A Georgian-language blog that claims to represent Islamic State terrorists is spreading alarm in the South Caucasus country of Georgia in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris.
Self-described as the Islamic State’s “Information Website,” the Wordpress blog posts updates about jihadist “successes,” such as the November 13 carnage in France and alleged military victories by the so-called Islamic State, alongside appeals to the Caucasus’ Muslims to take up arms.
“Young Muslim sisters and brothers from Georgia… awaken and see the truth before it is too late, while you are still alive and can profess bayat (allegiance) to the Caliph,” reads a November 9 post by an individual named Abu Mariam al-Jurji (“the Georgian” in Arabic).
Georgian speakers have peppered the post with angry comments, larded with obscenities and hate speech. Some advised these “sisters and brothers” to come to their senses and switch to the “true faith,” Georgian Orthodox Christianity, the dominant religion in Georgia.
The “successes stories” shared on the blog also include human-interest pieces, such as jihadists making shawarma during a break in their fighting and photo-reports on daily life in various ISIS-controlled Syrian towns. A perfume shop in Raqqa, a car market near Aleppo, rows of public busses in Manbij – all are cited as testimony that ISIS is working and that Allah is great.
The blog often describes Georgia as a wilayah, an administrative unit within the greater caliphate. The calls to allegiance to the Islamic State particularly target Muslim minorities, including ethnic Kists, Azeris and Abkhaz.
Georgian media raised alarm over the website and turned to national security officials with questions. State Security Service Deputy Director Levan Izoria said that an investigation is ongoing into these and other online outposts of Islamic extremists. He said that the government stopped short of pulling down the website as it is looking for clues to local connections.
“We are taking investigative measures, looking at the active users of the website,” Izoria said, news-outlets reported.
In a separate interview with the Tbilisi TV station Maestro, Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli said on November 17 that Georgia has strengthened security at all border crossings and unnamed “strategic” sites, as well as taken unspecified additional measures.
Some analysts have argued in the past, though, that the Georgian government could do more to prevent Georgia becoming part of a jihad highway to Syria via neighboring Turkey. Those concerns, though, have never dominated public discussions of ISIS.
The bloodshed in Paris, a city with which many Georgians have close ties, has changed that. Coverage of ISIS now dominates mainstream media, with speculation about jihadists and security-risks running strong -- including, in the case of embattled, pro-opposition TV station Rustavi2, for apparent point-scoring against the government.
Georgia, though, does have reasons to worry about the influence of radical Islamic groups. Albeit in reportedly small numbers, inhabitants of impoverished, rural areas with Muslim populations have been leaving for Syria since fighting began there, and threats have been made against both Georgian officials and religious leaders. ISIS commander Abu Omar al-Shishani, born Tarkhan Batirashvili, is the most infamous transplant from Georgia.
Earlier this year, after the deaths of young recruits from the Pankisi Gorge -- Batirashvili's native region, not far outside Tbilisi -- parents asked the central government for help preventing youngsters from heading for jihad in Syria, but, as yet, the results are unclear.