John Cantlie, a British journalist who has been held hostage by the Islamic State since 2012, is featured in a newly released video. The short production, which is three and a half minutes long, shows Cantlie standing in the alleged ruins of an Islamic State media kiosk in Mosul, Iraq.
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s organization uses Cantlie to question the efficacy of the American-led bombing campaign, arguing that the media kiosks are hardly worthy targets. But earlier this month the Islamic State itself trumpeted the media kiosks as “one of the cornerstones” of its “internal media.”
“As the war between the Islamic State and the US-led coalition continues, the Americans have launched a surprising new tactic against the mujahideen,” Cantlie says. “Using their $13 million dollar F-18s and hundred thousand dollar missile systems, they’ve begun targeting not tanks, not trucks, not even the mujahideen, but Islamic State media kiosks.”
“This used to be one such media kiosk, targeted and destroyed the other day on this busy high street,” Cantlie continues. “Kiosks are used to distribute pamphlets and information regarding the Islamic State and serve to expose some of the lies and propaganda the Western media continues to peddle in their never-ending mission to tarnish the image of the Islamic State.”
Cantlie claims “it costs about $50 to build” one of the kiosks and he taunts the “collective might of the American war machine” because it strikes such inexpensive facilities. The British correspondent asks why the US bothers to bomb such locations: “Is it a ruse somehow by the CIA to undermine the Islamic State’s message to the Muslims of Mosul and, therefore, somehow diminish their control of the city? Is it perhaps to strike fear into the hearts of the mujahideen by abandoning any ideas to build another dozen kiosks to replace this one?”
“No,” Cantlie says, answering his own questions. “It’s because the Americans are so bankrupt of intelligence that this is all they have left to target.” He claims that the airstrikes are evidence of the “failed strategy of the US air campaign” and only risk the lives of civilians who are nearby.
“If this is what [President] Obama meant when he talked about degrading and ultimately destroying ISIS, clearly he’s got a long way to go yet,” Cantlie argues.
Amaq News Agency, a propaganda outlet affiliated with the Islamic State, released Cantlie’s video via social media and other web sites yesterday. It is his first appearance in months.
Contrary to what Cantlie is forced to argue, the US-led coalition frequently targets the Islamic State’s tanks, trucks, fighters and leaders. In what amounts to a response to the Cantlie’s appearance, the Defense Department released an infographic (seen on the right) earlier today that summarizes the types of targets bombed to date. Fighting positions account for 7,118 of the 22,779 targets bombed thus far, according to CENTCOM’s data. Tanks, Humvees, buildings, staging areas and the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure are all regularly attacked.
Media kiosks are “one of the cornerstones” of the caliphate’s “internal media”
Although the video of Cantlie is intended to downplay the importance of the media kiosks, the Islamic State recently highlighted them as being an essential part of its media strategy for the areas under its control.
The 21st edition of the Islamic State’s Al Naba newsletter, which was released on Mar. 8, included an article entitled, “An Inside Look at the Media of the Islamic State.” Al Naba interviewed a jihadist known as Abu Umar al Muhajir, who has been with the media kiosk “project” from its inception.
Abu Umar explained that the Islamic State had been distributing its propaganda using CDs, but this strategy was “weak” because there were relatively few computers in the Levant. The proliferation of smart phones also made the “caliphate” rethink its messaging plans. The media kiosks are part of the propagandists’ solution and are intended “to be the conduit of communication between the people and the media of the Islamic State,” he said.
Abu Umar elaborated on the history of the media kiosks project, saying the Islamic State’s Wilayat Halab (Aleppo province) first experimented with them, but the effort initially faltered. The idea didn’t really take off until the release of the fourth episode of “The Clanging of the Swords,” an ongoing series that glorifies the “caliphate’s” war. The Aleppo media office announced the video in the media kiosks and this was “great advertising” for them. After that, all of the other wilayat (provinces) “requested the project” and it has been implemented in Raqqa and elsewhere.
The media kiosks “project has become one of the cornerstones of the internal media in the different wilayat of the caliphate,” Abu Umar emphasized, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.
Al Naba cited another Islamic State official, identified as Abu Fatimah al Ansari, as saying that the first kiosks in Iraq were placed in Mosul. There are “more than 60 media kiosks” in Iraq today, Al Naba added. The plan is “to convert these kiosks into comprehensive media centers, releasing urgent and daily news on widescreen TVs at all times, placed on the outside of the media kiosk,” Abu Fatimah told the newsletter. This is intended to counter the enemy’s “false and fabricated news.”
Al Naba also emphasized the importance of the media kiosks for the Islamic State’s recruiting, as “many” of the provinces’ residents started down the “path of jihad after learning of the truth through these platforms.” This led to a “large demand” for more kiosks. The newsletter identified fighters who allegedly joined the “caliphate’s” cause after viewing propaganda in the facilities.
According to a jihadist known as Abu Ayyah, the kiosks “attract many of the residents” beginning around “eight in the morning” and are open until the nighttime prayer. Abu Ayyah explained that many of the Islamic State’s new believers “have been affected by the media” shown at the kiosks and this means more needed to built.
Still another Islamic State media operative, known as Abu al Bara al Furati, explained to Al Naba that the six media kiosks in Raqqa, Syria are not enough to keep up with demand and so they are building more. Abu al Bara noted that the kiosks distribute propaganda in several different languages.
Therefore, less than two weeks before Cantlie’s latest video was released, the Islamic State itself explained to followers the importance of media kiosks in its overall media strategy.