From the same extremists slaughtering their way across Syria and Iraq, who post daily gruesome videos of mass executions of "non-believers," comes a new message this week to the west, with a tone that is more tourism bureau than army of darkness: "I wish you were here."
And that blunt invitation in the video from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is coming from English-speaking, unmasked jihadis cradling as many children in their arms as automatic weapons as they beckon their fellow Americans, Britains, Fins, Belgians and others to join the Muslim caliphate they've proclaimed there.
"Please O believers, come, who can make it, come. Come to Sham [Syria] as soon as possible," says an "mujahid" who claims to be American in the 30-minute video released last weekend, identified by his nom de guerre Abu Abdurahman al-Trinidadi.
Cradling an automatic weapon in one hand and a young boy in his other arm and standing on a street alongside other fighters with weapons who are also surrounded by kids, the Caribbean-accented al-Trinidadi added, "Look at all the little children -- they’re having fun."
The nine testimonials mark a turning point in the shocking evolution of ISIS, which had been allowed to grow into an army over the past two years with ambitions that have mushroomed beyond simply opposing the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad in Damascus.
The westerners once under wraps are now openly beckoning their kind to the fight and giving western intelligence officials more jitters.
U.S. intelligence agencies and independent experts estimate that more than 12,000 foreign fighters have fought in Syria -- mostly Islamist extremists -- including thousands from Europe and more than 100 from the U.S. But they have mostly stayed in the shadows until ISIS blitzed Iraqi forces in the north this summer and announced an Islamic state or caliphate a few weeks ago.
"Ever since they announced that they have this caliphate, they've been more prominent about pushing out recruitment materials to non-Arabs. We've seen stuff in French and in German, as well as in English," Aaron Zelin, who researches foreign fighters at the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, told ABC News Thursday. “It seems like they're not just trying to recruit people for military types of activities, but to have this functional state they need people with actual skills to come there.”
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Al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab in Somalia has been the most prominent and most successful extremist group at using videos to draw English-speaking westerners from the U.K. and America to wage jihad in East Africa.
Counterterrorism officials in Europe and the U.S. have expressed grave concern over how easy it is to get to Syria, how hard it is for their agencies to track westerners traveling overland mostly through Turkey, and the likelihood that as many as half of their citizens who've gone to fight in Syria haven't been identified by name and could return home. The biggest fear are those willing to die to carry out attacks.
ISIS has focused its offensive this week on areas held by Kurdish peshmerga forces, who are badly outgunned, and the terror group is using military vehicles captured from Iraqi government forces as armored truck bombs -- in some cases driven by foreign fighters eager for matryrdom, said one retired top U.S. commander with close ties to Iraq.