Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is running out of the power to shock.
Once you have released videos of your members decapitating people en masse with knives, burning them alive, drowning them in swimming pools, and killing literally hundreds in Nazi-style round-ups, you begin to lose effect.
Even children they have used before: a boy whose voice hadn’t broken was shown carrying out one execution, nervously stepping up to shoot a captive in the back of the head.
Having a toddler front their latest video – warning of killing the “kuffar” – may be the only idea they had left.
The purpose of the video is clear: it is to show that Isil has not given up on its grand ambition, despite the toll taken on its leadership by months of pinpoint Coalition bombing.
The new “Jihadi John” speaks in exactly the same way, and brandishes his gun with exactly the same gestures, as the old one.
This is unlikely to be a coincidence. Jihadi John – Mohammed Emwazi – was killed in an air strike in November – as this video seems accidentally to confirm, by showing his replacement.
The video is a way of saying “nothing has changed”.
That message can be read more widely: Isil has suffered losses recently, both by the deaths of other, more senior leaders, such as Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, the deputy head, who is mentioned by name, and by territory.
It has been driven back from Ramadi and Sinjar in Iraq, and even its capital in Raqqa is under threat. A coalition of Kurdish forces, some “moderate” Sunni Arab rebels, and coalition air strikes is forming a front all across northern Syria.
The warning to “Prime Minister David Cameron, the imbecile” harks back to Jihadi John’s message on the death of David Haines in September 2014, and is a way of saying “nothing has happened since to change anything”.
Some details have changed, however. The video deliberately obscures the place where it was filmed more than those early “snuff” movies. The site of execution then was pinpointed by online sleuths using the clues available.
In this video, the background to the executions is a desert landscape but with no identifying features. It may even have been “green screened”, as with some previous productions – the film superimposed on an artificial background.
Most dramatically, the captives are shot in the back of the head, rather than beheaded. There is no clear explanation for this. But last year, it was reported that an edict had gone out from the “Caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying that the plethora of freelance “head” pictures being tweeted by fighters was doing damage to Isil’s reputation.
Since those reports, most killings shown even in “official” videos have been by shooting.
Even an organisation whose most striking propaganda weapon has been gore can have too much of a good thing, apparently. Or perhaps the attempt to portray its fighters as psychopathic was regarded as having succeeded, and the next phase – to portray the caliphate as a state regularising its practices – had come into operation.