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Bizarre Jihad recruitment video: come for the wildlife, stay for the afterlife!

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 7:46 IST

When American dentist Walter Palmer killed Cecil the lion, the world was outraged. But somewhere in the Somalian bush, one Al-Shabaab visionary saw an opportunity. If foreigners wanted to come to Africa to hunt wildlife, could this be an opportunity to recruit foreigners to Africa's jihadi movement?

Clearly the marketing team at Al-Qaeda's Somali affiliate need less convincing than their mainstream counterparts, because that's just what they did. The jihadis, who've become increasingly savvy with shooting not just people, but videos, now had a new mission.

Armed with cameras (and guns, machetes and delusions of paradise) they set out to make the greatest wildlife tourism video the world has ever seen.

If this were the plot of some ridiculous dark comedy, we'd be laughing along. Except this is reality, and the end result is a comically sincere but gory video.

Setting the mood

The video begins like any good wildlife documentary: a placid scene by a stream helps Al-Shabaab set the mood for what is to come. There are birds chirping and the jihadis in the frame look more like they're on a picnic than a holy crusade. To a wildlife enthusiast like myself, it certainly looks more appealing than the concrete confines of Delhi. and that's about where the appeal ends.

A dull English voiceover begins, clearly aimed at would-be foreign recruits. One would imagine Somali recruits wouldn't need quite as much convincing given that the alternative is a bullet to the head.

The bullet to the head approach isn't one the video tries to obscure, either.

When the video isn't showing people praying or jihadis walking endlessly into the unknown, it has them indiscriminately firing all sorts of guns at no real target.

But just when you worry that all the Rambo-esque gun scenes might put off potential recruits, Al Shabaab takes a decidedly lighter tone. Set to more endless walking, potential recruits are promised freedom from the 'temptations of the world' - not very hard in a region that has pretty much nothing. It's like promising freedom from hats as a result of beheading, something I wouldn't put past Al Shabaab if they ever read this piece.

Rambo, meet Attenborough

But, as they remind us around the seven minute mark, it's not that the region has nothing to offer. As a giraffe enters the frame, Al-Shabaab suddenly start to channel their inner Attenborough. uh. Allahborough?

They aren't lazy with their transitions, quoting a line from the hadith where Muhammed says, "The tourism of my nation is jihad." It's a dream peg even if they're taking it wildly out of context, for what follows next is Islamic extremism's version of the Malaysia - Truly Asia campaign.

Cape buffalo, deer and giraffe suddenly grace the screen, their majesty interrupted only by the shots of Al Shabaab's guns. In Al-Shabaab's twisted version of Nat Geo, this slaughter, ostensibly in national parks meant to protect wildlife, is the miraculous part. Allah truly works in mysterious ways.

Set to visuals of a giraffe being dismembered, voiceovers of jihadi leaders wax eloquent about Allah's benevolence.

Jihadi ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki promises potential jihadis a variety of cuisine while Bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam goes even further stating, "You eat, drink and hunt for free, not in Bangkok or Los Angeles, or paying $500 a night at a London hotel. It is an entertaining journey of tourism and hunting."

That both these ideologues were assassinated in anti-terror operations isn't mentioned in the video. That, after all, would be a downer. But Al-Shabaab isn't about downers, so they embellish the video with footage of jihadis frolicking in muddy water and boating instead.

What Jihadis want

The video is a masterclass in the bizarre. The magnificent blessings of Allah the video brags about - like access to meat and fish - are things the average foreigner can pick up in a supermarket. Without having to trek through a jungle. While slaughtering people. With, by the way, no women in sight. In Somalia.

Perhaps Al-Shabaab need to re-examine exactly what their appeal is. Has there ever been a jihadi who has been put off the cause by the lack of wildlife? Or someone so desperate for a hunting trip they can't afford that they'd join an extremist cause in one of Africa's most backward countries?

I think it's safe to say most jihadis are looking for an eternity in paradise rather than a lifetime trying to avoid malaria in the Somalian wilderness. Kudos to Al-Shabaab for the effort, but this video is unlikely to win either recruits or awards.

First published: 4 November 2015, 4:34 IST
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.