Within hours of the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Mar. 22, the Amaq News Agency released a claim of responsibility on behalf of the Islamic State. Amaq has played a more prominent role in the Islamic State’s propaganda in recent months, reporting on events from many of the areas around the globe where the so-called caliphate’s fighters operate. Not long after, the Islamic State released a formal statement saying “soldiers of the caliphate” carried out the operation.
As was the case after high-profile attacks in the past, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s propagandists quickly got to work, promoting the events in Belgium across multiple social media channels. Videos, articles, and graphics have all been used to glorify the terrorists’ deeds.
The 23rd issue of the Islamic State’s Al Naba newsletter was released online later in the day on Mar. 22. It carried an infographic referencing the three suicide bombings in Brussels and an article taunting the Belgian government for failing to stop them.
The infographic, which filled the second page of Al Naba, can be seen on the right. It lists “41 Martyrdom-Seeking and Commando Operations” during the previous week. The majority of these were carried out in Iraq and Syria. For example, 13 of the operations were executed in Anbar and another eight in Iraq’s Salah ad Din Province. But Al Naba also included the three suicide attacks in Belgium in its count.
The next page of Al Naba contained a short article entitled, “The Islamic State Shakes Crusader Europe Again – Hundreds Dead and Injured as a Result of the Martyrdom-Seeking Operations in Brussels.”
The article didn’t include any specific details about the terrorist cell responsible, but Al Naba explained that the “explosions occurred just days after” the Belgian government launched a “security campaign” in Brussels. The Islamic State’s propagandists noted that the Belgians claimed to have broken up “jihadist cells” plotting to attack the “Crusaders.” These same cells included a number of “soldiers of the Islamic State.”
But the “well-executed operation” in Brussels caused the Belgian government to advise people to stay home, Al Naba’s editors wrote. And all the “Crusader” states held emergency meetings to discuss “security procedures.”
Al Naba is not just posted online. Hard copies are handed out to residents in the areas under the Islamic State’s control. The newsletter is intended to glorify the group’s operations around the globe and it is noteworthy that Al Naba’s editors were referencing the events in Brussels before the smoke had even cleared.
After the Islamic State’s Sinai “province” blew up a Russian airliner in October of last year, other designated “provinces” released videos congratulating their Egyptian comrades. The same was true after the assault on Brussels.
The Islamic State’s Deir Ezzor and Ninawa “provinces” both released videos on Mar. 25. The productions attempted to justify the attacks.
The narrator in the video from Wilayah Al Khayr (the Islamic State’s name for Deir Ezzor) says that despite being a “small state,” Belgium has participated in the “war against Islam.” Belgium is “one of the most prominent Crusader nations participating in the Crusader alliance against the Islamic State,” the narrator continues, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. “Belgium’s airplanes commit massacres against our people in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other places every day.”
The video shows sweets and the aforementioned 23rd issue of Al Naba being handed out to residents as part of the celebration. One man says he hopes that the other “Crusader” nations are struck, including America.
The narrator concludes, “Belgium and the other combatant nations of non-belief should know that what they experienced in Brussels, and before that in Paris, is just a drop in the sea of the venom and violent death we have prepared for them. What is coming will be worse, God willing.”
The “new 9/11”
The Ninawa “province’s” video, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, features two Islamic State fighters from Belgium. The fighters tie the Brussels bombings to 9/11 and portray them as part of Osama bin Laden’s legacy.
“Here are the lions of the Caliphate roaring in Brussels, the unofficial capital of the European Union, and near the Headquarters of NATO,” the narrator says, according to SITE’s translation. “The degree of the preparedness is raised to the highest, but it did not stop the wagers of wars from reaching the safest and the most fortified places, to carry out their blessed operation and deprive the Crusaders of sleep.”
The narrator portrays the Brussels operation as part of a war between the Islamic State and Christian nations. “O nation of the Cross, be pained and harmed, and taste from the cup of death, from which you always made the Muslims taste,” the narrator says. “Know that the Islamic Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] took off the dress of submission, and threw from itself the dust of humiliation. It disbelieved the tyrants, and it retuned to follow the straight path of the Prophet.”
The narrator also claims that the attacks in Belgium are revenge for the shedding of Muslim blood in Iraq and Syria, ignoring the fact that most of the Islamic State’s victims in those two countries are Muslims.
“This is just the beginning of your nightmare,” a Belgian fighter identified as Abu Abdullah al Beljiki says. “Today we are enjoying this beautiful vengeance, Allah has willed it. After New York and Paris, today we declare to you the new 9/11.”
A second Belgian fighter, known as Abu Abdullah al Beljiki, evokes the memory of Osama bin Laden.
“I remind you O disbelievers, with the words of Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him, when he warned America and its allies that they will not dream of security before we live it as a reality in Palestine,” Abu Abdullah al Beljiki says, according to SITE. Abu Abdullah continues by arguing that the jihadists have built a real Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, so they “no longer accept the life of humiliation under the rule of the tyrants.”
“Remember the message directed to you more than a year ago, which warned you that we will attack you in Paris and Brussels, and praise be to Allah, we succeeded in this,” Abu Abdullah warns. “Know we have other targets and we are determined.”