Georgia's ISIS Video Exchange
A video of Islamic fighters threatening Georgia with beheadings has amplified already mounting concerns over the terrorist Islamic State’s online Georgian-language propaganda.
The video, apparently first posted on an ISIS-associated, Russian-language site, opens with a sleekly edited intro, Arab music and requisite praises to Allah. Then, a young man, flanked by three fellow Islamic fighters with rifles, calls on Georgia’s Muslim minority, in Arabic-accented, grammatically faulty Georgian, to come to Iraq and Syria to join the holy war. “Oh, my Muslim brothers, know that you are forbidden to live with the kafirs [infidels],” says the man.
The man urges Georgian Muslims to throw off the infidel’s rule — a reference to Georgia’s status as a majority Orthodox Christian society. He also lambasted the leader of Muslims in the Turkish-border region of Achara, describing the mufti as schismatic and conformist. “A great sin is on you,” he said. “People do not know true Islam, they are confused and you are confusing them even more…. Are not you afraid of Allah, who created you from a drop of blood?”
The diatribe ends with the man calling on Georgian Christians to relinquish “idols and crosses” and adopt Islam.
Then another fighter, with an accent typical of Georgia’s western region of Guria, takes to the floor to warn “Georgian infidels” to stop waging war against Islam. Citing Georgia’s time under a caliphate during the early middle ages, he singles out Georgian troops that contribute to NATO’s campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The time will come to cut your heads off,” he warns.
The reactions in Georgia ran the full gamut from anxiety to anger and mockery. The authorities moved to block ISIS-linked websites that posted the video, including a Georgian-language Wordpress blog that reposted the video and gained prominence following the November 13 terrorist attacks on Paris. Police claimed they did not block the websites earlier because of an ongoing investigation.
The video has attracted reams of raging, often Islamophobic comments from Georgian viewers.
As is wont to happen in Georgia, the threat inspired online lampooning. Bandied about Facebook is a response to the ISIS fighters by a Georgian man wearing a headband and holding a metal bar instead of a gun, and mimicking an Arabic incantation. “Guys, I will catch you and stick those guns” in you know where, he threatens with a grin.
It is now open to debate if the ISIS fighters’ threats pose a real danger and if the video was their own idea or part of some organized campaign.
Presumably tapping into Georgia’s tightly interwoven personal networks, media in the western region of Guria put names to all four of the men in the ISIS video, claiming that three of them were from the same Gurian village, Nasakirala.
Georgian TV crews tracked down two of the fighters’ alleged parents.
The first speaker was alleged to hail from the Turkish-border region of Achara, which, like neighboring Guria, has a small Muslim minority.
Ilia Gobadze, a construction worker in Achara alleged to be the father of the first speaker, identified as Kvicha Gobadze, told Palitra TV that his son had left for Turkey to work two months ago.
He claimed that his son had studied in a madrassa in Achara and then went to Egypt to study Arabic.
Gobadze scoffed at the video threat. “What can a threat from five men do to a whole country?” he asked. (Four appear in the video.)
A woman alleged to be the mother of the second fighter, identified as Badri Iremadze, said her son had left for Turkey to pick tea leaves there.
"Then he sent me a letter asking for forgiveness for anything he may have done to hurt me,” Meri Iremadze recounted, Interpressnews reported. “He said he has some debts and asked me to sell hazelnuts to pay it off, and to take care of his child if he is born,” she said, adding that he married two years ago.
Georgian media identified the two remaining men in the video as Robiko Paksadze and Mamuka Antadze, both from Guria. Their names, as yet, could not be independently verified.
Achara has not been seen as Georgia’s biggest problem as a potential foothold for Islamic fundamentalism. The mostly muffled Christian-Muslim tensions occasionally boil to the surface, however; often when Christians resist the construction of mosques and madrassas.
But most of the ISIS attention has been focused on the Pankisi Gorge, a mountain-rimmed, rural region largely populated with Kists, ethnic kin of the Chechens. Reportedly scores of the region’s residents — most notoriously an ISIS commander, Omar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili) — have left to join the terrorist group and, some of them, to die in Syria.
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