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ISIS's new video tells us something important about the Paris attacks

Still from ISIS video released on January 24, 2016.
Still from ISIS video released on January 24, 2016.
Al-Hayat Media

Official ISIS media released a video on Sunday of the final "martyrdom" statements made by nine of the suspected Paris attackers, who killed 130 people in a series of coordinated attacks around Paris on November 13.

The video is significant because it suggests that the central ISIS leadership in Iraq and Syria may have been much more involved with directing and coordinating the attacks than had been thought.

All but one of the statements seem to have been filmed in Iraq or Syria; the video was released and seemingly produced by the official ISIS media arm; and the attackers explicitly state they were directed by the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to carry out the attacks. Since Baghdadi has directed all "believing" Muslims to carry out such attacks in various statements he's made, this alone would not necessarily prove he personally ordered and directed this specific attack, but the combined evidence is highly suggestive.

Suspected Paris attacker Samy Amimour claims in the video that he was sent to carry out the Paris attacks by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Amimour was killed when he detonated his suicide vest as police stormed the Bataclan theater where Amimour and two others had killed dozens of people.
Al-Hayat Media

This would be significant because it would seem to support the conclusion that the central ISIS leadership is now actively targeting the West — not just Westerners who happen to be in ISIS territory or Western "interests" in the region, but everyday citizens on the streets of major Western cities like Paris.

The video ends with the ominous implication that the UK is the next target on the list, with footage of British members of Parliament voting to support airstrikes against ISIS.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is shown in crosshairs, suggesting the UK may be the next target.
Al-Hayat Media

The video also reveals additional details about the attackers' justifications for attacking France in particular. They mention France's participation in the coalition campaign bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, its ban on the face veil, or niqab, and the large number of Muslims in French prisons.

It is important to note that these are not necessarily the actual issues that motivated the individual attackers to join ISIS and carry out these attacks. The official justification the attackers give for why France "deserved" to be attacked may have little to do with why they personally decided to blow themselves up outside a Paris cafe on a cold night in November. In other words, don't assume that they were radicalized by French foreign policy or the French niqab ban. That's often just not how radicalization works, and they may have chosen to take up terrorism for very personal or otherwise totally different reasons.

The video features dramatic news footage of the Paris attacks interspersed with the individual statements of the attackers. Several of attackers clutch knives as they deliver their speeches standing in a stark desert landscape — presumably Iraq or Syria — with a prisoner clad in an orange jumpsuit on his knees in front of them. When they finish their speeches, they execute the captive on camera. According to the Daily Mail, activists in Raqqa, Syria, have confirmed the identity one of the victims as Syrian activist Hamouda al-Qasab.

Only one alleged attacker, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, thought to be the ringleader of the attacks, does not execute anyone on camera. He is filmed sitting indoors in front of an ISIS flag draped over a large dry-erase board, perhaps suggesting he was not in Iraq or Syria at the time his statement was filmed.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, presumed to be the ringleader of the Paris attacks, delivers his statement in front of the ISIS flag.
Al-Hayat Media

Two suspected attackers are noticeably absent from the video: Salah Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini. Both are believed to be still alive and on the run. It is unclear why ISIS chose not to include their statements.

The attackers issue the standard menacing threats against the West and call on other Muslims to rise up and join the fight. Abaaoud warns, "By Allah, we will make rivers out of your blood on this day. We will fight you to the last man among us and there is nothing between us and you but the edge of the sword." Amimour calls on Muslims living in the West to use whatever means they can to wage jihad against their fellow countrymen, even "to smash their head with a rock" if that's all they can do.

Alleged Paris attacker Samy Amimour grins into the camera after beheading a prisoner.
Al-Hayat Media

The video leaves one with the sense that the attackers were fully committed to the ISIS ideology and that their actions were undertaken with clear-eyed purpose. These are not unfortunate dupes who got roped into something they didn't understand or didn't believe in. They are true believers.

Watch: The rise of ISIS, in 6 minutes