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We are witnessing 'a better recruiting tool for ISIS than any propaganda

Published by Business Insider on Wed, 19 Aug 2015

While many in the West focus on combating the Islamic State's online propaganda, some are overlooking the most effective recruiting tool the group hasatrocities committed by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.The strategic security firm The Soufan Group notes that the regime's brutal treatment of civilians encourages people both inside and outside Syria to support alternate groups that are fighting for power in the country, including the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh)."The [Assad] regime is a terrorism generator of epic proportion, engaging in state terrorism against its own people and inciting terrorism from its opponents," the group writes."There is no justifying the actions of a group like the Islamic State or al-Nusra ... but the Assad regime's wholesale slaughter of civilians provides the groups with radicalized supporters far faster than Assad's military can then fight them."Earlier this week, the Syrian military reportedly killed about 100 people in an airstrike on a market in Douma, about 10 miles northeast of Damascus. Reuters reports that the strike was "one of the bloodiest attacks of its type in the four-year-long war that has killed an estimated quarter of a million people and driven 10 million from their homes."The images of civiliansin agony as they frantically piece together their shattered livesare seen by sympathetic people around the world.And it's not just airstrikesthe Syrian regime has also been credibly accused of carrying out mass torture, deploying sarin nerve gas, dropping explosive steel barrels full of shrapnel and chlorine out of helicopters, encouraging starvation through sieges, and committing mass rape since the uprising against Assad's rule began in March 2011.Not only do these tactics give locals a reason to turn to ISIS as a means of protection from Assad, but they can also radicalize people in the West as atrocities occur and world leaders do little.Western governments are focusing on countering ISIS' online propaganda, which includes videos, an English-language magazine, and social-media accounts extolling the benefits of living in ISIS territory.But the images of suffering Syrians can also have a major effect on those who live thousands of miles away from the conflict.In an extensive investigation into the motivations of three British schoolgirls who left London to live in ISIS territory, The New York Times noted that one of the girls "received a steady stream of images depicting atrocities against Muslim children, from Syria to Myanmar," on her iPod.Assad's crimes also serve to further radicalize previously moderate rebels, as counterterrorism analysts have noted:Assad's war crimes radicalize more and more of the Syrian population. As the war has gone on, fewer and fewer "moderate" rebels. Thomas Joscelyn (@thomasjoscelyn) August 17, 2015#ISIS slick propaganda may be a powerful recruitment tool, but its nothing compared to #Assads ability to murder en masse w. impunity. Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) August 17, 2015The Soufan Group expands on this point, saying "the Assad regime's repeated atrocities have helped further radicalize a conflict that is already extreme by any measure."The report continues: "Groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's Syrian iteration, and, of course the so-called Islamic State, tap into the understandable rage and harness it to commit their own atrocities, ensuring a cycle of ever-increasing barbarism."Additionally, Assad has been saying for years that his opposition is populated by terrorists, and his regime's atrocities serve to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.Syrian diplomat Bassam Barabandi, who spent several decades in the Syrian Foreign Ministry, described Assad's plan in the Atlantic Council last year."The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) emerged as one of those facts created to ensure Assad's survival as he and his Iranian backers seek to frame this conflict as a regional sectarian issue, with a classical choice between military powers and Sunni extremists," Barabandi wrote."Now that ISIS has fully matured, the Assad regime and Iran offer themselves as partners to the United States."And while US officials have said they don't consider Assad to be a legitimate ruler, Assad is banking on continued inaction as the moderate opposition is weakened by both ISIS and the regime.And given that Iran is Syria's primary ally, and Shia militias backed by Iran are fighting ISIS on the ground in Iraq as Baghdad's security forces work on building up into a viable fighting force, it's a good bet.ISIS, meanwhile, has found success in marketing itself as a protector of Sunni civilians as some would rather pledge allegiance to the terror group than back Assad or other rebel groups in their areas.SEE ALSO:The startlingly simple reason Obama ignores SyriaJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: 11 game-changing military planes from the last 15 years
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