Is ISIS Losing Ground? Clues In Peter Kassig's Execution Video Suggest The Group Is Weakening

SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 27: A Islamic State (ISIS) black flag flies neasr the Syrian town of Kobani, October 27, 2014 as seen from the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Turkey. According to a Syrian activist group, the death toll has reached 815 during 40 days of fighting in and around the Syrian town of Kobani and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the death toll for the Islamic State fighters stands at approximately 481 fighters. About 200,000 people have cross the border into Turkey for safety. (Photo by Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images)
Source: Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Sunday, ISIS released a video confirming it had executed American aid worker Peter Kassig. While the murder of Kassig speaks to the ruthless and barbaric intentions of the group, the video also offers some clues about ISIS' weakening state. There are several suggestions that ISIS is beginning to fall apart, both in its narrative and in its tactical force — the rougher format of the video, for example, and the territorial losses the group has experienced on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

The video's format, though still grisly, deviates from previous productions in that it doesn't show the actual beheading, just the victim's severed head. This suggests ISIS' slipping of control over its hostages. Past videos have also forced the victim to speak a message on behalf of the group, but this one didn't. Analysts speaking to the New York Times theorize that perhaps Kassig was the first victim to have fought back and defy the group, disrupting the usual formula. If Kassig had put up a fight, the militant group certainly wouldn't have wanted to include the struggle in the video.

The shortened length of the video and simpler camera work also suggests that ISIS is feeling the threat of exposure under the pressure of the U.S.' surveillance. Basically, the very tool that ISIS has been using to project an image of absolute power and formidability — its beheading videos — has betrayed the group's weakening state. So how else has ISIS been weakened of late?

ISIS Leaders Are Injured (Probably)

Both ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the group's executioner — and unofficial spokesperson — "Jihadi John" were reported to be injured in an airstrike last weekend. The two were reportedly attending a summit for ISIS leaders in Iraq close to the Syrian border when American and Iraqi jets launched the strikes. The British Foreign Office is currently looking into the reports and has yet to confirmed them.   

A Group in Retreat

After reports of the injured leaders were published, Baghdadi "emerged" with a message to prove that he was fine. However, instead of the usual video messages, the group merely released an audio recording of a man claiming to be Baghdadi, which some experts believe is a sign that the leaders are retreating deeper underground.

Taking Back the Land


The coalition's troops on the ground have also been able to take back some of the large swaths of land that ISIS seized in Iraq and Syria. Last week, local officials said that Shia militias and Iraqi forces were able to push ISIS out of the oil refinery town of Baiji in Iraq. The strategic town lies on the main road between Baghdad and the country's second-largest city, Mosul, and taking Baiji back from ISIS could mean cutting off the group's supplies to Tikrit and communication to two other towns, Samarra and Dujayl.

In October, Kurdish fighters were able to seize the Iraqi town of Rabia from ISIS as well as a strategic hillside in Kobani, where Kurdish forces continue to make gains against the militant group.

Images: Nox Media/YouTube, Wikipedia Commons, Getty Images

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