Damage following a bomb explosion at the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Coptic Orthodox Church.
The latest edition of ISIS' magazine offers alarming new terror tactics for jihadis and is threaded with a strong anti-Christian focus.
The leader of ISIS’ Egyptian affiliate is interviewed on the issue, promotes the attacks and its anti-Christian strategy, but accepts that it is an unpopular tactic. Sensing that there may be disapproval of attacks on Christians, and that this may impact future recruitment, the group uses this edition to justify why killing Christians is acceptable.
Focusing on Coptic Christians in Egypt, whose churches have been attacked three times since December 2016, the jihadi group claims that “targeting these churches with ruin and destruction is a matter that is permitted in the Sharia [Islamic law].” Knowing that many Muslims would be aware that Christianity is considered one of the Abrahamic faiths along with Islam, the group argues that Egyptian Christians cannot be afforded the protection that Islam has traditionally given to Christian communities.
To destroy any sympathy for the murder of Christians in Egypt or potential Islamic counter-arguments, ISIS lists four reasons why the Christians they are targeting are “belligerent.” The group alleges that Copts possess weapons to fight Muslims, and that they are among Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s closest allies, forming large parts of the state security apparatus. The group also cites the religious persecution of Christians who have converted to Islam and the alleged defamation of Islam by Christian priests.
Adding to the argument, and reinforcing the idea that the group’s actions are in some way a response to possible criticism, ISIS attempts to soften the magnitude of anti-Christian attacks. In a small break from its usually indiscriminate requests to kill as many non-believers as possible, ISIS says, “It is the fighters who are to be targeted, and those who offer fighters council,” while non-combatants such as women and children should be taken as slaves, despite the fact that their blood is also deemed permissible. However, the article also suggests that the unintentional killing of non-combatants, including during the use of suicide bombs, should not be considered problematic.
Interestingly, the interview with the unnamed leader of ISIS’ Egyptian affiliate, not to be confused with its Sinai affiliate, provides some clarity, and possibly some intentional frankness. After being asked what the reaction is to operations in Egypt, the emir says that the “prevailing trend in many people’s reactions is that of denunciation, as well as disassociation from these operations in specific, and from the war on the Christians and the tawaghit [literally, exceeding boundaries] in general,” adding that a sense of nationalism leads to the sinful condemnation of ISIS attacks. He tells readers, however, that the attacks are successful nonetheless, as Egyptian security and its “crusader masters” react with a heavy hand, driving people away from the state and towards ISIS. Painting the attacks on Christians and churches as strategic successes, and saying that jihad is growing in Egypt while actively encouraging more violence against state targets, the emir calmly presents a calculated, frank narrative on the group’s objectives in Egypt.
In its detailed "Just Terror Tactics" section, which serves as a 'start-up guide' for lone wolf attackers, ISIS presents a novel use for the internet and promotes several tactics. The group goes into great detail in advising followers to take hostages and slaughter them to "create as much carnage and terror as one can until.. enemies storm the location," but worryingly presents creative means to lure victims in using the internet.
ISIS encourages the posting of physical and online ads, including job posts, properties for rent, and second-hand sales using online mediums such as eBay and Gumtree as a means to identify potential victims before attacking them. The group chillingly advises followers to "space out applicant appointment times to give oneself more time to subdue each target," essentially presenting a formula to bring victims to their attackers, rather than the opposite.
This advice is deeply concerning and, if followed, could almost certainly have impact by exposing a weakness in these trust-based sites, effectively turning 'lone wolf' jihadis into serial killers. It also provides a timely reminder of how jihadis seek to weaponise an array of technologies and platforms in pursuit of their abhorrent ideological objectives.
The group also encourages the purchasing of weapons and guns by any means necessary, highlighting the ease of purchase in the US, and due to proximity to conflict zones, countries in Europe. For places such as the UK, where obtaining firearms is more difficult, ISIS encourages vehicle ramming into hunting shops in order to stockpile weapons. ISIS has also dedicated a full page infographic to its already successful truck attacks, and lists ideal vehicles, how to acquire a vehicle, and ideal targets.
The fact that the magazine is still available to those who look hard enough online, its simultaneous circulation in 10 languages, and the worryingly detailed accounts on how to carry out attacks in ever-evolving fashions, suggests that setbacks in its territorial heartlands of Iraq and Syria have had little impact on its global ambitions.