ISIS Threatens To Kill The Pope Over The Holidays

A man types on a keyboard in front of a computer screen on which an Islamic State flag is displayed, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 6, 2016. Reuters/Dado Ruvic

A new propaganda poster released by a pro-ISIS group this weekend depicts Pope Francis being beheaded by an ISIS jihadist.

The poster was discovered on a Telegram app's pro-ISIS channel by an intelligence group, and shows a terrorist with his face masked in white robes standing over the bloody severed head of the Pope.

"O Worshipers of the Cross, I swear to avenge every single drop of blood that you spilled and every house that you have destroyed," reads a message scrolled across the top of the poster in white letters. "I swear that you will taste the bitterness of the cups of death and make your feasts massacres. You will not even enjoy living in your homes, Allah willing."

The poster was discovered just days after the same group released another poster calling for an attack on the Vatican during Christmas. The messages seem to be timed to spark fear and dread among Christians just as they prepare to celebrate their most important holidays, experts say.

"It's not surprising to see threats like this against Pope Francis and Christianity, especially during the Holiday season. ISIS and its supporters know how to play the media game, and often time the releases of their threats to get the highest amount of attention as possible," Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, told Newsweek.

"Though the group always issues threats to Christians, a group like Wafa may naturally want to ramp up such messages leading into Christians' biggest holiday."

This ISIS propaganda poster depicts an ISIS terrorist beheading Pope Francis. SITE Intelligence Group

Just a day before Wafa released the picture of the pope's beheading, another pro-ISIS group released a cartoonish poster featuring a Santa Clause hat and beard.

"Just Terror Everyone, And a Terror Filled New Year," reads a message in English spread on the pro-ISIS telegram channel "Lone Mujahid." A cartoon knife is superimposed near the Santa hat.

Pro-ISIS propaganda posters usually call for lone-wolf attacks in Western urban centers. As ISIS struggles to stay relevant following its military defeat in Iraq and Syria, experts say it's likely these types of threats will increase.

"Terrorist groups, given the uncertainty over their capabilities and desire to instill fear, already have an incentive to misrepresent their strength as greater than it actually is. As they lose territory and therefore resources, this incentive is exacerbated," Harrison Akins, a researcher at the Howard Baker Center, told Newsweek.

Breaking: ISIS releases graphic calling for terror attacks on Christmas and New Years.

— PM Breaking News (@PMBreakingNews) November 17, 2017

Meanwhile, the Pope is a perfect symbol for the clash of civilizations ISIS hopes to trigger, Akins says.

"The Pope represents a worldview based on tolerance, multiculturalism, and coexistence between faiths, a worldview that they oppose as they push for a clash with Western civilization," Akins added, noting that ISIS has used the idea of a clash of civilizations to help boost its recruitment efforts.

"As we have seen, they have used the hardline rhetoric of the Trump administration in their recruiting to sell the idea of the Islamic world under siege," he added.

Still, that doesn't mean the threats are only for propaganda purposes. ISIS would likely see an attack on Rome or the Vatican as a big success, experts say.

A pro-ISIS propaganda poster calls for an attack on the Vatican on Christmas. SITE Intelligence Group

ISIS's goal of attacking Rome is as old as the group itself. The same week that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the caliphate, for example, he also declared that the militant group would "conquer Rome and own the whole world," Christopher Meserole, an expert on ISIS at the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek.

"ISIS is also keen to target Italy now because it's one of the few major European countries it hasn't yet struck," Meserole said. "They're hoping to inspire violence there so that they can say, in effect, 'we've already attacked your capitals in London, in Paris, and in Barcelona, and now we've attacked Rome. There's nowhere we can't reach.'"