Several weeks ago, The Intercept published a story on an English-speaking Islamic State fighter featured in one of the group’s propaganda videos. Now, the FBI is looking for him. In a statement taken from an agency press release:
“In the video, a man whose face is obscured by a mask alternates seamlessly between English and Arabic in pro-ISIL pronouncements intended to appeal to a Western audience. Dressed in desert camouflage and wearing a shoulder holster, the masked man can be seen standing in front of purported prisoners as they dig their own graves and then later presiding over their executions.
“We’re hoping that someone might recognize this individual and provide us with key pieces of information…No piece of information is too small.”
The individual in question first came to attention when the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, released its latest feature-length film entitled “Flames of War”. He can be observed in several scenes speaking in fluent English, narrating details of recent ISIS operations to the camera. A linguistics professor contacted by The Intercept suggested that his accent indicated a likely origin somewhere in the region of Minnesota, North Dakota, or Canada. The FBI release seems to take a similar position, positing that the man has a “North American accent.”
The FBI also said that “about a dozen” Americans are known to be fighting in Syria with ISIS. When you add in fighters in Iraq and Canadians, perhaps dozens of North Americans are believed to have left to join conflicts in Iraq and Syria. But the identity and national origin of this individual remain unknown, and it remains unconfirmed whether he spent a protracted period in Canada or the northern U.S. as a preliminary analysis of his accent seemed to indicate. Although he does not appear to make specific threats against Western countries, judging by his actions in this film alone it’s clear that the wanted individual committed war crimes. In one scene he can be seen taking part in the execution of several captive Syrian Army soldiers, while promising more conflict ahead.
The issue of foreign fighters is one that is the subject of fierce debate today. As recently discussed in this publication there is reason to believe the actual threat posed by such individuals is overstated.
Nonetheless, the participation of this man in a propaganda film calibrated to attract Western recruits has now put him in the crosshairs of Western intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Although we don’t know who he is today, we may soon find out.