Circulating video of a friendly “tug of war between Jabhat al Nusra and Islamic state in Aleppo.”
Al Qaeda is attempting to burnish its image in Syria with a family-friendly public relations campaign. The Washington Post reports:
The jovial tug o’ war and children’s ice-cream-eating contest wouldn’t look out of place at any town fair. But the family festivities in the battle-scarred Syrian city of Aleppo had a surprising organizer: al-Qaeda.
The media arm of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda affiliate, has been churning out videos featuring community gatherings in Syria during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as the group battles to win hearts and minds. It is a far cry from the organization’s usual fare of video offerings, which includes public executions.
The attempt to soften Islamic State’s image comes as it struggles to win support in the areas of Syria that are outside government control. Many residents view the group as a foreign force more concerned with imposing Islamic law than with fighting against President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.
“They are well aware that people out there on principle don’t like lots of foreign fighters coming in to fight jihad in their country. They are aware they need to reassure people their presence isn’t negative,” said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center. “Ramadan parties and ice-cream-eating competitions are one localized example of that. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen, will depend on other armed groups and how they portray them.”
The Islamic State of Iraq seems to have learned a few lessons from the disastrous public image it developed during the Iraq war, a failure that morphed a majority in one of its most amenable target markets — relatively conservative Sunni Muslims from Anbar province — into bitter enemies. Even so, it’s doubtful the group and like-minded takfiris will be able to restrain their natural radical impulses for long. Nor is it likely that a little ice cream and the establishment of a complaints department will win Syrian popular opinion, as al Qaeda’s tendency to assassinate competitors, claim territory, impose draconian courts, and kill civilians, including children, for blasphemy becomes even more manifest.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.