The Islamic State (IS) is inciting supporters to mount more attacks on Christians just days after two of the terror group’s sympathizers slit the throat of an 85-year-old French priest as he was celebrating Mass — a killing French officials fear was a deliberate tactic to provoke a Christian backlash in France against Muslims.
The latest issue of IS's online magazine Dabiq, widely read by supporters and sympathizers, focuses on the theme of “Break the Cross.” In a series of interviews, foreign fighters who have converted from Christianity are used as mouthpieces to urge supporters in the West to destroy “arrogant Christian disbelievers.” They exhort Muslims to “pray for Allah's curse to be upon the liars.”
Pope singled out as target
Pope Francis, as well as Orthodox and Coptic church leaders, is among those singled as targets in the 15th issue of Dabiq, released Sunday. IS propagandists mock the Pope, saying the Pontiff only condemned the mass shooting at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando “because he comes from long line of boy rapists.”
The Catholic Church condemned forthrightly the Orlando terror attack in June, in which gunman Omar Mateen who had pledged allegiance to IS, killed 49 people and wounded another 53. After the slaughter the Church issued a statement, saying: “The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred.”
Fighter Abu Sa’d al-Trinidadi, a former Christian from Trinidad and Tobago, references recent terror attacks in the West and urges supporters in a Dabiq interview to “follow the example of the lions in France and Belgium, the example of the blessed couple in California, and the examples of the knights in Orlando and Nice.”
He tells IS supporters in the West that they have the “ability to terrify the disbelievers in their own homes and make their streets run with their blood.” He adds Christians are legitimate targets “due to their mere disbelief,” adding, “for this reason, amongst others, the Islamic State leadership emphasized the importance not to differentiate between disbelieving soldiers and their so-called ‘civilians.’”
This is not the first time IS has exhorted followers to target Christians in the West — or threaten to destroy Christianity. In February 2015, the terror group released a shocking five-minute video documenting the barbaric mass execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on the shoreline of Libya. In the video a militant spokesman points northward after the killings, saying: “We will conquer Rome by Allah’s permission.”
And the terror group has targeted and terrorized Christians in territory it controls in Syria and Iraq with rapes, abductions, forced conversions, desecration of churches and forced evictions. In 2014 Pope Francis warned, “In Syria, another war is thriving in the shadow of the civil war—the war against the church.”
But the redoubled focus on Western Christianity now, analysts say, is powered by a highly dangerous, macabre logic. They warn that IS strategists are aiming to provoke an overreaction by Western governments and enraged citizens, hoping to drive young Muslims into their arms and away from what the jihadists call the "gray zone."
The "gray zone" was defined in a January 2015 issue of Dabiq as a “twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil, the Caliphate and the Infidel.”
Last November, in the wake of the Paris attacks anthropologist Scott Atran told VOA that IS is “seeking to provoke deeper divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe, forcing the latter to overreact as the terror becomes ever wilder and more extreme, thereby leaving the former with no choice but to join the jihadist camp.”
And to exacerbate antagonism toward Muslims in Europe, the more outrageous the targets, the more likely the terror will provoke Western governments to overreact or fuel the rise of populist nationalist parties or prompt revenge attacks.
The murder last week of Fr. Jacques Hamel in the Norman village of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen differed from previous IS attacks in France. They targeted people and places that symbolized freedom of speech, Western liberalism, the ideals of the French Revolution, and Jews. Some analysts see the killing of Fr. Hamel as as the first act of war on European soil against Christianity by IS.
French officials were already alarmed before the release of Dabiq at the prospect of IS attacks causing a “war against communities.” Last week, a French official told VOA that one of the highest priorities of the Élysée Palace is to prevent a clash between Muslims and Christians.