The Islamic State (ISIS) released two videos last week in which the jihadist organization praised its social media outreach and threatening attacks against the West.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), in the first video, "Messages to the Media Knights," the jihadist organization acknowledged "the important role of its online supporters in achieving victories on the media front," and in the second video, "So They Kill and Are Killed,” the jihadi group threatens attacks on Western soil.
“ISIS boasted about the work of its supporters online, while noting such work had considerable benefits for its operations on the ground,” MEMRI said. And not surprisingly, ISIS urged its supporters to continue their work online, which, it said, was a form of jihad.”
In the nearly 30-minute audio message, "So They Kill And Are Killed,” released March 12 by the Islamic State media company Al Furqan, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al Adnani declared that ISIS will “blow up your White House, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower." Al Adnani further reaffirmed ISIS’s steadfastness in the face of the multi-national campaign against it, saying that ISIS will bring back the glory of major Islamic battles and conquests.”
Homeland Security Today has reported extensively on the social media activity of jihadi groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda in recent months.
Presumably, ISIS is pleased with its online social media efforts to recruit and radicalize Muslims and the newly converted. The jihadist group’s latest video features several ISIS men speaking about the group’s social media success.
“The video draws on various Western media reports as well, which note ISIS’s victories on the media front, including showing segments from Fox News,” MEMRI said.
Jihadis, martyrs and a sophisticated social media campaign
ISIS has released numerous videos in recent months in which jihadists on the ground in Iraq and Syria are praised for their active jihad on the battlefield, including those who have been killed – especially suicide bombers.
Last week, Twitter accounts linked to ISIS claimed two Westerners, an Australian and a Belgian, carried out suicide attacks in Al Anbar, Iraq.
According to MEMRI, “The attacks are part of an ISIS offensive in the province in which, according to the same source, a multi-national team of suicide bombers carried out additional attacks. Among them was a man from the Caucasus named Abu Musa Al Qawqazi, an Uzbek named Osama bin Laden Al Uzbeki, a Moroccan named Abu Talha Al Maghribi, and a Syrian named Abu Hasan Al Shami.
The Australian fighter was identified as Abu ‘Abdallah Al Australi, who reputedly targeted the Iraqi Army 8th Brigade in Al Anbar.
In the latest ISIS video, the first speaker said online support for ISIS has had a "great impact on the war on the ground.” Through its social media outreach, he noted, the mujahideen are reaching the larger Muslim world to gain their sympathies and active support. Indeed, the speaker urged ISIS’s supporters to "exert more efforts and to double their [current] efforts."
“He further emphasized that the West will be defeated militarily and on the media front despite the great funds it is allocating to those fronts,” MEMRI translated.
The second speaker reiterated the crucial role of social media and expressed his gratitude for the online support of ISIS, which, he said, has a "great and clear impact" on the jihadist organization.
“A third speaker,” MEMRI said, “notes the importance of online support for ISIS, and says it is used to counter the defamation efforts against it. The speaker also notes that work on the media front comprises ‘half the way to victory.’”
The fourth speaker also urged ISIS’s supporters to expand their social media outreach, and stressed that its supporters’ resilience online, especially in the face of the continuous shutdown of their social media accounts, will prevail.
"Allah has defeated them, [he] defeated them according to the FBI’s [own] acknowledgement [which said] that it [the US] was defeated and hasn’t been able to stop the supporting brothers of the IslamicState on the Internet."
The March 12 “message is mainly meant to boost the morale of ISIS soldiers, with Al Adnani reaffirming that ISIS continues to be strong and to expand despite the attacks against it,” MEMRI said. “He also reminds the soldiers that they are fighting for a more noble cause than their enemies. Al Adnani also informs ISIS’s enemies that they had lost, and that they only realized how strong ISIS was when it was too late. In that regard, Al Adnani notes that while ISIS might be sustaining losses on the ground here and there, that would not stop it from ultimately achieving victory.”
The current message also stated that, “Al Adnani welcomes Boko Haram’s merger with ISIS and says that the caliph, i.e. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, had accepted their pledge of allegiance. Al Adnani thus declares that the caliphate had expanded to western Africa. He also notes that Boko Haram opens the doors of hijra to Africa, especially for Muslims who couldn’t join ISIS in Syria, Iraq or the Arabian Peninsula.
“Addressing ISIS’s enemies, namely the Jews and Crusaders, Al Adnani informs them that they were late in comprehending what took place, i.e.in how rapidly ISIS ascended and expanded,” MEMRI said.
"We took you by surprise," Al Adnani said, affirming ISIS will continue to expand and remain strong, and that its enemies "will not be able to stand in its face, Allah’s willing." Al Adnani also said Jews and Christians are faced with only two options: to become Muslims and be assured safety, or pay the jizya (poll tax) in humiliation after withdrawing their militaries from all Muslim lands, including Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem.
"What you [will] be paying to us in jizya won’t account for [even] tenth of a tenth of a tenth of a percent of what you pay to finance your doomed war [against ISIS]," Al Adnani said.
“Al Adnani also notes that the death of ISIS’s mujahideen will not have an effect on its continuous growth,” MEMRI said, adding, “He … emphasizes that the mujahideen seek death and martyrdom” and that, “Al Adnani also reaffirms ISIS’s victory, while noting that it was achieved, inter alia, when ISIS was able to freely implement the shari’a and abolish democracy. Al Adnani also mocks the West, namely the US, for what it considers victory when it worked so hard to win back a town like Kobani.
Such changes in the US’s perceptive on victory, Al Adnani noted, is by itself a victory for ISIS. On the other hand, MEMRI said, he noted that, “Allah’s willing, Paris before Rome and before Al Andalus, [and] after that we blacken your life and blow up your White House, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, Allah’s willing …”
In conclusion, MEMRI said, “Al Adnani finally calls upon ISIS soldiers to continue their fight while reminding them that nothing can stand in their way. ‘Go ahead, for Mecca, Madina, Al-Quds and Rome are awaiting you,’" he said.
The online terror campaign shifts gears
“The entire nature of the terrorist threat has changed … the most immediate threat today is not core Al Qaeda or its affiliated franchises, or even ISIS. It’s the homegrown violent extremists,” Dr. Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, told Homeland Security Today.
Levitt emphasized that homegrown violent jihadists are increasingly radicalized by social media messaging efforts publicized by ISIS and inspired by its recent successes; in particular, its rapid advances in establishing quasi-control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq while claiming legitimacy under the banner of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East – and, ultimately, the world.
The idea of creating an Islamic caliphate is of particular appeal for new converts who know little of the religion or its underlying theological precepts. Indeed, for the neophyte believer, the notion of a caliphate serves as a psychological validator of, and sociological bonding agent to, something greater than oneself.
“The most alarming thing that has changed in recent years is the pace of radicalization efforts and the requisite recruitment efforts by violent extremists,” Levitt said. “In fact, there has been a precipitous decrease in the time and overall effort required to achieve radicalization.”
Levitt said an unidentified head of a domestic intelligence service in a Western European country told him he has dealt with 15-year-old boys going on so-called “Spring Break" jihad tourism.
These children knew nothing about jihad prior to their departure. This is a new operating reality and a challenging context, because before 9/11, radicalization efforts required time and investment and were mostly done on a face-to-face basis through a one-on-one relationship. Now, a great deal of radicalism is achieved online — and at an increasingly rapid clip.
ISIS’s presence online, specifically its digital capabilities to recruit and spread propaganda, is impressive and overshadows those of Al Qaeda. Even its messaging efforts to shift the narrative and to define the current conflict in Syria against President Bashar Al Assad’s forces have been immensely successful.
The jihadist group portrays itself through its online messaging as acting in self-defense and countering the barbaric butchering of Sunni women and children. In Syria, it’s all about defensive-jihad, as the ISIS-mantra has evolved to become one of protector of the innocents.
Homeland Security Today Managing Editor Kylie Bull reported earlier this month that a new Brookings Institution analysis by J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan offered answers to fundamental questions about how many Twitter users support ISIS, who and where they are, and how they participate in its highly organized online activities.
Previous analyses of ISIS’s Twitter reach have relied on limited segments of the overall ISIS social network. Berger and Morgan said the small, cellular nature of their network—and the focus on particular subsets within the network such as foreign fighters—may create misleading conclusions. This information vacuum, they added, extends to discussions of how the West should respond to the group’s online campaigns.
Berger and Morgan presented a demographic snapshot of ISIS supporters on Twitter by analyzing a sample of 20,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts. Using a sophisticated and innovative methodology, the authors mapped the locations, preferred languages and number and type of followers of these accounts.
Their research found there are at least 46,000 Twitter accounts operating on behalf of ISIS, but that that number could be much higher. Berger and Morgan suggested the maximum number could be as many as 90,000. Unsurprisingly, 2014 saw the biggest increase to date in new accounts created on behalf of ISIS.