Russia grapples with its own ‘Jihadi John’ as Moscow steps up role in Syria

The Wall Street Journal reports: For Russia, it was a shock: A blue-eyed Siberian with shaggy brown hair raged against his homeland in an Islamic State video before slicing the throat of a fellow Russian accused of being a spy.

The executioner, identified by Russian media and his friends as a 28-year-old named Anatoly Zemlyanka from the city of Noyabrsk, has risen to infamy in Russia since Islamic State released the undated video from Syria on Dec. 2.

Russian authorities, while not confirming his identity in the propaganda video, have put him on Interpol’s wanted list. Russian media have dubbed him Jihadi Tolik, based on the Russian nickname for Anatoly, in describing his apparent transformation from Siberian college student to the Slavic face of Islamic State brutality.

Mr. Zemlyanka’s image has spurred comparisons to Jihadi John, or Mohammed Emwazi—the British militant whose appearances in videos presiding over the beheadings of Western hostages while leveling demands at President Barack Obama made him a prime propaganda tool for Islamic State. But instead of speaking English and condemning Mr. Obama, Mr. Zemlyanka is speaking in Russian and berating Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Listen to me, Putin, you dog, and let your henchmen hear me too!” Mr. Zemlyanka says in the video. “Before your arrival, the Assad regime bombed us, then America bombed us with its cowardly coalition, and now you’re bombing us. But nothing has come of it, apart from the fortitude and conviction that we’re on the side of truth.”

Islamic State is increasingly pointing its propaganda apparatus at Russia, as the Kremlin steps up its military support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The campaign appears aimed at raising Russian fears of possible further retribution from Islamic State, particularly after the suspected Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian charter flight traveling to St. Petersburg from Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh. [Continue reading…]

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