It’s no secret that one of Islamic State’s preferred tools of recruitment comes through online outreach. Social media prowess, videos of multiple beheadings, surprising production skills – IS’s digital reach has helped expand its ranks and ensured extensive media coverage of its assaults.
The group’s latest online production is no different. A 15-minute video, called “Race Towards Good” and released last week, displays some of the trappings for which IS has become known: clean editing and high production, laden with the militarized and pious messages the group purveys. Unlike past offerings, though, this video comes with a new subject: Kazakhstanis. Specifically, those individuals featured in the video appear to be ethnic Kazakhs, who have moved to Syria and Iraq to aid IS in its efforts at an unidentified training camp. “’Meet some of our newest brothers from the land of Kazakhstan,” an IS host declares. “They responded to the crusader aggression with their hijrah and raced to prepare themselves and their children, knowing very well that their final return is to Allah.”
Kazakhstan authorities recently claimed that at least 300 Kazakhstan nationals have uprooted for lands controlled by IS, including 150 women. Authorities also claimed IS was setting up an ethnic Kazakh “jamaat,” or cell. While there is no way to confirm authorities’ claims, a video from last year also displayed a few dozen Kazakhstanis who had arrived in Syria, echoing much of the same rhetoric in the latest clip. Those featured in the new video are shown training with American, Russian, and Austrian-made sniper rifles, as well as racing through obstacle courses. That is, they appear to be completing relatively standard training at an IS-sponsored camp. According to the Long War Journal, the fighters appear to be located near Raqqah – which, interestingly, is reportedly under the leadership of an ethnic Tajik.
However, one aspect sets this video apart from prior offerings: children. Dozens of Kazakh children are featured in the video – learning Arabic and practicing how to assemble an AK-47 assault rifle. They appear to range in age from toddlers to primary schoolers. Both Kazakhs and non-Kazakhs appear to be teaching the children the radicalized orthodoxy espoused by IS. As one of the children says, “Right now, we’re training in the camp. We’re going to kill you, O kuffar. Insha’allah, we’ll slaughter you.”
According to EurasiaNet, the video and concomitant articles appear to be currently blocked in Kazakhstan. The response isn’t necessarily surprising. Nonetheless, Kazakhstan remains a secondary target for IS, if it is a target at all, despite the rhetoric from Astana and Moscow. While the clip presents a disconcerting reality for Astana, IS presents far from an imminent threat to the country. And while the group poses a peculiar security challenge – especially considering the children training – Kazakhstan officials can be comforted by the fact that the group can’t even spell the country’s name correctly.