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IS Peddles Revised Version Of Balkan History In New Recruitment Video

Jihadists from the Balkans appear in a propaganda video for the extremist Islamic State group that was published on social media on on June 4.
Jihadists from the Balkans appear in a propaganda video for the extremist Islamic State group that was published on social media on on June 4.

"A land bathing in the vastness of three great seas..."

"A land characterized by the might of mountains that have for centuries been buffeted by fierce battles..."

They could be quotes from a cheesy tourist brochure selling summer vacations in the Balkans.

But they are the opening lines of Honor Is In Jihad, a new propaganda video aimed at Balkan Muslims by Al Hayat, the media wing of the Islamic State (IS) group.

The video was released on social media on June 4 but was likely filmed before February 6, as one of the militants appearing in it -- Mirza Haklaj from Montenegro -- was reported killed then.

"We've never seen a consolidated message targeted at the Balkans before," says Ebi Spahiu, who tracks Albanian militants at the Tirana-based Albanian Institute of International Affairs (AIIS).

Al Hayat has made the video in two languages widely-spoken in the region, Albanian and Serbian, says Spahiu, suggesting that IS could be seeking to strengthen its message in the Balkans.

Revisionist History

The message of Honor Is In Jihad is one that has appeared throughout IS propaganda: Muslims in Europe have been subjugated and humiliated by the "infidels" and can only regain their dignity by waging "jihad" in the ranks of IS.

The video presents IS's revisionist version of Balkan history, using film and documentary footage to lend a sense of authority and authenticity to the narrative.

World War I is recast as a "global assault by [infidel] nations against Islam" whose goal was to "create nation states in the lands of the Muslims."

After World War II, according to IS, "an air of humiliation now engulfed the Muslims of the Balkans."

And even when communism fell, Muslims in Bosnia were "duped by the concepts of democracy" while Bosnian jihadi fighters were "betrayed" by secular leaders, the video argues.

This fictional, idealized past is connected with the present via a call for Balkan Muslims to join its ranks in Syria and Iraq.

Their humiliation can only be dispelled by "hijra," migration to IS-controlled territory, the video says.

Selling The 'Caliphate Life'

Honor Is In Jihad emphasizes peaceful, family life in Iraq, not violent jihad.

In IS-controlled Iraq, Muslims "walk in honor, meet in safety, and raise their children fearing none but Allah," the video says.

Bosnian militants are shown playing with their children and drinking tea together.

This is the first time, according to AIIS's Spahiu, that a video has shown militants from the Balkans in IS-controlled lands alongside their wives and children.

"All of the previous messages called for fighters to join jihad. Now they are also calling [for them] to join the caliphate's life," Spahiu told RFE/RL.

Lone Wolves

A Bosnian IS militant, Abu Jihad al-Bosni, describes joining IS as moving from "darkness into light."

Another militant, Salahuddin al-Bosni, has a more practical message. Balkan Muslims who complained of being oppressed in their homelands should come to Iraq.

"If you want it so much, then make hijra," Salahuddin says.

The video also calls for lone-wolf attacks against domestic targets in the Balkans.

"We will put fear in you and terrorize you.... We will come to you with explosive belts," militant Abu Muqatil al-Kosovi says, addressing governments in the Balkans.

No Muhaxheri

The most notorious of IS's Balkan militants, Lavdrim Muhaxheri, is conspicuous by his absence from the video.

Muhaxheri had been presumed dead until his appearance in a recently released violent video raised speculation that he may be still alive.

An ethnic Albanian, Muhaxheri had been a key figure in the recruitment of Kosovar Albanians to IS.

His omission from the video suggests that the rumors of his death may have been accurate after all.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world.


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