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Australia stars in first edition of new ISIS magazine



7 September 2016 15:45

The latest online magazine from Islamic State features an Australian flavour, among some other interesting aspects.

First is the name change; no longer is 'Dabiq' the title (unless this masthead continues to put out editions separately); 'Rumiya' (formal Arabic for Rome) has replaced 'Dabiq'. As most marketers will tell you, when a company's brand is on the skids then it's time for a refresh.; the same applies to jihadists. Jabhat al-Nusra has (to date) unsuccessfully tried to re-brand itself as a non-Al Qaeda jihadist group by changing its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, as its old name long ago became a dead weight on its leadership aspirations.

With its hold on territory becoming more precarious by the day, ISIS has possibly decided that naming your social media magazine after a town that will likely soon fall out of your control would not be a good look 'going forward'. Re-naming your publication after the centre of Christendom is a way to show what you aspire to, rather than what you have lost. It's also in line with the late Muhammad al-Adnani’s recent claims that IS did not fight for territory as a way of extolling the virtues of continuous jihadi resistance.

But of greater interest for Australians is, as always, in the local angle. While the first edition includes a range of recycled articles from its Arabic-language magazine, Rumiyah also carried a feature article on a dead Australian jihadi (obviously written by an Australian, or by an author with an Australian adviser). Australia has featured as a target in both Al Qaeda and ISIS publications before, but often in generic terms; this time there was some real specificity. Not only were they willing to engage in a bit of alliteration by asking people to target suburbs starting with the letter B (Brunswick, Broadmeadows, Bankstown and Bondi), they also named targets that would be iconic to Australians (the Melbourne and Sydney Cricket Grounds), as well as the Opera House, an international Australian symbol. They also took the opportunity to criticise two Australian Islamic figures who they believe had betrayed the jihadist cause.

So what to make of Australia's starring role? It's difficult to say. The first possibility is that there was simply an Australian available to input some local colour tying into a story eulogising a dead Australian jihadi. If this was the case, the suburb selection was a bit random and strange; two with significant Muslim populations (Bankstown and Broadmeadows), one with a small Muslim population (Brunswick), and one with virtually no Muslims (Bondi). The buildings included two sporting venues best known by Australians and perhaps English cricket fans. We may be able to say that he wasn't a Melbournian, else he would have surely referred to 'The G' rather than the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but the fact that he criticised two Melbourne-based figures may run counter to this line of thought. Regardless, one shouldn't read anything much into the naming of either the suburbs or facilities as denoting a particular focus on them; it more likely reflected an Australian jihadi's attempt to elicit media interest in the publication.

The other possibility is that the focus on Australia in this edition is a response to the higher social media profile being built by a newly active Australian jihadi in Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (the group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra). Abu Sulayman Muhajir, a senior jihadi in the group, has recently broken his social media silence and improved his profile. The death of Ezzit Raad and the need to eulogise him may simply have given an Australian jihadi (or Australian jihadis) an opportunity to focus on their own country and let people know there were competitors to Abu Sulayman in the Australian jihadi social media milieu.

Photo: Getty Images/Universal History Archive

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