via Instagram

It’s All About Brand Awareness in Al Qaeda’s New Syria

Who wants a terrorist-themed birthday cake? Reporter Mitch Swenson wants to know

As rebel-controlled cities in eastern Syria, including Al Raqqa and Deir Ez Zor, fall out of the hands of the Free Syrian Army and into the hands of Al Qaeda-allied groups, Islamic extremists are adopting new marketing techniques to recruit followers.

Like custom cakes, t-shirts, coffee mugs and cell phone cases. Yes, you read that right. Today’s Al Qaeda is all about brand awareness.

When militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, captured Al Raqqa earlier this summer, memories of Mosul and Baghdad seemed to stick with them.

In Iraq, Al Qaeda ultimately failed to win the hearts and minds of the nation’s people, causing a fatal backlash to the group’s control. This time the Shariah law militia is approaching Syria with a more nuanced approach: carpeting the town with their presence.

Since 2006, the mujahideen combatants have been flying the “Black Standard” Tahwid flag as a rally symbol, but it is only recently that the logo has been distributed on mugs, decals, t-shirts and birthday cakes in the town square and online.

Since Al Raqqa’s capture, videos of public executions and other human rights violations have been surfacing at an alarming rate. The graphic images usually take place in the town square, which is adorned with larger-than-life Tahwid flags and posters on its buildings and cars.

Terror cake. Via Instagram

There are vendors that sell Tahwid headbands in the streets and floating in the corner of the videos there is even an animation of a waving Tahwid flag. From afar, the city might be confused with a breathing Jihadi advertisement.

Earlier this week, a Syrian-based user on Instagram posted a picture showing a slew of black smartphone cases, each with the Tahwid flag printed on the back. “For sale,” the user wrote at the bottom of the photo, which garnered 89 likes and more than 30 comments in less than 24 hours.

Another user posted photos of different chocolate cakes designed with the jihadist logo in black and white frosting. Both photos pulled nearly 100 likes each.

While the utilization of Instagram, the picture-sharing platform based in San Francisco, seems counter-intuitive to Al Qaeda’s anti-American sensibilities, it is not the only Western conduit employed by the Al Qaeda faction to gain Syria’s favor.

The Washington Post reported this week that ISIS has been giving away Spider-Man and Teletubby dolls while sermonizing to children in the captured city.

In effect, ISIS is using pleasant communal outreach coupled with harsh religious policing to brainwash and strong-arm Syria’s eastern front. Al Raqqa is now firmly in the hands of the Islamic State and consequently, ISIS has made the border crossing into Syria from Turkey a deadly affair for foreigners.

More than a dozen journalists and aid workers have died along the Turkish border since the Islamist front took power in the region.

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