In the past week, the Islamic State released dozens of pictures allegedly depicting the aftermath of recent Russian airstrikes in Syria. At least two photosets focus on the city of Raqqa, the de facto home of the “caliphate.” The images from Raqqa show buildings reduced to rubble, pummeled vehicles, cratered roads and demolished bridges.
The Islamic State’s propaganda arm claims that separate images document the effects of Russia’s bombing campaign on a marketplace in Al Bukamal, a city lying on the Euphrates River in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders Iraq. In addition, a video released by a media group affiliated with the Islamic State purportedly shows the marketplace after Russia’s airstrikes. Sources in the jihadist group claim that 50 or more people were killed in Al Bukamal, including civilians, according to Zaman Al Wasl.
Some of the photos from Raqqa and Al Bukamal can be seen below.
The Long War Journal cannot independently verify that the damage shown in the photos is due to Russian airstrikes. But independent reporting says that Russia has been bombing Raqqa and Islamic State positions elsewhere in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reports that 42 people, including 27 civilians and 15 Islamic State fighters, were killed by Russian bombs in Raqqa on November 3.
Separately, Russia’s airforce claims to have struck Islamic State positions near the city of Palmyra, which is known for its ancient ruins, at least twice this week. Palmyra was overrun by the “caliphate’s” fighters earlier this year.
The Russian defense ministry issued a statement on November 5 saying that it had “destroyed a large fortified location of Islamic State militants” in Palmyra, according to Agence France Presse. Russia claimed that it “only strikes the objects of terrorist infrastructure which are at a considerable distance from the architectural monuments.”
The world has been waiting to see how Vladimir Putin responds to the downing of a Russian airliner on October 31. Russian and Egyptian officials were initially dismissive of reports that terrorists were responsible for the crash, which left more than 220 passengers and crew dead. But Putin suspended all flights from Russia to Egypt earlier today, acting on the advice of his counterterrorism advisers. The move was likely a response to a growing body of intelligence indicating that the jihadists were responsible.
The Islamic State’s so-called Wilayat Sinai (Sinai “province”) has released at least three official claims of responsibility. Within hours of the crash, the group issued a statement saying that “[s]oldiers of the Caliphate were able to down a Russian airplane over Sinai province.” The Islamic State’s Al Bayan radio later released an audio version of the statement. On November 4, the Islamic State again said it was responsible, defiantly arguing in an audio message that it doesn’t have to prove how it destroyed the airliner. The group added, however, that it would release evidence to support its claim at some point in the future. [See LWJ report, Conflicting claims still surround Russian airliner crash.]
Western officials have not yet confirmed the Islamic State’s claim, but official statements and leaks to the press indicate they may be heading in that direction.
The UK suspended flights from Sharm al Sheikh, a popular tourist location, on November 4. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond explained there is “a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft.” On November 6, British Prime Minister David Cameron added: “We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but it looks increasingly likely that was the case.”
According to Reuters, US and British officials intercepted conversations between “suspected militants” and indicating that a bomb was responsible. US intelligence officials suspect that a mole at the airport in Sharm el Sheikh helped plant a bomb on board, according to CNN.
While the US and UK are waiting to make a final determination, the Islamic State pushes ahead with its anti-Russian propaganda. Some of the photos from Raqqa and Al Bukamal, which were posted on Twitter, are accompanied by a note from the Islamic State’s media operatives. The jihadists argue that no one should have sympathy for the victims of the Russian airliner crash, given what Russia is doing in Syria.
Many wonder how Putin will respond if the Islamic State’s culpability is proven. Russia has already been bombing the Islamic State. However, it is certainly possible that the Russian autocrat will increase the number of airstrikes targeting the “caliphate” in the days to come.
Islamic State propaganda photos from Raqqa and Al Bukamal
Below are five of photos from a set of 18 purportedly showing the effects of Russia’s airstrikes in Raqqa:
The Islamic State released a photoset showing the alleged aftermath of Russian airstrikes on bridges in Raqqa. Four of the 12 photos from this set can be seen below:
The Islamic State also released dozens of photos purportedly showing a marketplace that was bombed in Al Bukamal. Five of these pictures can be seen below:
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