ISIS and The Islamic State: The al-Baghdadi Cartel

ShowImageThe al-Furqan Media Foundation, the media arm of the Islamic State aka ISIS, ISIL released a high production video on Sunday April 19, 2015 depicting the ritual executions of 28 Ethiopian Christians, in Libya. The men were killed in two locations. 16 men wearing black were lined up and shot dead at point blank range by 16 militants in a desert area. 12 men wearing orange jumpsuits were ceremonially paraded along the shoreline of a beach and beheaded in front of the water. Synchronized ritual murders, particularly beheadings of multiple victims by multiple offenders, have become a distinctive signature of the Islamic State. Two months ago 21 Egyptian Christians were also simultaneously beheaded on a Libyan beach and on November 16, 2014, 19 ISIS militants ritually beheaded 19 Syrian military personnel in Syria. During the desert execution in Libya, the leader, a masked fighter dressed in black waving a pistol vowed to kill Christians if they don’t convert. He said that those who “perform prayer and pay alms” will have “their blood and property” protected by the Prophet unless Islam “dictates otherwise.”

Ten weeks ago the Obama administration defended its foreign policy by claiming that ISIS was not an existential threat to the U.S. Existential is a philosophical term that basically means that ISIS is not a deadly threat to our survival. By contrast Iraq, Syria and Libya meet the existential threat criteria based on the proximity of ISIS to their countries and the mass beheadings, murders and genocide of Christians. Last week Judicial Watch reported that ISIS is operating a camp a few miles from El Paso, Texas.

The exact location where the terrorist group has established its base is around eight miles from the U.S. border in an area known as “Anapra” situated just west of Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Another ISIS cell to the west of Ciudad Juárez, in Puerto Palomas, targets the New Mexico towns of Columbus and Deming for easy access to the United States….. Law enforcement and intelligence sources report the area around Anapra is dominated by the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Cartel (“Juárez Cartel”), La Línea (the enforcement arm of the cartel) and the Barrio Azteca (a gang originally formed in the jails of El Paso). Cartel control of the Anapra area make it an extremely dangerous and hostile operating environment for Mexican Army and Federal Police operations…..According to these same sources, “coyotes” engaged in human smuggling – and working for Juárez Cartel – help move ISIS terrorists through the desert and across the border between Santa Teresa and Sunland Park, New Mexico. To the east of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, cartel-backed “coyotes” are also smuggling ISIS terrorists through the porous border between Acala and Fort Hancock, Texas. These specific areas were targeted for exploitation by ISIS because of their understaffed municipal and county police forces, and the relative safe-havens the areas provide for the unchecked large-scale drug smuggling that was already ongoing…….Mexican intelligence sources report that ISIS intends to exploit the railways and airport facilities in the vicinity of Santa Teresa, NM (a US port-of-entry). The sources also say that ISIS has “spotters” located in the East Potrillo Mountains of New Mexico (largely managed by the Bureau of Land Management) to assist with terrorist border crossing operations. ISIS is conducting reconnaissance of regional universities; the White Sands Missile Range; government facilities in Alamogordo, NM; Ft. Bliss; and the electrical power facilities near Anapra and Chaparral, NM.

The existential threat apparently is getting closer. Although Federal agencies have not verified the Judicial Watch report, strategically it is useful for border patrol and other law enforcement agents to think of the Islamic State as the al-Baghdadi Cartel. There are significant similarities and differences between Mexican Drug Cartels and ISIS which is why they are able to work together. Cartels use the motto “plata o plomo” meaning silver or lead signifying get on board, pay or be killed. ISIS uses the motto repent or die signifying convert, pay taxes or be killed. The Islamic State represents the worst of both worlds, a transnational criminal organization that kills in the name of Islam. And they have set up camp at the U.S./Mexican border.

Mexican cartels and ISIS both traffic drugs, traffic humans, use violence to maintain and expand their territories, murder civilians and journalists and threaten governments. Both have patriarchal, hierarchal command structures with commanders, soldiers, enforcers and support staff. Both rape and enslave women and children. They are honor/shame cultures where disrespect must be avenged. Cartels and ISIS use kidnappings as an extortion scheme. ISIS recently collected large ransoms for Yazidi women and others that they kidnapped and enslaved. They also attempted to ransom American, Japanese and other hostages that they beheaded. Cartels charge a war tax for those that live in their territory and if someone can’t or won’t pay the tax, a family member is kidnapped. There have also been reports that cartels have kidnapped U.S. citizens and an allegation of the kidnapping of a U.S. Border patrol agent.

ISIS and Mexican cartels utilize similar tactics particularly beheadings. Similar to ISIS, cartels videotape beheadings that involve multiple victims to instill fear and send a message to their enemies. However, cartel beheadings are characteristically different from ISIS executions. Cartel murders often involve torture, flaying the skin from the entire head and castration while alive. They dismember and publically display the bodies in humiliating positions with their pants pulled down, asses in the air and penis displayed in the mouth or hand. They humiliate the body during and after death to deny that person dignity in death. ISIS and other jihadists do not castrate or sexually display dead bodies. In fact they seem to consciously avoid their enemies’ genitals except of course when they are raping men, women or children. Castration and body mutilation would detract from ISIS messaging and invalidate the theologically sanctioned Islamic execution ritual. Mexican Cartels and ISIS both leave narco messages on bodies containing accusations of the person being a spy or traitor that function to instill fear into the local populations. Both display decapitated heads and bodies in public areas, hanging from overpasses or the entrance to their town. This demonstrates that they are in control of that territory.

Both Cartels and ISIS use the internet to gather intelligence, disseminate propaganda, recruit new members and glorify their organizations. They control information by murdering journalists and publishing their own pamphlets and magazines. Both have elaborate recruitment strategies and utilize twitter, Facebook and other social media to recruit. Mexican drug cartels have recruited thousands of young people in primary and secondary schools in Texas to form gangs under their control to assist in drug trafficking. ISIS uses twitter, Instagram and jihadi websites to successfully recruit thousands of Western followers and inspire homegrown violent extremists to violence. Cartels are romanticized in music, film, clothing and literature and they perpetuate Narco cultura, a subculture that glamorizes criminal culture. ISIS propaganda appeals to young idealistic people who romanticize the ideal of the Caliphate and want to be part of an anti-Western adventure.

The differences between Mexican cartels and ISIS reveal the true nature and vulnerabilities of these enemies. Some cartel members engage in Narco Saint worship expressed in statues, shrines and amulets that provide protection and intercede in human events. This cannot compare to the pure unquestionable aniconic worship of Allah and the glorification of the warrior Prophet Muhamad. While some Narcos engage in the worship of the dark variant of the cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death) that involves ritual murder to achieve power and protection, it pales in comparison to the thousands of jihadist waiting to kill and die to achieve martyrdom and eternal life in Paradise.

The most significant difference between Cartel and ISIS ideology is that the Islamic State holds an apocalyptic end times worldview. Cartels primarily want power and money, ISIS wants to bring about Armageddon and earn their rightful place in history. ISIS is using cartel tactics to fulfill an end time prophecy that portends that the final battle between the armies of Islam and its enemies will occur in the Syrian town of Dabiq. This final battle will precede the end of time and triumph of true Islam. ISIS needs to provoke America into a ground war in Syria to fulfill their prophecy. What better way to accomplish this than to have ISIS operatives enter the U.S. through the southern border to commit a large scale attack on the homeland.  Or perhaps releasing a beheading video of American citizens, Border patrol or DEA agents being ritually beheaded in Texas or New Mexico. Even President Obama would be forced to send troops to Syria in the aftermath of Americans being beheaded on their own soil. ISIS used a similar strategy to provoke Jordan into a war by burning alive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasabeh.

Both cartels and ISIS are serious threats but there should be no doubt that the Islamic State and its affiliates pose a much more dangerous, imminent and existential threat to the U.S. Homeland. Simply put Mexican cartels and other transnational criminal organizations are primarily comprised of true criminals while ISIS jihadists are primarily comprised of true believers. Drug Lords for all of their atrocities, human rights violations, narcotics and human trafficking are essentially businessmen, the CEO’s of violent structured corporations. The Islamic State leader Abu al Baghdadi declared himself the Caliph, the religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and the leader of the entire Muslim community. Mexican cartels are true criminals who are about money and power. ISIS jihadists are true believers who are fighting a cosmic war in the name of Islam. Although they use similar tactics as narco terrorists typical counterterrorism techniques will not be effective. ISIS end time prophecy can also be its Achilles heel. A strategy that eliminates political correctness from counterterrorism tactics combined with methods that counteract millenarian apocalyptic religious groups would be effective. Securing the border is an obvious immediate method to protect Americans from both the threat of ISIS and Mexican Cartels. However, if ISIS chooses to enter the U.S. to behead or kidnap American citizens they probably should not enter through Texas.

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