The Islamic militants that have blitzed through Iraq and established a de facto state display an impressive level of – for lack of a better word – professionalism.
Even as the group battles both Assad and other Syrian rebels on one front, and the Iraqi Army on another, the Islamic State regularly produces well-edited propaganda videos.
With the Islamic State flag in the corner as a TV-style banner, the videos feature slow-mo shots of Islamists training, fighting, or showing off the latest captured hardware.
One such video, released on the eve the “caliphate” was declared, features a fighter from Chile, describing how the IS has essentially erased the Iraq-Syria border:
Videos like this help burnish the group’s image and recruit additional fighters. It’s now challenging al-Qaeda for the position as the world’s top jihad group, the New York Times reports.
This appears to be especially true among younger radicals, the Times says, owing in part to the group’s savvy social media usage. Many fighters and IS supporters openly display their loyalty on Twitter:
This is amazing, i'm barely holding my emotions back. This is Caliphate, speech of a true leader. #Khilafa
— Abdallaah (@mujaahid4life) July 1, 2014
— Aadhil AX (@ax863) July 1, 2014
— Al-Janabi #الخلافة (@AbuBakrAl_Janab) June 29, 2014
There’s even a Twitter account called Islamic State of Cat (believe it or not) that tweets pictures of jihadists with cute animals:
I can haz Steyr Aug? – Mujahid pic.twitter.com/5fIN2Xcbaw
— Islamic State of Cat (@ISILCats) June 25, 2014
In some ways, the group is operating a charm offensive, determined to win not only the territory necessary for the Islamic State, but the hearts and minds of fellow Muslims.
In both Iraq and Syria, the group operates social services, police and courts (albeit strict, sharia-based courts).
So how does this international, non-state coalition of militants afford to operate across an area the size of Jordan?
- Natural resources. Islamic State militants have been known to operate captured oil rigs and electricity plants, even selling these resources back to their enemies.
- Mafia-like activity. The organization extorts money through Mafia-like protection rackets, as well as demanding money in exchange for wealthy kidnap victims.
- Bank robbery. When it captured the city of Mosul, one of IS’ first targets were the central bank, where they stole tens of millions of dollars.
- Smuggling antiquities. The group allegedly looted and sold antiquities from archeological sites.
- Donations. Although it’s largely self-sufficient, unlike traditional terrorist groups, the IS is also the recipient of foreign donations.
Altogether, the Islamic State allegedly has assets worth more than $2 billion (including cash and military assets), based on intelligence obtained by flash drives from a dead commander.
The information on these flash drives were reportedly organized meticulously on Excel spreadsheets. This seems to match their overall professional, almost corporate approach:
For the last two years, the group has prepared a slick annual PDF report of their accomplishments, complete with infographics detailing, for instance, the number of suicide bombings, assassinations, and equipment acquired.
See the report for yourself below: