ISIS suffers major symbolic defeat with loss of Dabiq

Christian Science Monitor reports: The Islamic State has been dealt a major symbolic blow in the battle for its existence.

Turkish-backed rebels, reportedly supported by United States special forces, seized the Syrian town of Dabiq Sunday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to Islamic prophecies central to the Islamic State’s radical message, Dabiq is the site of an end-of-days battle that ushers in the apocalypse.

Now, having lost control of the town, the Islamic State must scramble to change a narrative that has been a core part of its appeal.

In the short term, the Islamic State can put a positive spin on losing the town of 3,500, which has little strategic value otherwise. Simply by bringing forces and foreign armies to Dabiq, the Islamic State can claim an ideological victory.

“No matter how the battle goes, the fact that they are fighting there is a justification that their entire reason for existence is correct and is fulfilling the words of the prophet,” says Malcolm Nance, terrorism expert and author of two books on the Islamic State. “In the near-term, they can spin this to boost the morale in Raqqa and Mosul and to boost recruitment.”

But longer-term, the group will struggle to reconcile the loss of Dabiq with nearly a decade-old narrative dating back to the group’s origins as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

“No matter how they try to spin it, the optics of a defeat in Dabiq are bad for ISIS,” says Mathew Lester, analyst at the Soufan Group, a New York-based strategic security firm. [Continue reading…]

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