Image for representational purposes only.
Islamic State continues to make headlines. On Sunday, the terrorist organization released a new video purportedly showing the gruesome mass killing of a group of thirty Ethiopian Christians in Libya.
The footage that includes the logo of the group’s Al-Furqan media arm is more than 29 minutes long. It begins with a description of Christian churches and then calls the Holy Trinity – the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit – a form of polytheism whose worshipers deserve punishment.
At the end of the video, two groups of men dressed in orange and black are shown being escorted by armed IS members in two different locations. A masked man addresses the camera and gives a warning to viewers.
“Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap,” the man says. “We swear to Allah the one, who disgraced you by our hands, you will not have safety even in your dreams until you embrace Islam.”
The video then cuts between the two groups as one group is shot, and the other decapitated with knives.
The video also shows IS members breaking and defacing Catholic and Christian iconography, including crosses on top of churches and pictures and statues of the Virgin Mary. As the crosses fall, IS militants are shown replacing them with the group’s black flag.
At the same time Islamic State released the video, the United Nations reported that at least 90,000 people have fled the advance of IS fighters in Ramadi, Iraq.
“Our top priority is delivering life-saving assistance to people who are fleeing — food, water, and shelter are highest on the list of priorities,” Lise Grande, the deputy special representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, said in a statement.
Ar Ramadi is a city east of Bagdad. The report on Islamic State advances close to the Iraqi capital contradicts a recent Pentagon announcement about the progress being made by coalition forces.
U.S. Colonel Steve Warren told reporters last Monday that the group had been pushed out of 25-30 percent – around 5-6,000 square miles – of the Iraqi land under their control. However, a simple look at a map released by the US Department of Defense shows that this is simply not true.
Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that the percentage figure was “nonsense” because much of the territory mentioned is unpopulated. “They don’t control empty stretches of Anbar desert where they have no forces, where no-one does.”
The Islamic State offensive in Ramadi could be a prelude of an assault on Bagdad. On Wednesday, it seized several villages close to the provincial capital of Ramadi after launching a series of dawn assaults.
Islamic State fighters have been pushing towards Ramadi since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi launched a major offensive to drive them out of the majority Sunni province of Anbar last week. Government efforts were intended to build on the victory in Tikrit; but IS forces have now pushed to within three miles of Ramadi, according to various reports.
In Syria, Islamic State has advanced in the direction of the capital Damascus. The Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Iranian forces suffered setbacks last week after Islamic State took over the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmuk. Almost all of the 120,000 Palestinians who lived in the camp before the war have now fled.
There were conflicting reports about a supposed withdrawal of Islamic State from Yarmouk; but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said on Thursday that clashes were still ongoing. The Observatory reported that 80 percent of Yarmouk was under the combined control of Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra. Palestinian factions accuse al-Nusra of colluding with Islamic State. The attack on Yarmuk began on April 1st after the group quietly build its presence through clandestine networks and its Sunni supporters in the area.
Elsewhere in southern Syria, Islamic State and al-Nusra are trying to take over territory held by regime forces and the Western-backed Southern Front. On April 1st, Al-Nusra took over the Nasib border crossing from Assad’s army. This was the last regime-controlled border crossing between Syria and Jordan.
The events in southern Syria could signal a new phase in the Syrian war. The era where Islamic State was a safe distance from the area in Syria closest to Israel seems to be over.
The renewed cooperation between al-Nusra and Islamic State furthermore indicates that they have realized that the escalating Sunni-Shiite war demands they overcome their differences if they want to become a central power in the Middle East.
Islamic State is very well organized; and although it is driven by religious fanaticism, it has clear goals and is coldly calculating how to achieve them.
As Western Journalism reported last month, the organization is trying to destabilize Egypt and Jordan.The Islamic State affiliate Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is at war with the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula and has set up camp adjacent to Israel’s southern border.
Today, Stratfor reported that Hamas is clamping down on Islamic State offshoot Wilayat Gaza (Province Gaza).
Wilayat Gaza has made several statements and has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks since late 2014. The group claimed responsibility for an attack on the French Cultural Center in Gaza City in October 2014. The following month, the group issued a statement demanding that women abide by Sharia rules of dress. In December, the group issued a statement threatening to kill a number of writers and poets in Gaza if they did not stop “insulting Islam”, Stratfor reported.
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth