Terrorist groups vow bloodshed over Jerusalem decision. ISIS? Less So

Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a protest against US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Osama bin Laden was just 14 when his mother noticed that he had stopped watching his favourite Westerns. She found him fixated instead on news reports about Palestinians, tears streaming down his face as he watched TV in their home in Saudi Arabia.

"In his teenage years, he was the same nice kid," his mother related. "But he was more concerned, sad and frustrated by the situation in Palestine," she said, according to Lawrence Wright's account of Osama's trajectory and Al-Qaeda's rise in his book, The Looming Tower.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has long been one of the themes invoked by militants to push a narrative of Muslim victimhood and to fan an us-versus-them framework. So it is of little surprise that Al-Qaeda affiliates across the world reacted with venom after US President Donald Trump this week recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a decision that was also denounced by Arab leaders.

The Taleban, Hamas and Shi'ite extremist leaders also railed against the move.

But the outlier was the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which waited until Friday (Dec 8) to publish an editorial in its weekly newsletter - one that appeared to be mainly concerned with critiquing what it saw as hypocritical and self-serving statements by other militant groups and Arab leaders.

"How did ISIS respond to US announcement on #JerusalemEmbassy move? Outrage? Nope. Call to jihad? Not really," independent researcher Raphael Gluck wrote on Twitter.

He added: "ISIS takes a stab at rival terror and Islamist groups accusing them of politicising Palestinian cause to suit their own agendas."

The article published by the ISIS began: "Sixty years and Jerusalem has been in the hands of the Jews, and it is only now that people cry when the Crusaders announced today as their capital," according to a translation provided by the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors the group's propaganda.

"Are these cries over an issue to which they are accustomed to crying every time it is mentioned?" it added. "Or is it a new opportunity for the traders of faith and the fraudulent ones to raise their voices again?"

ISIS argued that the focus should instead be on working to defeat the Arab countries ringing Israel, which they say "surround it the same way a bracelet surrounds the wrist, protecting the Jews from the strikes of the mujahedeen".

Even as the ISIS' official line played down the White House move, the group's followers in chat rooms on the messaging app Telegram have busied themselves making revenge posters.

One shows Israeli and American flags burning in a pyre, with the signature dome of the Old City's Al-Aqsa Mosque pictured in the background. Images of Al-Aqsa - one of the holiest sites in Islam, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount - have been used in generations of militant propaganda.

"Wait for violent attacks on American and Jewish embassies by the wolves of the Islamic State," the text alongside the images said, referring to ISIS.

That message was more in line with that of other terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaeda.

The world's perceived indifference to the plight of the Palestinians is proof, militants say, of the second-class status of Muslims, and evidence that only through violence will Muslims regain their dignity.

The spokesman for Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda's branch in East Africa, called Trump's decision on Jerusalem "an aggression against Islam". He urged its followers to pick up arms in revenge, according to SITE Intelligence.

"The Jews do not have the right to a grain of sand of Palestine and Jerusalem," Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen railed. Al-Qaeda's largest branch, in Syria, said, "We emphasise that whatever was taken by force can only be retrieved by force."

And from Mali to Yemen to Afghanistan, militant groups ridiculed Trump.

On his Telegram channel, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, an influential Al-Qaeda ideologue, posted a YouTube clip from a campaign rally last year, when Trump appeared startled after hearing a commotion behind him. He called Trump a "coward" and an easy mark, urging future terrorists to do their best to "surprise" him.