ANTAKYA, Turkey — The Islamic State released the latest in a series of propaganda videos Thursday, a slickly produced introduction to what it promised would be a multipart series on the group and the folly of efforts by the United States to fight it. The segment is a sharp departure from the IS’s recent grisly videos showing a black-clad executioner beheading Western hostages in the desert, which helped galvanize international support for wider military action against the group.
The new video takes direct aim at a Western audience, and particularly Americans. It features a British hostage, John Cantlie, a journalist who speaks in tones reminiscent of prime-time news. Seated alone at a table in the familiar orange jumpsuit, he promises to explain the IS and persuade viewers that the latest war effort by the United States and its allies would end as badly as their previous interventions in the Middle East.
“Join me for the next few programs, and I think you may be surprised at what you learn,” he said.
Analysts said that the shift in tone from the previous videos sought to gain maximum exposure and showed how attuned the group is to Western sensibilities in crafting its message.
“They are masters at getting attention, and this is a master stroke,” said William McCants, a scholar of militant Islam at the Brookings Institution. “Diabolical is the word, just evil genius.”
The new video is the latest in a series of English-language hostage videos by the IS that have tried to shape the international response to its shocking brutality and rapid expansion in Syria and Iraq.
The 3-minute, 21-second video, called “Lend Me Your Ears,” begins with Cantlie introducing himself and anticipating those who would dismiss his statement as coerced.
“Now, I know what you are thinking. ‘He is only doing this because he is a prisoner, he’s got a gun at his head,’” he says, pointing a finger at his temple.
Appearing tired and under stress, he acknowledges that he is a prisoner and says that since he has been “abandoned” by his government, he has “nothing to lose” by making the video. Then he gives a pitch that has the “coming soon” feel of a promotional spot for a documentary series, promising future videos that will reveal the “systems and motivations” of the IS as well as how the Western news media have misrepresented the group.
“There are two sides to every story,” he says. “Think you’re getting the whole picture?”
The video, like those before it, seems designed to forestall international military action against the IS. But while the previous videos threatened revenge for attacks, Cantlie’s message seemed crafted to capitalize on reluctance in the West to get involved in a new war. Analysts suggested that the Islamic State had many reasons to shift away from beheading videos. Nonviolent videos are more likely to be seen by a wider audience, and the use of a Western journalist instead of an IS fighter to deliver the message makes the group look more polished.