‘Virtual Caliphate’: Islamic State Launches Email Subscription Service

Man typing on a laptop computer. Science Photo Library / ABO
Science Photo Library/ABO/AFP

Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists have added a new email subscription service to their “virtual caliphate” as part of efforts to disseminate propaganda and news updates about the terrorist group’s ongoing operations.

Rolled out on Tuesday, the new ISIS service will provide “the latest from the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq as well as from global strongholds such as the Philippines and Yemen,” reports Foreign Desk (FD).

ISIS has faced significant losses in its so-called caliphate, particularly in Mosul, Iraq, considered the jihadist group’s largest stronghold in the country until it was liberated by U.S.-backed local forces in July.

In Syria, U.S.-backed local troops are expected to defeat ISIS in the city of Raqqa, the caliphate’s de-facto capital.

Nevertheless, Gen. Joseph Votel, the chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) which oversees American military activity in the Middle East, acknowledged in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that the terrorist group will continue to coordinate and inspire attacks from its online “virtual caliphate,” even as its territory in Iraq and Syria shrinks.

“The military defeat of ISIS is essential but not sufficient,” he declared. “As we continue to degrade ISIS’ physical capability they will shift more of their attention to the virtual realm and we will need to do whatever we can to stay ahead of them.”

In recent months, private technology companies have stepped up their role in the online war against the jihadist group while the U.S.-led coalition has intensified its efforts against ISIS.

“Social media and cloud hosting companies [have deleted] hundreds of thousands of accounts and propaganda content from the web,” notes FD.

In response, ISIS launched the new email subscription service, providing push email notifications and breaking news updates on the terrorist organization’s ongoing operations.

Foreign Desk reports:

Challenges in reaching jihadis via email alerts could pose a worrying new challenge to counterterror authorities. Whereas followers of ISIS on social media accounts can often be tracked, email subscribers remain somewhat elusive after simply providing an email address to sign up.

Additionally, social media followers often have to search Islamic State updates by looking for new replacement accounts to follow or by tracking certain hashtags. By creating an email-based service, ISIS can essentially back up its list of subscribers and keep in touch with them even if their key Telegram and social media channels are deleted and their web domains are removed.

The American government, echoing various analysts, has conceded that U.S. efforts to counter ISIS’s incessant online propaganda have largely failed so far.

In May, the LATimes reported that the U.S. military has been “targeting Islamic State’s virtual caliphate by hunting [and] killing its online operatives one-by-one.’