Moments before the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, an Islamic State leader warned "Crusaders" that this rite was being held on a North African beach for a reason.
Previous videos of ISIS fighters "chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross for a long time" were filmed in Iraq and Syria, he noted, in fluent English. "Today, we are … south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message."
When the slaughter was over, the lead executioner stressed again: "We will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission."
Time after time, Pope Francis has refused to take this bait -- consistently stating his conviction that true Islam promotes peace, not violence. He said this again when a reporter asked about the murder of the elderly Father Jacques Hamel in France.
"I don't like to speak of Islamic violence," said Francis, flying home from World Youth Day in Poland. "When I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy -- this one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law -- and these are baptized Catholics! …
"If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence. … Not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad -- there's everything."
The terrorists who slaughtered the Egyptian Christians, he added, were quick to "show us their identity cards" as part of the Islamic State. "But this is a fundamentalist group which is called 'ISIS.' But you cannot say -- I do not believe -- that it is true or right that Islam is terrorist."
The pope's stand has caused debate among Catholics and other Christians, as well as quiet tensions with Christians in the ancient Middle Eastern churches. However, he has drawn praise from mainstream Islamic leaders, who stress the fact that ISIS has massacred countless Muslims who have rejected its radical vision of the faith.
Now, in a new issue of its magazine Dabiq -- entitled "Break the Cross" -- ISIS has responded directly to the pope of Rome, arguing that Francis has been misled by Muslims who are themselves heretics. ISIS leaders also claim that the views of Francis clash with those of earlier popes, including his predecessor Benedict XVI.
"Despite the clarity of past and perished popes regarding their enmity for Islam and its teachings, the current pope, Francis, has struggled against reality to advertise the apostate's perversion of Islamic teachings as the actual religion of Muslims," argues one essay in this Dabiq attack, translated into English by the Clarion Project (.pdf here).
"So while Benedict and many before him emphasized the enmity between the pagan Christians and monotheistic Muslims, Francis' work is notably more subtle, steering clear of confrontational words that would offend those who falsely claim Islam, those apostates whom the Crusaders found played the perfect role for their infiltration into Muslim lands."
Quoting from the papal document "The Joy of the Gospel," the ISIS statement claims that "Francis continues to hide behind a deceptive veil of 'good will,' covering his actual intentions of pacifying the Muslim nation. This is exemplified in Francis' statement that 'our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence'."
The bottom line: Ongoing conflicts between the Islamic State and the West, as well as all Muslims who reject its view of the faith, are not about politics, economics or even the logic of ordinary wars. No, the ISIS leadership insists that this global war is about religion, whether Pope Francis wants to admit it or not.
"We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah -- whether you realize it or not -- by making partners for Him in worship, you blaspheme against Him, claiming that He has a son, you fabricate lies against His prophets and messengers, and you indulge in all manner of devilish practices," argues one Dabiq essay.
"The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam."