Beneath The Propaganda, ISIS Supporters Worry Online

"ISIS will collapse and is collapsing every day," a user on ISIS forum writes

Jul 02, 2016 at 5:00 AM ET

After losing Fallujah, a strategic city just 40 miles west of Baghdad that was long controlled by ISIS, the terror group’s online supporters are showing signs of despair and concern about what’s to come.

Posts uploaded by ISIS supporters to the group’s al-Minbar forum in recent days provide a rare glimpse into the mood of Islamic State adherents these days—painting a starkly different picture than the triumphant propaganda material released by ISIS media. In its official communications, ISIS never admits weakness or setbacks, even after its biggest losses. But outside the spin, members are candidly analyzing why ISIS lost, comforting their friends, and bemoaning the events in Fallujah.

On Sunday, Iraqi government forces backed by local Shiite militias and a U.S.-led coalition announced they had full control of Fallujah after a month-long battle to free the city from ISIS’s grip. The city was the first in Iraq to fall to ISIS, which seized it in early 2014. Before Iraqi forces retook it, Fallujah was known as a “car bomb factory” and a source of explosives used to launch attacks on Baghdad.

Since Sunday, many posts on Fallujah on the ISIS forum have aired worry about more failures in the future. A community member operating under the moniker “The Ambassador of the Caliphate” wrote on Monday, for instance, that similar losses were imminent down the road unless ISIS militants found a way to counter airstrikes by coalition forces. “The battle of Fallujah began with indiscriminate and intense shelling on Fallujah on a daily basis, with no deterrent to the war planes,” the user wrote. “We know that the [Iraqi] army and Shiite militias would have been exterminated without the airstrikes backing them.”

It’s been reported that the U.S. is supporting local forces with airstrikes against ISIS positions in the city. The same user said, “We were shocked when Fallujah was back under the Shiites’ control after the legendary steadfastness of ISIS fighters,” adding, “There is a fear that the international coalition, as well as Russia and Iran, will use the same [methods] in the areas under ISIS control, using a ‘scorched earth tactic.'” Another user under the moniker “Muqtahem” tried to explain further ISIS’s failures, saying the terror group had “underestimated its enemies,” had a “severe shortage of anti-tank shells,” and “did not build a network of tunnels in Fallujah.”

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But among the justifications, other users are simply lamenting ISIS’s losses. “The Shield of al-Aqsa” commented that “ISIS will collapse and is collapsing every day,” while “Yaqub Ahmad Yaqub” wrote that “there will be no Caliphate without cities.”

Still, other community members popped up to combat the concerns of worrywarts. On the same thread, users assured that “there is no need to be afraid,” while others discussed how to establish a “balance of deterrence” against the international anti-ISIS coalition and thwart the military campaign against the group. Users suggested ISIS leadership conduct attacks against Americans who live in the Gulf countries and continue to launch assaults “from France to America.” User Ahmad Abadi expressed down right optimism, saying that “we lost the battle but did not lose the war.”

Meanwhile, user Said el-Ghab took a decidedly more religious approach to comforting his fellow cyber mujaheddin. “We have never and will never be sad as long as the book of Allah is in our hands. He promised us with victory or martyrdom,” the user wrote.

One of the forum’s more prominent contributors, Mata el-Saa, started a thread titled: “How can someone who is desperate from the loss of a small city like Fallujah conquer Rome and liberate Jerusalem?” Within, the user conveys “enormous pain and a great loss” from the battle for Fallujah, but says “it is normal when your enemy consists of 70 countries.” Additionally, user Hafid al-Hussein rebuked “members in the forums whose problem is that they want to conquer Damascus, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Mecca, and Medina in two years or a year.” The user went on to write, “Remember Allah, my dead, the battle is long. This Islamic Caliphate will rule from East to West.”

A user operating under the name “The Days of Baghdad’s Conquest” rattled off losses by the armies of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi, as well as the triumph of Israel in the six-day war against a coalition of Arab nations. “But can’t you see that the Islamic State is fighting the infidel nations for two years, and even attacks them inside their houses, with explosions in America, France, Belgium, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt!” the user wrote. “Isn’t that enough that you will believe this is the promise of God and His Prophet?”