There's a reason why the Islamic State beheaded American Peter Kassig last year in the city of Dabiq, Syria, and why the group's online magazine shares the city's name. It's one of the reasons President Obama wants to avoid sending ground troops to fight ISIS. As the New York Times explains, it's all about an Armageddon-style prophecy. ISIS maintains that Islam will prevail only after Western forces invade Syria and set off an apocalyptic battle, and the ancient texts it cites specifically foretell the "Romans" setting foot in Dabiq. "Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive," said Kassig's executioner at the time.
"In other words, ISIS wants a Western ground force to invade Syria, as that would confirm the prophecy about Dabiq," writes Peter Bergen at CNN. An earlier ISIS primer at the Atlantic also makes note of the prophecy, observing that "Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading." One real concern for the West is that such an invasion—allowing ISIS to sell it as a prophecy fulfilled—would boost recruitment for the group at a moment when that effort is lagging, adds Rukmini Callimachi of the Times. "It’s a very powerful and emotional narrative," a professor of Mideast studies tells the newspaper. "It gives the potential recruit and the actual fighters the feeling that not only are they part of the elite, they are also part of the final battle." (New documents reveal ISIS to be a "deeply calculating political organization.")