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IS Militants' Russian Magazine: New, Slick, And Terribly Dull

Istok's lead article is a long-winded justification, spanning seven pages, for why its author abandoned his fight against "the Russian tyrants" in Chechnya to fight in Syria, and why he then joined IS rather than any other group.

This week, the Islamic State (IS) militant group achieved a new milestone, publishing the first edition of its new Russian-language digital magazine, Istok.

According to IS Russian-language Twitter accounts, Istok -- whose name means "the source" -- is the work of IS's official media arm, Al-Hayat.

Superficially, the 24-page magazine is similar to Al-Hayat's slick English-language magazine, Dabiq. It's peppered with inspirational quotes from the Koran and Hadith and illustrated with full-color photographs of smiling militants waving black flags.

But in terms of its content, Istok is very different. While Dabiq tries to present its messages of martyrdom and glory as if it were a modern men's magazine, Istok is merely terribly dull.

Dabiq's latest issue, published last week, is focused on debunking exciting conspiracy theories and plots. "They Plot And Allah Plots," its cover screams, above a photograph of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Another feature, under the headline Healthcare In The Khilafa, reiterates IS's grandiose boast that it is a real state, not just a terrorist group.

In contrast, Istok's lead article is a long-winded justification, spanning seven pages, for why its author abandoned his fight against "the Russian tyrants" in Chechnya to fight in Syria, and why he then joined IS rather than any other group.

Most of the rest of Istok is taken up with a hefty, multipage feature titled Caliphs, which -- as the headline suggests -- provides an exhaustive list of previous Islamic caliphs, occasionally illustrated with photographs of enthusiastic militants waving flags, sometimes while on horseback or perched atop tanks.

Istok is not the first non-English magazine published by the IS group. A French magazine named Dar al-Islam has been released, though Charlie Winter, a researcher with the counterextremism think tank Quilliam, says he is not convinced it was published by Al-Hayat.

IS has also translated Dabiq into numerous other languages, including French, German, Albanian, Arabic and Indonesian, Winter says.

Who Wrote Istok?

Istok does not say who wrote the articles that appear in this first edition.

But the magazine is almost certainly the work of an increasingly powerful group of militants from Russia's North Caucasus in Iraq, who have close ties to IS military commander Tarkhan Batirashvili (Umar al-Shishani).

The group's leaders include Abu Jihad (Islam Seit-Umarovich Atabiyev) an ethnic Karachai who has appeared in numerous videos with Batirashvili, and Ahmad Chatayev, an ethnic Chechen who arrived in Syria late last year and who was previously thought to be a representative of the late former Caucasus Emirate leader, Doku Umarov.

Istok's lead article repeats arguments previously made by Batirashvili and Atabiyev to justify why they decided to leave the Caucasus Emirate-aligned Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) group in late 2013 and swear allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The author of the article claims that this is because JMA refused to permit North Caucasus militants to return home to fight; Batirashvili made the same claim, via a video message given by Atabiyev, in January 2014.

Recruitment Drive

In recent weeks, Atabiyev's faction in IS has stepped up efforts to encourage militants in the North Caucasus to pledge allegiance to Baghdadi.

This recruitment drive comes amid a militant power vacuum in the North Caucasus following the death of Aliaskhab Kebekov (Ali Abu-Mukhammad), who was killed in April in Daghestan. Magomed Suleymanov, aka Abu Usman Gimrinsky, has reportedly been chosen as the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate, but that has not been formally announced.

In recent weeks, Atabiyev's group has been boosted by a number of new members from Daghestan, notably two prominent jihadi preachers, Akhmed Medinsky and Nadir Abu Khalid (Nadir Metodov). Metodov was arrested in Daghestan in October 2014 but appeared alongside Atabiyev in Iraq in a new video released this week.

Whether Istok's turgid pages will inspire more Russian-speakers to join IS in Syria and Iraq is uncertain.

-- 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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