Long reach of Islamic State
by R K Ohri on 01 Apr 2017 2 Comments

Though the announcement by the ISIS about the formation of a Caliphate under Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in June 2014 had caused enormous consternation among strategic analysts across the world, the full implications of the impending Islamic savagery were not understood. Most political column-writers and strategic analysts considered the development as the birth of another new Muslim group or country for waging jihad against kaffirs. Apart from the creation of yet another radical Muslim entity, the Caliphate, presided over by Al- Baghdadi, has certain far reaching and ominous implications for many non-Muslim nations, including India. Some of these are analyzed and discussed in the following paragraphs.


Massive Use of Social Media


Social media is being extensively used by almost all jihadi groups to influence the Muslim youth of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Asia. During the last two years ISIS has emerged as the most prolific user of social media for motivating Muslim youth to join them to wage a global jihad against all non-Muslim nations across the globe. On March 6, 2015, a strategic analyst, John Hall, posted an article on the website of Mail Online highlighting that web-savvy militants, fighting for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, controlled as many as 90,000 Twitter accounts worldwide. These accounts were being used to propagate the success story of the ISIS. They were able to exert an outsized impact on how the world perceives them because of their shrewd use of social media and a large number of online followers.


The widespread reach of Internet, its anonymity, and the difficulties encountered in tracing the source have made social media an ideal tool in the hands of terror groups like the ISIS. In fact, the internet no longer remains just a tool. Often it is also the target of cyber-attacks for stealing useful information. Governments across the world are increasingly facing threats from the cyber world because terrorist outfits now use hacking and sophisticated computer viruses to attack the cyber infrastructure of the targeted nation.


A study of the Twitter accounts undertaken between September and December, 2014, by researchers of the Washington-based Brookings Institute concluded that there were between 46,000 and 70,000 Twitter accounts of the users of Internet supporting the ISIS. The researchers estimated that the true figure of ISIS-related Twitter accounts could be near about 90,000. The Brookings’ analysis was based on robust data collected from about 50,000 accounts, and partial information gathered from another 1.9 million accounts. The ISIS militants have been using the social media for impacting the global news and also to assess how the world perceives them. They circulate alluring propaganda online and use social networks to recruit volunteers. As soon as one account is deleted, ISIS supporters manage to set up another.


According to the Brookings report, the locations of only a small number of accounts could be identified because most of the account holders had switched off their operations. But among those that could be located, the vast majority were in the Middle East and North Africa. Some were found in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Australia, too. But these numbers were in single figures, the report found. The two academics, J.M. Berger and technologist Jonathon Morgan of the Brookings Institute claimed that while no mainstream social media platform wanted its services to be used to further the acts of horrific violence, they suspected that some social media sites were not bothered about the challenge of evolving a coherent counter to the problem. The Brookings report emphasized the need for governments and social media companies joining hands to find new ways to tackle the problem of pro-ISIS accounts spreading the display of horrific murder videos and threatening images. The study noted that some social media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, had already introduced certain measures for preventing the circulation of extremist material. Twitter also had started suspending accounts linked to ISIS by the time the research was started. Although the debates of this issue often tend to fault government intervention as an infringement of free speech, in reality most social media companies currently regulate speech on their platforms.


Tech Magazine & Cryptography


A group of German-speaking jihadists has released the first issue of an online magazine that provides information on encrypted communications and Internet security. The name of the magazine is Kybernetiq. The magazine’s release highlights the growing awareness about the importance of security and encryption among Islamist militants. They are keen to use it as a tool to help them operate and spread propaganda undetected. The apparent effort of jihadists is to evade monitoring by government security services.


The magazine, Kybernetiq, is in German. It was released on social media on December 28, 2015, by a group that claims on its Twitter account to be “not ISIS,” an acronym referring to the Islamic State group. The group told Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty in a direct message exchange on Twitter that “it is enough for you to know that we aren’t from ISIS” but would not say if they had an affiliation with any other militant group.


According to the SITE Intelligence group, which translated extracts from the magazine, Kybernetiq, it includes an article on how jihadists can protect their identities online. One piece of advice tells the would-be militants to avoid applications that have “a mujahid branding,” - i.e., a distinct jihadi identity that would identify them as militants by the law enforcement agencies.


The cyber magazine Kybernetiq also recommended that jihadists should use Tor or Tails, a free software that enables users to surf the Internet anonymously. The cyber magazine Kybernetiq advised would-be militants to use the WhatsApp or Telegram messaging apps, which have built-in encryption, and praised the GNU Privacy Guard cryptographic software as a “nightmare for intelligence agencies,” according to a translation by SITE.


Security-Expert Jihadis


Encrypted platforms like Tor and popular messaging apps like WhatsApp have many desirable uses for the privacy-conscious. They keep user data safe and allow those living in repressive regimes to communicate without being snooped on. The intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have warned that such technologies are also increasingly used by extremists, including ISIS. The Twitter page of the German-language online magazine Kybernetiq was released on social media on December 28, 2015.


Those tracking the usage of encrypted technology by Jihadists say the problem is growing. In recent months, there has been a visible shift by ISIS militants toward using some of these secure platforms, particularly Telegram, to spread propaganda messages over the web.


A source in the anti-ISIS Anonymous subgroup GhostSec said that in the past five days alone there has been a surge in the creation of new jihadi chat rooms in Telegram and the hacktivist group is now tracking nearly 300 chat rooms in various languages. It is felt that their Telegram usage is being overlooked. It is a lot more powerful than anyone realizes.


According to Alex Krasodomski of the Center for the Analysis of Social Media at the London-based think-tank Demos, the use of encryption technology by militant groups is not a new phenomenon. It has been part of a long tradition. Al-Qaeda had released its own encryption software in 2007. What is new is the increase in numbers and availability of apps that use encryption software, many of which - like messaging apps Telegram and WhatsApp - can be downloaded for free from the Internet. So it’s not surprising that “wannabe jihadists are early adopters” of such technology, says Krasodomski. Notably, Kybernetiq advises would-be militants not to use Al-Qaeda encryption software because it is identified as jihadi affiliated.


The boom in the availability of encrypted communication platforms has raised fears that the use by militants of these technologies could pose a serious threat by allowing them to evade monitoring of their messages by security services. In the wake of the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, there was speculation that the attackers had used encrypted communications for plotting and directing the attacks. Krasodomski points out that despite the initial fears the signs show that the ISIS networks involved in the Paris attacks had used un-encrypted technologies. They used old-fashioned text messaging to communicate. So laying the blame for the attacks at the door of cryptography is not the answer.


Nevertheless, encryption is a fact and security services should have the capability and tools under the law to deal with this new reality. It’s worth noting that even the authors of Kybernetiq magazine are not convinced that encryption software will make them invulnerable to the security services. They advise that jihadists should write important messages on paper and after use, burn them quickly.


Excerpted from Chapter 3

Global War Against Kaffirs. The Rise of the Islamic State

R K Ohri, 2017  

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