The images of twenty-one Christian hostages getting marched along the beaches of the Mediterranean intended to deliver a shocking message, as did their beheading. ISIS claimed to be only 300 miles from Rome, and ready to wreak havoc in southern Europe. They had enough control of the shore to commit a mass atrocity and film it at leisure, an issue secondary to the barbarity itself, but enough of a statement to raise the issue of Western security.
But is it for real? Experts analyzing the video tell Fox News that the beheadings are real, but the venue was most likely faked:
The experts believe that the men have all been killed, but doubts were expressed about the location of the attrocity and whether they were all murdered at the same time. It is thought some of the movie pay have been shot on a ‘green screen’ to hide the location with the background added at a later stage.Veryan Khan, editorial director of the Florida-based Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium told Fox News: ‘The Islamic State’s manipulation of their high-production videos has become commonplace. The murders likely took place in a studio, and the background image shown was likely from another location, the Bay in Sirte, a part of the Mediterranean Sea on the northern coast of Libya. There are several technical mistakes in the video that show it was manipulated.’Ms Khan said one of the most blatant mistakes involved ‘Jihad Joseph’ as he is shown out of proportion in relation to the sea, while some of the other Jihadis seem to be more than seven feet tall.Hollywood director Mary Lambert, who was responsible for horror movies such as Pet Cemetery said: ‘The shot that seems really tampered with is the one with the really tall Jihadists and the dwarf Christians. The close-ups of Jihadists on the beach are most likely green screen.’
If the experts are correct, then this could prove a little embarrassing to the government of Egypt. They attacked known jihadi sites in Libya in response to this video, killing dozens of Islamist terrorists they said were linked to ISIS. The US has hesitated to back the al-Sisi strikes, and this might explain why.
On the other hand, al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Shariah have operated openly since the US-led war on Moammar Qaddafi turned Libya into a failed state, so the need to strike those networks preceded this video anyway. Those efforts should have been ongoing since 2011, and certainly since the sacking of the US embassy in Benghazi in 2012. The threat of having a failed state on the Mediterranean has been well known ever since that point to all involved, and perhaps especially to Italy, where thousands of refugees from North Africa continue to stream. ISIS is just the latest player — and even at that, a loyalty to be announced more than its own from-the-ground-up network.
So why would ISIS bother to go to this trouble, assuming the venue in the video actually was faked? I’d refer readers back to Graeme Wood’s excellent article in The Atlantic to understand how ISIS justifies its atrocities. If they aren’t expanding their territory, then its credibility will shrink and disappear:
The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest. Al-Qaeda’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology. It sees enemies everywhere around it, and while its leadership wishes ill on the United States, the application of Sharia in the caliphate and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Baghdadi has said as much directly: in November he told his Saudi agents to “deal with the rafida [Shia] first … then al-Sulul [Sunni supporters of the Saudi monarchy] … before the crusaders and their bases.” …The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who “Rome” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Cerantonio makes a case that Rome meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul. We should think of Rome as the Republic of Turkey—the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, 90 years ago. Other Islamic State sources suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the Americans will do nicely.After its battle in Dabiq, Cerantonio said, the caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. Some believe it will then cover the entire Earth, but Cerantonio suggested its tide may never reach beyond the Bosporus. An anti-Messiah, known in Muslim apocalyptic literature as Dajjal, will come from the Khorasan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of the caliphate’s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Just as Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.
In order to justify its actions in the present, ISIS has to be seen as continually expanding in this phase, with initiative and momentum on its side. They have become bogged down of late in Iraq and Syria, expanding more slowly and without enough drama to keep recruits dazzled enough to join them in the large numbers they need. The solution? Claim an expansion that they don’t really have, and produce a horrifying enough video to shock everyone into initially not noticing that the claim may be unsupportable. Plus, this allows ISIS to propagandize actual Islamist terror militias in Libya to convince them to align with al-Baghdadi as Caliph — a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
However, that doesn’t mean that the experts are confirmed to be correct, either. There seems to be enough anomalies in the video to question the location, but the location hasn’t been definitively debunked either. Plus, the question of how 21 Christians from Egypt ended up anywhere but in Libya has yet to be answered, and their identities and deaths have been confirmed. It’s still possible that the executions took place in Libya, but not on the shore. Regardless, the security threat of the failed Libyan state remains, as does the threat from ISIS, even if they are not yet one and the same.