The Islamic State propaganda machine is already fighting back

By on June 20, 2016

While weakening its statual features, the recent territorial losses in Syria, Iraq and Libya may strengthen the Islamic State (IS) terrorist projections, especially in the West – as the latest Ramadan appeal to lone wolves by Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the organization’s official spokesperson, clearly points to. The May 22nd audio message urges the believers living in Europe and America to act independently against the kuffar: “the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them” – a call that might have result in the recent tragic events in Orlando. Lately, this message has been coupled by recurring invitation by the IS media to perform hijra to Libya and to hit European cities, with Rome and its symbols as recurring targets. Media, therefore, will now play an even more vital role for the organization, as the latter looks poised to shift its focus from military and governance to a stronger terrorist dimension.

IS media outlets are tasked with the production of photo reportages, audio/written messages and videos aiming mainly at portraying life in the Caliphate, religious teachings, attacks’ claims and executions. In the recent years, the organization established four outlets working as a propaganda, engagement and recruitment machine for the whole group:

  • The Al-Furqan Institute for Media Production – al-furqan meaning “criterion, standard” to distinguish the truth from the lies – is the IS’ oldest media branch, established in 2006 when the organization was still the Islamic State of Iraq; it receives its material from the organization leadership.
  • The Al-Itisam Media Foundation, established when the organization expanded to Syria and took the name of ISIS.
  • The Al-Hayat Media Center, which targets mainly Western audiences by producing materials, translations and subtitles in several languages, especially English and French – while Al-Furqan and Al-Itisam’s production is in Arabic.
  • The Ajnad Media Foundation, specialized in broadcasting jihadi songs and Islamic vocal music.

Lacking official websites to distribute their materials, IS media outlets rely on blogs, social media – mainly Twitter and Google Plus – instant messaging apps – like Telegram – and webhosting platforms – usually Just Paste and Archive.org – to spread their videos, reportages and statements.

Al-Furqan, Al-Itisam, Al-Hayat and Ajnad are not the only producers of propaganda: the Caliphate’s wilayat, too, play a very important role in delivering the message of the organization locally. This is the case, for instance, of the three provinces IS established in Libya – Tarabulus (Tripolitania), Barqa (Cyrenaica) and Fezzan – each with its own “media office”. While the one for Fezzan has a limited media production, those for Tarabulus and Barqa looked much more active in broadcasting soft activities such as hisba (religious accountability) and dawa (proselytizing), together with hard security and violence-related content. As for the main outlets, the Libyan IS media offices do not enjoy an official internet presence – their Twitter accounts were shut down long ago: they indeed rely on the abovementioned patterns, using platforms and forums such as Dabiq (not to be mistaken with the IS magazine with the same name) and Al-Dawla.

As the fight against IS enters a new phase, the monitoring and understanding of the organization’s media production gains even more importance, together with the need for a stronger focus on counter-messaging.


Author: Dario D'Urso
Dario is an international affairs analyst and consultant with years of experience in both government and private sector. Following a year-long collaboration with the Democratization Department of the OSCE Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dario worked as a researcher for the Rome-based think tank CeSPI, on conflict-related issues in the Western Balkans and on the EU capabilities in crisis-management. He then contributed to several Government, private institutions and media with his analyses on Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Turkey and Iran, before spending two years in Strasbourg as a Political Advisor at the Council of Europe. His research areas also include energy security, jihadism and geoeconomics.
 

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