The Islamic State gearing up for the “War of the Cross”

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Smoke rises in the horizon following US airstrikes targeting Islamic State (IS) militants at Mosul Dam on the outskirts of the northern city of Mosul where insurgents are fighting Kurdish forces on August 18, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Ahmed al-Rubaye)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Islamic State (IS) is getting ready for the US military strike. In principle, it is “the Caliphate state. Its defenders will not run away. Islamic duty requires soldiers to defend the land of Muslims in the face of invaders, not run away and hide.” Tactically, slogans are absent. IS fighters are redeploying in preparation for what they call the “War of the Cross.” The strategy of resistance is varied but the objective is one – “to remain steadfast as long as possible.”

"The Hour (of Resurrection) will not come until the Byzantines land in al-Amaq (valleys in Antioch, southern Turkey) or in Dabiq.” This is a Hadith (saying) of the Prophet Mohammad that jihadis are repeating frequently these days. Dabiq is a Syrian village located to the north of Aleppo where, they believe, a great battle is going to take place, which the Muslims will win in the end. According to their interpretation, the Byzantines represent the “Crusader West.”

Based on this Hadith, followers of the IS conclude that the confrontation will begin with a US strike which will pave the way for this battle. For them, it is “an inevitable divine promise that will prove to the world that we are the masters of the State and builders of the end of time Caliphate.” What confirms their deeply-rooted belief in this prophecy is the English-language magazine they began issuing months ago called Dabiq... The Return of Khilafah.

Even though there is no chance of a ground confrontation as the attack will be limited to missiles and airstrikes, some IS supporters argue seriously that “the Crusader alliance will be lured into a ground battle because it will definitely not achieve its goals from the air.” It is against this backdrop that the drums of the new world war are beating. “The alliance of the tyrants” – the name adopted by some IS activists on Twitter – has not undermined the resolve of the Islamic State’s soldiers in the field. That is what one IS member told Al-Akhbar. However, the accounts of Twitter users who are close to the extremist organization had dwindled considerably on all its sites.

News was reported about “evacuating the IS’ main centers, reducing the number of fighters as much as possible and keeping, when necessary, a few individuals at mobile checkpoints.” The sources did not deny the news but they pointed out that “key centers in Raqqa are still teeming with brothers.”

IS field sources revealed that “the Caliphate soldiers tested their air defenses in Raqqa and Tal Abyad today (yesterday).” At the same time, sources say that families were evacuated from sites that are believed to be a definite target by the US strike. This information coincided with the announcement by the jihadi salafist movement in Jordan yesterday, that “fighters from al-Nusra Front and IS in the Syrian provinces of Daraa and Aleppo evacuated their positions in preparation for the upcoming US strike.”

In areas controlled by the IS, Baghdadi’s soldiers say they are going to resist. Their sources talk of a state of euphoria among members of the organization because they are finally going to fight the “alliance of tyrants” in the “War of the Cross” waged against them. They reclaim the label that had been used by Osama bin Laden years ago to say that history repeats itself. IS member and famous Twitter user, Tarjuman al-Asawirti, promotes this idea widely.

Although IS sources admit that it is impossible for their military equipment to stand in the face of the West’s airborne arsenal, they speak of a “strategy of resistance that the Crusaders have no capacity for.” This high morale is open to more than one interpretation on the battlefield. “The mere persistence of the IS and its survival after the strike definitely means its victory,” said one of its members. This opinion is shared by most IS members. They believe that “standing up to an alliance of 40 states without resulting in their utter defeat, to the rest of the world, will mean that a divine power stands with them.” In a conversation on Skype, one of the IS members present in Raqqa said: “If we survive, Muslims around the world will understand that the continuous stories and Hadiths prophesied of us as masters of the end of time Caliphate according to the prophetic methodology.”

How will this translate on the ground? This is a question that is repeatedly asked of IS followers on Skype, Twitter and WhatsApp. Even though the question is asked of IS members only and not of al-Nusra Front members, answers vary. Abu Qasem al-Souri, an IS member, talks about “a kind of resistance that is going to surprise everyone... They are going to long for the good old days of the Iraq war.” The ambiguous answer is hardly convincing. He exaggerates saying: “One day, we will raise the flag of the IS at the White House.”

But you remind them that this time there isn’t going be US, British or any other troops on the ground to fight, that they will be up in the air while the bombs will rain down on them and you ask, what will you do to respond militarily? The question is answered this time by Abu Luqman: “All options are on the table. You will know everything in time.” The jihadi, also living in Raqqa, talks about their wish to have a preemptive attack carried out by IS soldiers in an important area in the US. Then he enumerates countries that will not be safe, including Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. These countries will be potential targets of their operations because the airplanes that will lead the “War of the Cross” will fly from bases located in these countries.

We cannot rule out that in the context of revenge operations, the IS might activate sleeper cells to target embassies of countries taking part in the international alliance that is waging a war against it. Nevertheless, it all remains unreliable empty threats as they talk about “the keenness of IS soldiers” to protect oil fields because they represent the organization’s financial lifeline.” But according to IS sources, all the anti-air capabilities owned by the IS cannot defend one oil field if a decision is taken to target it.

According to Syrian sources in Iraq, in field tactics, the priority is to defend the Prince of the Faithful. The main goal is to protect Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It might be just as much of a priority also to protect the group’s first-tier leadership, careful to divide them between Iraq and Syria. Even though it is believed that the powerful strikes will likely focus on areas in Iraq.

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter: @radwanmortada

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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