The Names of Jihad

A Guide to ISIS’ Noms de Guerre

An ISIS fighter films a parade in Raqqa, July 2014. Reuters

The situation was solemn, but hidden smiles played behind the eyes of those listening in. An Islamic State (ISIS) fighter was yelling for his brother-in-arms over an unscrambled radio channel. His fellow fighter didn’t answer and was most likely dead. But that didn’t keep the broadcaster from repeatedly yelling the fallen fighter’s nom de guerre, “Abu Jihad! Abu Jihad! Abu Jihad!” This translates as “the father of a struggle against the enemies of Islam,” and for the foreigners listening in, it provided a source of grim amusement. Such is the case when soldiers give themselves names—sometimes ridiculous, sometimes religious, and sometimes political names—in the current war in Syria.

Although noms de guerre have been a common practice in combat for centuries, fighters in Syria and Iraq have turned them into an art, stringing together elements that identify a great deal, real and imagined, about the

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