenge against Russia."

In a videotaped message to Russian President Vladimir Putin posted on the internet in September 2014, ISIS members linked to al-Shishani's group threatened to infiltrate and wage war on the North Caucasus:

"We will, with the consent of Allah, free Chechnya and all of the Caucasus! The Islamic State is here and will stay here, and it will spread with the grace of Allah" terrorists said in the video.

The next thing we know is that in November 2014 Umar al-Shishani was mysteriously killed and as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on Instagram alongside a photograph of the supposedly dead militant:

"Tarkhan Batirashvili, the enemy of Islam who called himself Omar al-Shishani, has been killed. [The same fate belies] anyone who even thinks about threatening Russia and the Chechen people".

In January 2015 an execution video released by ISIS showed a small boy being handed a semi-automatic pistol by a bearded militant and executing two men (Russian spies according to ISIS).

The bearded terrorist, identified as a Caucasian known by the name "Abu Saad al-Daghestani" was  killed in Koba a few days later and under mysterious circumstances.

Other terror organization individuals became targets of such strategy, such as Dokku Umarov, former leader of the Caucasus Emirate who had threatened the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and various other Daghestani jamaat leaders, who were eliminated throughout time.

If we want to go back to the Soviet period, we could also recall the case of the assault on the Soviet embassy in Beirut in 1985, when four members of the diplomatic staff (Arkady Katkov, Valery Myrikov, Oleg Spirin, and Nikolai Svirsky) were kidnapped by a jihadist group linked to Hezbollah, unhappy with the Soviet support for Syria-linked militias in Tripoli. Katkov was killed a few days after the abduction as the jihadists wanted to show how serious they were.

The Soviets indeed decided to show the jihadists how serious they were and captured a Hezbollah militia man and close relative of a prominent Hezbollah leader. They then castrated him and sent the severed organs to the Hezbollah official, before shooting the militant. In addition to presenting him with this proof of their seriousness, the KGB  operatives warned the Hezbollah leader about the fact that  they were well aware of the identities of other close relatives of his, and that he could expect more such packages if the three Soviet diplomats were not freed immediately. A few days later the three diplomats were released near the Soviet embassy.

Giovanni Giacalone


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Author`s name Giovanni Giacalone