Written by Colonel A. Filisteyev, Lieutenant Colonel D. Borisov. Originally appeared at Foreign military review #2 2021. Translated exclusively for SouthFront.
International terrorist organizations are actively promoting radical ideology among the general population. Its main goal is to attract new supporters both to replenish the ranks of illegal armed groups operating in conflict zones, and to create a network of “sleeping” cells in various countries of the world. Such agitation allows extremists to receive significant financial resources as donations, allegedly for the “sacred struggle for the purity of Islam,” including from moderate and law-abiding Muslims.
Special attention is paid to students of religious educational institutions, with the help of which terrorists expect to expand the scale of propaganda in mosques, the media and the Internet.
The main wager on carrying out an agitation campaign is on the low religious literacy of the majority of the population of Muslim countries. Thus, the emissaries of the international terrorist organization “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIS, banned in the Russian Federation), applying their interpretations of the position of Koran, try to convince the audience of the “sacredness” of the idea of creating a caliphate in all Muslim territories, the permissibility of violence to achieve this “great goals ”, as well as the belonging of the leaders of the group to the direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
The thesis is widely used that “Muslims of the whole world must awaken and help their oppressed brothers in states where corrupt anti-popular regimes are in power.” At the same time, the emphasis is on the “injustice” of the existing legal and economic systems, the lack of prospects for self-realization, growing inequality, the impossibility of legally ensuring a decent life for oneself and one’s family. At the same time, those who are ready to leave for combat zones to participate in the “holy war” are given promises of getting rich quick and obtaining a high social status after returning to their homeland.
Along with traditional sermons, extremists are actively conducting propaganda using modern technologies. The militants prepare themed audio, video and text materials, translate them into many languages and distribute them through television and radio networks, Internet sites, and digital media.
ISIS Media Fixed Assets
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is taking steps to preserve and expand the network of sources of information and psychological impact on the population in connection with the reduction in the number of gangs, financial problems and a decrease in the morale of the remaining terrorists in the Middle East.
Centralized control over the work of the ISIS mass media is carried out by the highest headquarters of the media, subordinate to the organization’s leadership, known as the central media department (“Divan al-Ialyam al-Markaziy”). It is assumed that its main part is located in the valley of the river. Euphrates in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The Al-Furqan Media Fund is one of the first Islamist media divisions to produce video products. It was created in 2006 by representatives of the Islamic State in Iraq (the basis of modern ISIS) and is still used to disseminate statements by the group’s leadership. It was the media fund that released the video where the former terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of the caliphate.
Al-Hayat is ISIS’s central media fund, specializing in video production dedicated to gaining support from Muslims in the West and the Muslim community in East Asia. Media products are presented in Arabic, English, Russian, German, French and Turkish, as well as Urdu and Pashto. Al-Hayat translates the speeches of ISIS dignitaries. Since August 2018, the media fund has been releasing weekly propaganda videos exaggerating the results of the military activities of the organization’s detachments, with specific statistical data in the form of slides for the reporting period. Until 2017, Al-Hayat published the extremist magazines Rumiyah and Dabik.
In October 2018, the Al-Abd al-Fakir media fund was created, linked to the ISIS central media office, which is a new information platform and specializes in the production of videos and posters promoting the organization’s ideology.
The Foundation also publishes the magazines Shabab al-Khilafa (Youth of the Caliphate) and Ashbal al-Ummah (Lion Cubs of the Islamic Nation), and since the beginning of 2019 – animated films for children.
The Aamak News Agency is the official ISIS news outlet, which publishes statements of responsibility for terrorist attacks by militants, as well as announcements regarding their attacks. The agency is expected to be in contact with field commanders in the various war zones, from whom it receives updated reports of events. In addition, Aamak produces news bulletins, infographics and videos in Arabic. If it is necessary to appeal to the target audience, translations into other languages (English, German, French) are published.
Currently, the agency’s content, which focuses primarily on ISIS activities in Iraq and Sinai, is distributed mainly through the Telegram app.
The Muta news agency is affiliated with the Islamic State, but is not the organization’s official media outlet. Most of the publications are statements in Arabic and English about the responsibility of ISIS organizing illegal activities, disseminated mainly through the Telegram application.
Muharir al-Ansar is an ISIS-affiliated media foundation that produces posters that threaten Western countries.
In particular, it publishes materials calling for terrorist attacks, including the use of road transport. The Ahl al-Tawhid Media Foundation publishes an online magazine in English called From Dabik to Rome.
Al-Battar Foundation is affiliated with ISIS, but is not the organization’s official media outlet. It operates in various provinces of the Islamic Caliphate (Syria, Sinai, Khorasan and West Africa). The agency is also active in Libya and Yemen and specializes in the production of video products (the most famous – “The Road to Glory” or “Glorious Road”), praising jihad against the “enemies of Islam.”
The Al-Yakin Foundation serves as the basis for the production of videos promoting ISIS ideology. Associated with a terrorist organization, but not its official media. The products of the media fund are distributed through the ISIS Al-Guraba website.
The Al-Ajnad Media Fund started its activities in 2014. It is the official ISIS body specializing in the production and distribution of verses that encourage jihad and audio recordings, including Islamic preaching. Al-Ajnad information is uploaded mainly in the Telegram messenger and on file-sharing sites.
The Rimah Foundation is a subsidiary of ISIS media funds. Launched in December 2017, it publishes textual materials for the media in Arabic and English, and produces videos.
Al-Wafa is an unofficial foundation that supports ISIS. Produces media materials, as well as posters on lone terrorist attacks and books of Islamic thought to clarify “the fundamental concepts of the organization and reflect the differing views of elements within it arising from religious and practical disputes.” In April 2018, the foundation published a poster in Russian calling for attacks during the FIFA World Cup in the Russian Federation, which indicates the work of Russian-speaking employees in this structure.
The Al-Dar al-Sunni and Maktabat al-Himma foundations are not official ISIS media, but are affiliated with it. They specialize in the production of online booklets and electronic texts on Islamic law (Sharia) in accordance with the Salafi-jihadist interpretation, as well as discrediting democratic regimes. In addition, Ad-Dar As-Sunni published the Al-Anfal magazine in 2017–2018, which provokes attacks by lone terrorists.
The ISIS Internet radio station Al-Bayan, which began operations in August 2014 in Mosul (Iraq), was broadcasting from Raqqa (Syria) by the end of 2017. Since November 2017 it has been working on the Internet and is currently operating through the website of the Al-Ghraba organization.
The Muntasir Media Foundation specializes in the publication of posters and videos calling for terrorist attacks in Western countries. Given the good quality of the media production and its distribution in European languages, especially in Spanish and French, it is possible that the representatives of the media fund operate from the territory of the European Union. Its products are distributed through the ISIS Al-Ghurab website.
The Turjuman al-Asavirti media fund, which has been operating for more than six years, produces propaganda videos and posters based on media materials. The media fund posters and videos in Arabic and English are being disseminated through the ISIL Al-Ghurab website. Turjuman al-Asawirti also has its own website that publishes media products. In addition, information can be found on social networks and the Telegram messenger.
Ashkhad is one of the oldest foundations. At the same time, it is not the official media platform of the terrorist organization. It publishes promotional videos, posters and media brochures.
ISIS media distribution platforms
The Al-Ghurab website is the main unofficial platform for terrorists.
The site distributes ISIS videos, ads and posters. In addition, it publishes a weekly magazine Al-Naba.
The ISIS-affiliated Shabakat Shumukh al-Ikhbariya website was launched in July 2018. The site publishes statements about the organization’s responsibility for the attacks and various news produced by the group’s media network.
Akhbar al-Muslimine is one of the main ISIS websites, which publishes news, statements and videos about the organization’s responsibility for terrorist attacks. Since 2016, it has been the most active Internet site of the organization. Since the beginning of 2019, there has been a decrease in the quantity and quality of content.
The Nashir news agency specializes in managing channels in the Telegram messenger and social networking channels, as well as distributing media materials. It does not produce its own content, but only disseminates information and has the closest ties with the Amak news agency.
The Al-Sakri Lil-Ulum al-Askariya (Al-Sakri Military Science Foundation) website was launched in 2018. Its products include Al-Marja brochures, posters and videos calling for terrorist attacks on behalf of ISIS. Information is disseminated in social networks and the Telegram messenger.
In addition, since 2019, there has been a trend towards an increase in the number of local media offices in the various branches of ISIS, which are subordinate to the organization’s central media management. They use the group’s leadership media platforms to spread their message. This allows the distant units of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to operate within the framework of a single propaganda strategy determined by its leadership.
In the same time period, the media offices of the ISIS formations began to operate in Libya, West Africa and Somalia. Their information products are distributed by the official media funds of the Al-Furqan, Amak and Al-Hayat organizations.
In total, since July 2015, ISIS media funds have released over 850 videos and films with an average length of 12 minutes. At the same time, 2.8 percent of them belongs to the central office, and most of them are produced by regional media funds. The total circulation of print and online publications is up to 1,000.
ISIS print, web and electronic publications
ISIS magazine Al-Naba specializes in articles about ISIS victories on the “battlefields”, contains interviews with militants and leaders of the organization, posts instructions on terrorist attacks and the production of propaganda posters, materials of a religious nature, as well as statistics on the organization’s activities. During the “flourishing of the Islamic Caliphate” and until 2018, the weekly printed copies consisted of 16 pages and were distributed to citizens in areas under militant control. Today, the Al-Ghurab website is only available in electronic form, while its design has been simplified and the number of pages has been reduced to 12, suggesting significant damage to the terrorists’ information network.
The magazine “Shabab al-Khilafa” (Youth of the Caliphate) has been published since October 2018. This is an unofficial publication of ISIS. The audience is young Muslims, encouraged to join its ranks. Shabab al-Khilafa, under the control of the al-Abd al-Fakir media fund, publishes materials received from supporters of the terrorist organization, as well as interviews with militants, articles on support for ISIS, posters and sermons about terrorist attacks.
The English-language magazine From Dabika to Rome is associated with ISIS, but is not an official publication of the organization. It publishes news, radical Islamic thought, details of its activities and newsletters.
In 2018, the magazine was published every two weeks by the Ahl al-Tawhid media fund. It is distributed electronically on the Al-Guraba website and via the Telegram messenger.
Al-Anfal magazine has published the Ad-Dar As-Sunni media fund every 10 days since the end of 2017. It contained materials that provoke lone terrorists to carry out attacks. The last issue of the magazine was recorded in June 2018.
ISIS social media and messengers are designed to motivate militants to carry out terrorist attacks, recruit and keep in touch with them, express support for Islamist actions, and raise funds.
For the exchange of information, supporters of terrorist organizations previously used the accounts of the Twitter and Facebook applications.
Recently, their accounts have been actively blocked, making it difficult to disseminate information. In this regard, extremists began to switch to instant messaging (messengers).
The most widespread is Telegram and Tam Tam, which has been gaining popularity among the militants since the beginning of this year.
The messaging system in both messengers has an encryption key and allows you to store secret chats, in which the content is erased after a specified time. The widespread use of encrypted anonymous applications provides ISIS leadership with a solution to keep in touch with warlords around the world. Terrorists discuss in messengers the goals of attacks, methods of action, as well as methods of conspiracy, obtaining weapons and material resources.
At the same time, ISIS leaders urge their supporters not to limit propaganda only to the Telegram application, but to try to spread it to other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Discord and Rocket Chat. “. ISIS employees have also developed their own application, Conversion, for messaging.
Al-Qaeda Media Fixed Assets
There is an increase in the activity of al-Qaeda supporters (the group’s activities on the territory of the Russian Federation are prohibited) in recruiting using the communication capabilities of the Internet. In particular, in 2018, specialized Internet resources recorded 15 video messages from the leader of the organization A. Zawahiri, which exceeds the indicator of 2017 by 67 percent.
In addition, the level of interaction between Al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist cells in the Maghreb countries and in the Sahara-Sahel zone through the social networks Twitter and Facebook has increased. The ultimate goal is to recruit militants against the background of the growth of radical sentiments and the popularization of extremist ideology among the local population, which is caused by acute socio-economic problems and ethnic contradictions.
The Al-Sahab Media Fund, established in 2001, is one of the first terrorist media units to produce mainly video and audio products in Arabic and English. It is used to disseminate statements by the organization’s management, usually through the Al-Izza website.
The activities of the official Al-Qaeda foundation in the Arabian Peninsula (a branch of Al-Qaeda), Al-Malahim, are aimed at disseminating terrorist statements with threats to foreigners. In video messages and publications, the militants call for attacks on diplomatic missions and facilities of Western states on the territory of Arab countries. The greatest activity of the media fund was noted in 2008-2012.
Al-Qataib is the official platform for the production of propaganda products by the extremist group Al-Shabab al-Mujahedin (associated with the Al-Qaeda organization) in the Republic of Somalia. Distributes statements calling for terrorist attacks in the capital of the country directed against government forces, state authorities and peacekeeping units of the African Union, and also publishes media products with the results of terrorist attacks. The materials are posted on social networks, the Telegram messenger, through the unofficial site of the Shahad News group.
Al-Andalus Foundation is the official media outlet of Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb. The products consist of video and audio messages from extremists, in which the leaders of the organization call for the mobilization of the population of all Muslim countries in the region to fight foreign military contingents and “outside interference”.
The extremists of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram (associated with Al-Qaeda) established the Al-Urwa media fund in January 2015. This platform is most actively used for the production of videos, official statements and online publications of Boko Haram leaders. Currently, the content of the Al-Urwa media fund is small. Its maximum activity was noted in 2015-2017.
Internet platforms for the distribution of Al-Qaeda media products
The Al-Izza website, which began its work in April 2019, publishes statements about the organization’s responsibility for sabotage, video messages and various news released by the group’s media funds. It is the most active Internet platform for Al-Qaeda.
The content includes information materials from almost all branches of the Islamists.
The Imaad website, created in March 2019, is associated with this organization, but is not its official Internet platform. It publishes news, statements and videos about the attacks. In addition, this media platform is used for information warfare against ISIS in the Middle East.
The use of modern technologies by terrorists in the information space. A relatively new area of recruiting activity is the use of online games that allow the exchange of text messages. The calculation is based on the fact that young people who have common interests in a virtual environment will easily make contact in real conditions in the future. For this purpose, extremist-oriented versions of popular gaming applications such as Call of Duty (Call of Jihad) and JT Hey (JT Hey Salil al-Savarem) are specially created.
One of the platforms for gamers is the Discord messenger, which has over 130 million registered users. The platform organizes its chat communities into servers, each one containing a large number of text and voice messages.
In order to find new means for distributing their materials, extremists are making attempts to create web pages and blogs on such services. like the Ward Press and the Tumbler microblogging service. ISIS media funds are committed to using these platforms to protect against blocking, as well as to create special extensions that can provide users with new addresses of their sites.
Cyber jihad is a relatively new way of conducting terrorist activities.
The most common form of using modern information technologies is the use of Internet resources to manage conspiratorial cells and operating combat units, as well as to organize interaction with like-minded people in different parts of the world. In addition, the relative ease of connecting to the network allows Islamists to use its capabilities to post manuals on tactics for preparing and conducting sabotage, making improvised explosive devices, organizing communications and encrypted correspondence.
The ideologues of the “cyber jihad” seek to obtain the opportunity to “strike at the enemies of Islam” using information technology, committing acts of so-called cyber terrorism.
To do this, they try to use computer systems and networks, as well as specially developed software designed to destroy or steal information. Acts of cyber terrorism are implemented through “cyber attacks”, that is, intervention in the operation of computer facilities to disrupt or terminate their functioning by introducing malware or organizing a massive access to a media resource.
At the same time, extremists still have rather limited opportunities to carry out such acts, since they do not have an appropriate material and technical base or highly qualified personnel. In these conditions, the most often objects of influence for “Islamist hackers” are open sites of government agencies and the media, against which attacks such as “denial of service” are carried out (overloading a network resource by organizing massive requests to it).
In addition, extremists are mastering methods of waging information warfare, including “hacking” the official websites of news agencies and administrative bodies, as well as the personal pages of influential political and religious figures. False information and provocative messages posted on such resources can destabilize the situation in society and undermine confidence in the authorities.
The official media network of ISIS, al-Qaeda and related organizations includes many foundations specialized in the production and distribution of various media materials (regular announcements of military activities, videos, photos, speeches and poems encouraging Muslims to join the jihad and contributing to the strengthening of the fighting spirit of the militants). This information is disseminated in cyberspace mainly on websites, social networks, file sharing sites and Internet radio stations.
Most of the terrorist publications are published in Arabic. Some materials are published in other languages (English, French, Russian, etc.), which indicates a specific target audience of extremists.
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