The Islamic State has released the first pictures of its own sniper battalion in what appears to be propaganda to answer the hit US film, American Sniper.
Bearded as well as clean-shaven members of the eight-man unit are pictured posing with long-range Russian-made Dragunov sniper rifles in northern Iraq.
Adopting the look of an American sniper unit, the fighters are kitted out in khaki uniforms, peaked caps and ski goggles to protect them from the glare of the sun.
According to the US-based jihadi tracking organisation, Site, the unit is part of the Ninewa Division of northern Iraq. It is one of 16 administrative regions in the Islamic State that spans Syria and Iraq.
ISIS snipers have seen action in both Syria and Iraq where they have been responsible for the deaths of many Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers.
An ISIS sniper killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Brigadier General Hamid Taqavi in December. Taqavi was one of a number of Iranian advisers training Shi’a militias in their fight against ISIS.
They have also played a prominent role in the battle for Kobane which involved intense street fighting.
ISIS Twitter accounts were quick to link the battalion to a famous Iraqi sniper who plagued American forces during the Iraqi conflict.
One said the unit was carrying on the legacy of ‘Juba the Sniper’, a Sunni insurgent sniper who operated in Baghdad from 2005 where he is said to have killed around 40 American soldiers.
His skills with a rifle reportedly allowed him to hit targets from 200 metres away.
Videos of Juba’s exploits were seen at the time as an important step in the development of the insurgents’ propaganda and their ability to personalise the killing of coalition soldiers – a radical departure from earlier clips of the IED explosions and random car bombs that had been the hallmark of the insurgency.
His videos also included direct threats and then-U.S. President George W, Bush.
‘I have nine bullets in this gun and I have a present for George Bush,’ Juba tells the camera in one video. ‘I am going to kill nine people.’
In the close-quarter urban combat of Baghdad and Fallujah, exposed US soldiers were known to be highly vulnerable to sniper attacks and stories of a skilled marksman hunting them in the labyrinthine backstreets of Iraq’s cities took its toll on the American troops’ psyche.
‘He’s good,’ Specialist Travis Burress, a sniper based in Camp Rustamiyah near Baghdad said in 2006. ‘Every time we dismount, I’m sure everyone has got him in the back of their minds. He’s a serious threat to us.’
‘He definitely knows what to do with a rifle,’ Major John Plaster, a retired Green Beret sniper instructor, told ABC in 2006. ‘He has the judgment and discipline to take a shot, wisely choose an escape route, and immediately depart to avoid capture. This is not a zealot; this is a calculated shooter.’
He waited for soldiers to dismount or stand up in a Humvee turret, before aiming for gaps in their body armour, the lower spine, ribs or above the chest.
‘The big concern is that there’s a school somewhere that’s ready to turn out more of these people,’ former Green Beret Major John Plaster said in his 2006 ABC interview.
Debates about Juba’s whereabouts or his existence continue to this day.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry announced in 2006 that it had captured an insurgent known as Ali Nazar al-Jubori (aka Mazer al-Jubouri), claiming he was the famed ‘Iraqi sniper’.
Many claim he may have not been an individual but a composite of various people, others say he may have been a figment of their imagination.
‘Juba the Sniper? He’s a product of the U.S. military,’ Captain Brendan Hobbs said in an interview with Stars and Stripes in 2007. ‘We’ve built up this myth ourselves.’
As is often the case in the Middle East, wild conspiracy theories went so far as to claim that Juba was an Israeli agent trained by Mossad as a propaganda tool.
Most experts agree that the death toll attributed to Juba’ is far-fetched, but his story continues to resonate today.
Last year ISIS was reportedly took possession of a giant 10-foot-long sniper rifle. It is so big that it has to be supported on two tripods and fires ammunition three times the size of standard rifle ammunition.
An Islamic State terrorist has been photographed aiming it out of a flat window in Kobane, the scene of intense fighting between IS and Kurdish forces.
What sort of effect this gun would have remains open to debate, however, according to firearms expert David Dyson.
He told MailOnline: ‘The problem with identifying the effect of this gun is firstly that we don’t know for sure what the calibre is, although there wouldn’t be a lot of point in building something like this if it wasn’t of a significant calibre.
‘Secondly, and probably of more importance, we don’t know how well it is made. Is the barrel accurately machined and rifled?
‘The effect will also depend on the type of ammunition used. These rounds (23mm) exist fitted with high explosive incendiary or armour piercing incendiary projectiles.They will be effective against personnel and vehicles including lightly armoured ones.’
—Courtesy of Weasel Zippers