The chief spokesman for the Islamic State has called on the group’s supporters throughout the world to act on their own initiative to attack Western civilian and military targets in retaliation for the U.S.-led coalition’s aerial attacks in Iraq.
In an audiotape released Monday, the group’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al Adnani, also vowed that the group would kill Western men and enslave their women even as he accused the Western news media of distortion by inaccurately portraying the group as violent.
In his rambling diatribe, Adnani referred to the anti-Islamic State coalition as “crusaders,” called President Barack Obama “the mule of the Jews” and labeled Secretary of State John Kerry an “uncircumcised old geezer.”
“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be,” Adnani said, according to an English translation posted online by al Furqan Media, the communications arm of the Islamic State.
“Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict,” he said. “Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.”
The White House said it would have no comment on the audiotape. There was no immediate indication that Adnani’s call for individuals to act on their own had prompted U.S. agencies to increase their terrorist warnings.
U.S. officials have said for years that the threat of terrorism has evolved in much of the world from carefully planned actions by groups to individual actions carried out by sympathizers not formally associated with any organization. The most recent example of the threat was the May 24 shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, in Brussels, which left four people dead. The suspect is a French citizen who’s thought to have fought with the Islamic State in Syria.
Hundreds of Europeans and scores of Americans are thought to have traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State.
Last week, the director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that a lone Islamic State supporter could stage an attack in the U.S.
“In the United States, the FBI has arrested more than half a dozen individuals seeking to travel from the U.S. to Syria to join the fighting there,” he said. “We remain mindful of the possibility that an ISIL sympathizer could conduct a limited, self-directed attack here at home with no warning.” ISIL is the government’s preferred abbreviation for the Islamic State.
On Monday, German authorities confirmed that they’d arrested a Turkish immigrant who’d recently returned from Syria and had charged him with fighting on behalf of the Islamic State. German authorities think that as many as 130 German residents have returned to the country after fighting in Syria.
Adnani predicted that the U.S.-led coalition would fail to defeat the Islamic State.
“O crusaders, you have realized the threat of the Islamic State, but you have not become aware of the cure, and you will not discover the cure because there is no cure,” he said. “If you fight it, it becomes stronger and tougher. If you leave it alone, it grows and expands.”
That warning, however, was at odds with later portions of the speech, when he claimed that the group hadn’t attacked the United States and was merely the victim of the West’s “transgression against us, and thus you deserve blame and you will pay a great price.”
This price, he said, will be paid “on your streets, turning right and left, fearing the Muslims. You will not feel secure even in your bedrooms. You will pay the price when this crusade of yours collapses, and thereafter we will strike you in your homeland, and you will never be able to harm anyone afterwards.”
Experts on the Islamic State said they found the tirade odd and not in keeping with previous Islamic State messages, which have been unusually well targeted.
“Adnani’s strategic advice is pretty odd, especially since he argues that America can’t stop the Islamic State no matter what it does,” said Will McCants, the director of the Brookings Institution’s Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and a Johns Hopkins adjunct professor. “Attack or stay at home, it makes no difference. Why not argue that the U.S. shouldn’t be wasting its time on a group that had not sent a single operative against it? That talking point would resonate in the media here, particularly on the left.”
The current and former leaders of al Qaida, Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, were “far more skilled at playing to Western fears about entanglements overseas,” McCants said. “Adnani is unfocused and thus ineffective.”
The contrast is especially stark given the video released last week of British hostage John Cantlie, who, mouthing words that his Islamic State captors most likely forced him to say, promises a series of videos that will show how the reality of the group has been distorted by the media and how the U.S. and British governments bear responsibility for recent hostage executions because they refused to negotiate with the Islamic State.
Cantlie’s presentation was remarkably professional given the circumstances, and his presence behind a desk and conversational style were more reminiscent of a TV talk show than a video by a hostage whose life was on the line.
Adnani’s speech seemed unsophisticated and unhinged by comparison. He denied that the Islamic State had ever harmed Christians and other minority groups in Iraq or Syria, even as he vowed to shatter the crosses of Christianity. He blamed an orchestrated media campaign for trying to sully the Islamic State’s image, even as he took credit for the mass slaughter of captured enemy soldiers and other nonbelievers.
He referred to Iraq’s army as “rafidi-safavids,” a term that refers to Iranian dynasties, and “nusayri forces,” a derogatory term for Shiite Muslims, and said they served as “guard dogs of the Jews.” He called the Islamic State’s troops “muwahhidin,” meaning monotheists, a reference to the religious nature of the struggle.
Aymenn al Tamimi, who studies the group for the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based research center, said the audiotape seemed to reflect an internal conflict in what message it should be sending. On the one hand, it wants to excite its base of mostly disaffected young men seeking a combination of violence, excitement and cultural revenge for perceived or real slights. On the other, it wants to drive a wedge between Western supporters and opponents of military action.
“I think the biggest point one could make is that ultimately it’s incoherent,” Tamimi said. “He wants to say Western media are distorting IS’s image and yet have supporters kill Western citizens at the same time.”
The message, Tamimi said, perhaps best underscores the difficulty the Islamic State has in persuading mainstream Muslims to view the campaign against it as a Western-backed war on Islam.
“They are still trying that approach of trying to sow discord and lack of consensus among Western publics about precise action in order to hamper the war effort against them but yes, the ultimate descent into the anti-Semitic rant shows they ultimately cannot convey amenable messaging to audiences beyond their own ideological circles,” he said.
Prothero is a McClatchy special correspondent. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mitchprothero Jonathan S. Landay in Washington and Matthew Schofield in Berlin contributed to this report.