Media is Blowing IS’ Threat for an “Attack on Washington” out of Proportion

Headlines across major media outlets reported today that the Islamic State (IS) had threatened an “attack on Washington.” The reports referred to a video released today by IS, and have implied its threats as a revelation of coming attacks, further rattling the nerves of a public still in shock from the Paris attacks. While the video these articles refer to did issue a threat, it did so out of celebration for the Paris attacks, and it does not represent any concrete development in the ongoing threat from IS. That stated, these threats need to be placed in perspective—not blown out of proportion.

Indeed, IS released two videos today of fighters in the group’s Salah al-Din and Kirkuk “Provinces” in Iraq celebrating the Paris attacks and calling for more. The stand-out quote picked up by the media came from the 11 minute, 41 second video from Salah al-Din, wherein a fighter stated:

So we say to the countries that participate in the Crusader campaign: By Allah, you will have a day like that of France. By Allah, if we brought down France in its homeland, in Paris, then we swear, by the command of Allah, we will attack America in its heartland, in Washington, Allah permitting

Such rallying threats are routine in IS releases after it pulls of attacks (and even when it doesn’t). IS releases, as well as chatter from its fighters, have long called for lone wolf operations inside of America, claiming that they will eventually place the group’s black flag atop of the White House. June 5, 2015 IS video, for example, showed an IS fighter in the group’s “Khorasan [Afghanistan/Pakistan region] Province” asserting, “We will raise the [Black Standard flag] above Jerusalem and the White House.”

Similarly, an IS video from this past February showed IS fighters in Kobani vowing to continue their fight, and stating the aim to grow followings in Washington and Rome:

I supplicate to Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, to enable the Islamic State with victory and empowerment as soon as possible, Allah willing, and to open through it the hearts of the worshipers and the lands, and until Washington and Rome are opened through Islam.

Internet chatter from fighters indicates the same, with promises to “descend on the streets of London, Paris and Washington,” and of a “coming attack” on July 4. The list could go on.

...despite the power that such releases might have, they are nothing new, and we shouldn’t mistake rhetoric for legitimate intelligence.

We’ve seen the consequences of IS’ rhetoric time and time again: a call for attack sparking what would become a shoot-out in Garland, Texas; YouTube videos and online chatting gradually turning normal Colorado girls into an aspiring IS brides; and a propaganda machine of terror pulling Westerners onto Syrian frontlines like magnets. IS’ November 13 attacks on Paris was perhaps the West’s most violent reminder that we must address this problem, but it should not come without a strong and measured perspective of the group’s propaganda.

Given the magnitude of the Paris attacks, I’m sure there are plenty of similar releases yet to come from the group. There is no doubt a strong link between words and actions when it comes to IS, and these threats that must be taken seriously. But, despite the power that such releases might have, they are nothing new, and we shouldn’t mistake rhetoric for legitimate intelligence.

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