HAS desperation driven the Islamic State into committing more barbaric acts? Analysts interviewed by CNN think so. They say the brutal execution of American aid volunteer Peter Kassig last week is a sign that the jihadist extremist group is feeling the pressure from the airstrikes launched by the US and its allies, and, like a cornered animal, is furiously fighting back.
“I think it’s a sign of desperation,” one analyst told CNN. “I think it’s a sign that they know and feel they are under attack, they’re under siege and they’re struggling.”
For IS, the most effective way of striking back is to escalate the brutality, increase the blood and gore. The beheading of Kassig along with several Syrian soldiers captured by the IS is “the most barbaric they’ve done so far,” noted CNN’s Nic Robertson.
The killing of Kassig is a departure from previous executions of the jihadist group in which the victim wears orange and utters a scripted final statement. The message however is the same: the IS will unleash its wrath on helpless captives to punish its enemies.
The Islamic State may be reeling, but it is definitely far from vanquished. The jihadists are well-armed, well-financed and highly motivated. “They are battle-hardened, experienced fighters whose only goal or mission in life is to get killed in the fight,” described one ranking officer of the peshmerga, the Kurdish fighting force engaging the IS in Iraq. “The hard part is killing somebody who already wants to die.”
It is this willingness to embrace death in the name of one’s cause that makes the Islamic State a formidable foe. The group has managed to hold on to its proclaimed caliphate that encompasses huge tracts of land in Iraq and Syria despite unrelenting airstrikes and a counteroffensives by the Iraqi army.
It is also what has attracted scores of impressionable youths to its fold. The IS is perhaps the first terrorist organization to successfully exploit the social media for recruitment and propaganda. It has extensively used Instagram and Twitter to spread its message. One tweet reportedly dared readers to “put the chicken wings down n come to Jihad bro.” Al-Qaeda was never this cool.
IS has even reached out to aspiring jihadists in the Philippines. There were reports that Filipinos were already in the frontlines in Syria and Iraq fighting under IS’s black banner, although our authorities claim the reports are unconfirmed. What is undeniable is that the Islamic State has made inroads in Mindanao, with local Islamic extremists like the Khilafa Islamiya swearing allegiance to it.
Once it establishes a foothold in the country, what’s to stop the Islamic State from expanding its jihadist agenda here? Khilafa Islamiya, no doubt doing IS’s bidding, is said to have set up cells in Luzon and the Visayas, apparently as part of a plot to assassinate Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines in January.
An attempt to kill the pope while he is in the country is not farfetched. Last September President Benigno Aquino 3rd directed the police and military to strengthen the security for the pontiff after the Vatican was warned that the jihadists will target Pope Francis during one of his trips abroad.
A police intelligence officer has intimated to The Times that the Khilafa Islamiya cells have been located and are under surveillance.
The government must realize that IS might be desperate enough to carry out such a plot and take preemptive action.