Oct 20, 2014

What we learn from ISIS’ online magazine, CNN.com

What we learn from ISIS' online magazine

By Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider

updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014

An explosion rocks Kobani, Syria, during a reported car-bomb attack by ISIS militants on Monday, October 20. Civil war has destabilized Syria and created an opening for the militant group, which is also advancing in Iraq as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region. An explosion rocks Kobani, Syria, during a reported car-bomb attack by ISIS militants on Monday, October 20. Civil war has destabilized Syria and created an opening for the militant group, which is also advancing in Iraq as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region.


  • ISIS has published four issues of online magazine detailing its aims
  • Peter Bergen says the group is stressing its territorial ambitions and sectarian approach
  • Unlike al Qaeda, which recruits terrorists vs. the West, ISIS wants to be a state, he says
  • Bergen: ISIS is focused on sustaining and extending its insurgencies in Syria and Iraq

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad." Emily Schneider is a research associate at New America. (CNN) -- ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world. At least, that's the message the terrorist movement is sending in its English online magazine, Dabiq. In Dabiq's first issue, which debuted in early July, the magazine declared that a "new era has arrived" for Muslims. Photographs in the webzine of ISIS militants in American armored vehicles rolling through Iraq seemed to buttress that claim. Graphic photos of dead soldiers from Iraqi forces litter the pages of each of the issues of Dabiq, and articles detail skirmishes across Iraq and Syria.

Each issue of the magazine -- there have been four so far, appearing at roughly monthly intervals -- starts with a foreword that contains an inspirational message for readers, before diving into longer pieces that extol the virtues of ISIS and provide updates on the group's military campaign. ISIS members fervently believe that they have established a true "caliphate" in the areas that they control, a supposed distant echo of the perfect Islamic rule of the Prophet Mohammed and his immediate successors in the seventh century. Overall, the magazine is quite religious in tone. Excerpts from rulings by Muslim scholars are included in every issue, as are religious rationales for the actions of ISIS. In the most recent issue, an ISIS writer reasoned that capturing women from the Yazidis, an Iraqi minority group, to use as sex slaves was acceptable under ISIS' version of Sharia law, since the Yazidis are polytheists, a great heresy in Islam. Showing some convoluted logic, the ISIS writer also asserted that enslaving Yazidi women is a good way to stop adultery, since a man having sex with a concubine is legal under ISIS' interpretation of Islamic law, but sexual relations outside of marriage with free women are forbidden. The magazines are also, unsurprisingly, highly sectarian, repeatedly showing images of Shia shrines and tombs that have been blown up by ISIS, a organization made up of members of the Sunni sect. ISIS believes these sites to be idolatrous. Iraqi Army soldiers -- who are generally Shia -- are referred to as "apostates" and graphic photos of their executions by ISIS fighters are a staple of the magazine. Other articles aim to reassure readers that ISIS, which in June renamed itself the Islamic State, is an actual state that provides social services and reconstructs critical infrastructure. The magazine asserts that administrators govern towns after the main ISIS fighting force moves on and the most recent issue of Dabiq includes photos with captions showing "services for Muslims," including street cleaning, electricity repairs, care homes for the elderly and cancer treatment centers for children. The first issue of Dabiq even had a sort of classified ad for "all Muslim doctors, engineers, scholars, and specialists" to come and join ISIS. The most recent installment of Dabiq asserts that two new wilayat, or provinces, had been established in the region where the Syrian-Iraqi border had once been. The magazine describes the new provinces as a successful step in "eliminating any remaining traces of the kufri, nationalistic borders." Pictures of a military parade celebrating the announcement accompany the article, along with pictures of a well-staffed checkpoint, a bustling marketplace, and ISIS police patrolling the area. In many ways Dabiq is not a new phenomenon. Osama bin Laden's Service Office during the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviets produced a similar magazine, Jihad, which was widely available around the Muslim world, was translated into many languages and was principally a fund-raising and recruiting tool designed to encourage young Muslim men to travel to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to support the Afghan jihad. More recently, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from its headquarters in Yemen has been publishing Inspire, another well-produced online magazine. Inspire, published for the past four years, clearly served as something of a model for Dabiq. Both are well laid out and feature graphics and photos prominently. The Dabiq feature titled "In the Words of the Enemy," where a helpful quote from an official or analyst from the West is included, is a direct copy of an Inspire feature. Dabiq's most recent issue features a portion of U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in which he discussed how much of a threat ISIS is to the United States. But the two webzines share few similarities beyond that. Inspire was very much focused on recruiting lone-wolf jihadists and inspiring homegrown extremism in the West, but Dabiq includes only a few vague sentences about carrying out attacks in the West. Where Inspire included instructions on bomb-making and building weapons to carry our attacks in the West, Dabiq focuses almost entirely on the actions of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and encourages followers to join the jihad there. In the third issue of Dabiq an ISIS writer asserts, "This life of jihad is not possible until you pack and move to the Khilafah," meaning to leave your home and travel to ISIS' areas of control in Iraq and Syria. The purpose of the Dabiq webzine is quite different from Inspire: It is to encourage and perpetuate ISIS' successful insurgencies in Iraq and Syria, not to foster homegrown extremism or lone-wolf attacks in the West. That's about the only good news that one can glean from Dabiq.