Al Qaeda Spin Doctors Working Overtime

Posted: July 27, 2013 in International, Middle East Unrest, Terrorism
Tags: , , , ,

This is not an Onion headline:

Al-Qaeda tries to soften image with ice cream
By Loveday Morris, Published: July 25

BEIRUT — The jovial tug o’ war and children’s ice-cream-eating contest wouldn’t look out of place at any town fair. But the family festivities in the battle-scarred Syrian city of Aleppo had a surprising organizer: al-Qaeda.

The media arm of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda affiliate, has been churning out videos featuring community gatherings in Syria during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as the group battles to win hearts and minds. It is a far cry from the organization’s usual fare of video offerings, which includes public executions.

The attempt to soften Islamic State’s image comes as it struggles to win support in the areas of Syria that are outside government control. Many residents view the group as a foreign force more concerned with imposing Islamic law than with fighting against President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

“They are well aware that people out there on principle don’t like lots of foreign fighters coming in to fight jihad in their country. They are aware they need to reassure people their presence isn’t negative,” said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center. “Ramadan parties and ice-cream-eating competitions are one localized example of that. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen, will depend on other armed groups and how they portray them.”

Islamic State has rapidly risen to prominence in Syria since emerging in April. Analysts say the group, which includes established jihadist factions that now fight under a common banner, comprises 2,500 to 3,000 men nationwide. It is most influential in Aleppo and its countryside to the north, in Idlib and in Latakia.

The group, however, is facing increasing isolation as others try to distance themselves from Islamic State’s hard-line tactics.

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