Speaking to German newspaper Der Spiegel, a former FBI agent and security expert warned that the Islamic State’s success on social media has helped strengthen the numbers of the organization.
Former FBI agent and CEO of The Soufan Group Ali Soufan has released through his group numerous reports on the terrorist group during the year, the latest, from October 28, looked at the structure of the Islamic State.
“They are very familiar with social media — they know how it works,” said Soufan. “They are very smart in reaching out to the iPhone generation. They deploy different tools in different markets — using mostly Twitter in the Gulf region, for example, and Facebook in Syria. It’s very decentralized and that is interesting. It is the first organization of this kind that understands the impact of social media.”
The newest report said Abu Amr al Shami is in charge of the terrorist’s group media operations:
Abu Amr controls an army of writers, bloggers and researchers who monitor global media, in particular social media. Most of these helpers are anonymous and they are widely spread, with many in the Gulf and North Africa. These bloggers tweet links of videos, generally with high production values, which are then further distributed. Abu Amr is also tasked with acting as the liaison for The Islamic State with religious leaders and influencers in the region.
Soufan told Der Spiegel there are “more than 12,000 Twitter accounts” connected to the Islamic State. He said it is new that they gave up control of the delivery of messages.
“They use, for example, these so-called ‘Twitter bombs’ by following the most popular hashtags on the social media service, like the one for the 2014 World Cup,” he said. “They send out messages using those hashtags so that everybody following the hashtag #worldcup will receive messages from IS, even if they aren’t interested in it.”
The report said the Islamic State targets Westerners using its English-language media outlet, the Al Hayat Media Centre. The channel is in high definition, which produces “Mujatweets.” These videos display “various aspects of daily life in The Islamic State, from fighting in Iraq and Syria, to testimonials from Western militants about their joy in joining The Islamic State.” The videos include the English subtitles. The center also produces the newspaper ISN (Islamic State News) in English. It is published on “independent, free, web-hosting sites, and new issues are announced by the official Islamic State news channel.”
Overall, The Soufan Group said the terrorist group understands the importance of media, especially with the internet. Soufan does not know if there is a way to stop the Islamic State with the media.
“Our problem is that after 9/11 we never had a strategy that included fighting ideology, to counter their narrative,” he said. “We had tactics designed to keep us safe, to disrupt their plans, to arrest and kill leaders, even to kill bin Laden. But there was no plan to counter their narratives. In 2004, bin Laden had around 400 fighters under oath. IS today has thousands fighters and followers in countries all over the world. This is an unfortunate failure.”