A German former rapper turned Islamic State (IS) militant has "starred" in a recruitment video by IS's new Russian-language propaganda wing, Furat Media.
Denis Cuspert, alias Abu Talha al-Almani ("the German") appears alongside five popular Daghestani preachers in the 32-minute video, which is titled Rejoice In The Deal You Have Secured and which refers to IS's announcement of a province in the North Caucasus.
Speaking in German, Cuspert praises militants in Chechnya and Daghestan for joining IS and creating "Vilayat Kavkaz," the name given by IS to the group's new Caucasus "province." He urges those militants who have not yet done so to pledge allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
"I praise God who made you a part of this caliphate [the name given by IS to the lands under its control] and made your province its province," Cuspert says. "This is the grace of God, that he took you out of decline and chaos and gave you light, the light of the caliphate, the light of victory."
Cuspert, who has been designated a global terrorist by the United States, joined IS in 2012. Since then, the former rapper has appeared in a number of propaganda videos, and has gained celebrity status among some militants. Cuspert has used his celebrity to encourage others to join IS.
The Furat video is the first time Cuspert has appeared in a Russian-speaking IS video.
But the German militant has been photographed with North Caucasian militants before. A photograph of Cuspert posing with a militant from the Chechen-led group Junud al-Sham, which is not associated with IS, was shared online in 2013.
The Power Of Celebrity
The 32-minute video is far more than a routine welcome message for "Vilayat Kavkaz," or a call for further recruitment. It's part of an ongoing project by Furat Media to signal the power of IS's North Caucasian contingent to existing militants and would-be militants as well as to the authorities in Russia.
The video is also a direct challenge to IS's rivals for power and influence in the North Caucasus, the Caucasus Emirate militant group.
Furat Media, which emerged in June, is the brainchild of Abu Jihad (Islam Seit-Umarovich Atabiyev), an ethnic Karachai who is close to IS military commander Umar al-Shishani.
Atabiyev has been growing his power base -- and that of IS's Russian-speaking contingent -- for some months. He has gathered around him a powerful group of "celebrity" Salafist ideologues and preachers he hopes can win over the hearts and minds of Russian-speaking militants.
The video's all-star lineup features five prominent Daghestani Salafist preachers who have recently joined IS in Syria, including Kamil Abu Sultan, Akhmad Medinsky, and Nadir Abu Khalid.
It is a visual demonstration that IS's Russian-speaking contingent is powerful enough to attract such serious support.
By showing Cuspert seated alongside these preachers, Furat is visually signaling its power to attract prestigious high-profile militants from outside the small North Caucasian world.
And even more than that, Furat is telling North Caucasian militants that they are important players in the wider context of global "jihad," a force to be reckoned with and not small-fry fighters in a distant backwater -- something Atabiyev has accused his Caucasus Emirate rivals of being.
Propaganda Vs. Reality
Although Atabiyev is striving to put North Caucasian "jihad" on the map, has IS's declaration of "Vilayat Kavkaz" and the defection of militants from the Caucasus Emirate to IS made any significant difference to militancy in Russia?
According to Mark Youngman, a PhD candidate at the University of Birmingham who tracks militant groups in the North Caucasus, aligning with IS could theoretically enhance the capabilities of rebel groups through access to resources. "But there is not any credible evidence that this has already occurred," he says.
And while both IS's Vilayat Kavkaz and the Caucasus Emirate are capable of carrying out major individual attacks, "the ability of both groups to carry out more sustained campaigns is open to question, and at the present time neither poses a threat to Russia's control of the region," Youngman adds.
In terms of which group would be more likely to carry out a major attack in Russia, Youngman says that Vilayat Kavkaz could be considered the most likely of the two to do so.
This is "not because of capabilities, but because Caucasus Emirate leaders have advocated a relatively more moderate line of restricting suicide operations and avoiding the deaths of fellow Muslims in operations," Youngman adds.