For the fifth time this year, ISIS has flaunted its savagery by posting a video about a Westerner’s beheading.
This time, it was the family of American hostage Peter Kassig that received the horrific news. But the video that purportedly shows the aftermath of Kassig’s beheading is different from the other videos — and shows hints of desperation by the terror group, analysts say.
Here are some key points about the latest video and what they could indicate about ISIS:
The actual killing isn’t shown
The video, released online Sunday, shows the aftermath of a beheading, but the victim’s decapitated head is not clearly recognizable. The White House confirmed that the video showed Kassig.
Kassig, 26, was a U.S. soldier who served in Iraq in 2007. He returned to the Middle East as a medical worker, helping victims caught in Syria’s civil war. That’s when ISIS captured him.
Kassig converted to Islam in captivity and also went by the name Abdul-Rahman Kassig.
The ISIS video doesn’t show the actual killing, unlike previous videos. But it does show — in gruesome detail — the beheadings of what the group claims are pilots for the Syrian government, which is also battling ISIS forces.
“It can’t be said enough,” said CNN’s Nic Robertson. “This is the most barbaric they’ve done so far.”
The production is more basic
Unlike the glossy productions of the past, the latest footage appears to be more hastily produced, CNN national security analyst Bob Baer said.
“I think what this tape indicates is these guys are on the run,” said Baer, a former CIA analyst.
“They didn’t have time to do a nice setup (with) a lot of production values. I think they know they’re being targeted. There’s a lot of American platforms in the area looking for the hostages, so I think they’re trying to beat those.”
And for the first time in such a video, the speaker names the place where he is standing with the victim — in the town of Dabiq in Aleppo province, Syria.
There was no threat of another beheading
In each of the previous beheading videos, an ISIS militant shows another Westerner who it says will be next to be killed. And each time, it has followed through on its threat.
In the latest video, ISIS did not show images of another Westerner targeted for beheading. But that doesn’t mean Westerners are spared from more killings, said Haras Rafiq of the anti-extremist think tank Quilliam Foundation.
“As we see the U.S. and the coalition making gains against ISIL, we will find that they try and show that they are still strong, try and show that they are just as barbaric as they have been, and unfortunately one of the things we’ll see is that the videos will become more and more barbaric,” Rafiq said. ISIL is another acronym for ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.
“I think it’s a sign of desperation,” he said. “I think it’s a sign that they know and feel they are under attack, they’re under siege and they’re struggling.”
Yet after almost 900 airstrikes by U.S.-led coalition forces, ISIS is still operating and has shown it is still killing Westerners.
“I think until we really deal with the political problems in that part of the world, the airstrikes will only go so far.”
The video could also be directed at Syrians and Iraqis
The video is clearly “a prize piece of propaganda for them,” Robertson said.
It is likely also meant to scare Syrians and Iraqis into obeying ISIS’ orders when it comes calling, said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Ruffini, a counterterrorism expert.
“What ISIS is telling them is, ‘When we come in and tell you to do what we tell you, you know what the consequences are if you say no,'” Ruffini said.
But it also comes at a time when the United States and its anti-ISIS allies are claiming their airstrikes and support for ground forces fighting the group are beginning to slowly turn the tide, said retired U.S. Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks.
“Clearly there are no coincidences,” Marks told CNN on Sunday. “This is timed very specifically to those activities by the coalition and, I would say, the results of those activities.”
The U.S. says it is making progress
Since beginning airstrikes in August, U.S. officials have touted successes in disrupting ISIS communications and logistics, slowing its advances and forcing fighters to disperse into smaller formations.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama said the fight was entering a new phase that would rely heavily on Iraqi ground troops and other local fighters.
More recently, U.S. officials have suggested more openness to a role for U.S. ground forces in the fight.
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified last week that commanders are “certainly considering” the prospect that U.S. forces might be needed to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul, currently held by ISIS.
In the latest ISIS video, the narrator taunted Obama to do just that.