Video surfaced over the weekend of an enthusiastic young man announcing in Arabic what appeared to be an ice-cream eating contest between two young boys. He spoke with a smile and all the charisma of an MTV "VJ" or summer camp counselor as family, friends, and neighbors cheered and laughed.
The numerous black flags of al-Qaeda marred the jovial scene a bit, however, at least for western spectators.
The Washington Post explains:
Nothing says wholesome family fun like al-Qaeda, which is why the group’s Syrian and Iraqi branches held a festival in a rebel-held neighborhood of Aleppo. The bizarre event, captured on video, is part of a broader effort to show Syrian civilians a softer, cuddlier side to the militant jihadist movement, which has been seizing territory in Syria.
The event was hosted by two al-Qaeda-allied groups: Jabhat al-Nusra, an extremist Syrian rebel group, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS], which is based in Iraq and claimed responsibility for a recent jailbreak that freed hundreds of insurgents there. The groups have earned a reputation for fearsome fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, but also for their severe rule over areas under their control...
It’s a way to build support — regular Syrians are suffering terribly in the fighting, with food scarce and work virtually nonexistent — and to show that the groups can do things with young people other than shoot them.
According to The Independent, which also reported on the "unprecedented" event, other activities included a "tug-of-war" between members of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, in addition to a Koran reciting competition for the females.
While al-Qaeda operatives and their offshoots typically remain out of sight - or appear only in grainy, threatening videos - an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre Charles Lister said the development indicates the extremists have long-term aspirations in the area.
"The clear hanging of the ISIS flag and the availability of ISIS pamphlets and other propaganda-type products means the group was keen to show the soft-power side of jihad combined with attempts to sell their objectives and thus [legitimize] their [localized] presence,” he said.
The original video has been deleted from YouTube, but remains on LiveLeak. You can watch it below:
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