Ireland is the Global Per Capita Leader for Radical Islamists

Various aspects of national security in Ireland are handled by several different specialist units within the Gardaí including the Emergency Response Unit, the Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau, the Special Detective Unit, Crime & Security Branch as well as G2 Military Intelligence.

However Ireland’s neutrality means that the country does not have the same military and defence budgets, as a percentage of GDP, made available to develop capabilities compared to most other countries.

Irish Intel’s Non-Existent Proactive Track Record

Dubious and bizarre characters of all kinds keep turning up on Irish shores or are in-country having become naturalised Irish citizens or having successfully acquired residency or asylum in Ireland. All of this while involved in various kinds of international military interventions, terrorist fundraising, extremism or as known proponents of radical ideologies.

It would seem that it all falls well below the radar of those who are allegedly overseeing these matters but who assure the Irish public that everything is under control and that there is very little to be concerned about. For instance, after the Paris attacks, the Irish Justice Minister said that “the latest threat assessment to Ireland does not increase… it is low,” and rejected claims that the country’s 9,500 strong Defence Force was inadequately equipped to deal with the terrorist threat. (RTE, November 18, 2015).

This statement betrays the Irish Intel communities blind-spot with respect to Radical Islamism – namely that efforts, if any, are focussed on looking inwards when Ireland has a disproportionate effect on the external activities of Islamic extremists in comparison to the size of its Muslim population.

How can Ireland’s intelligence agencies convince the international community that they are seriously capable of tackling the “jihadi growth industry” in Ireland when spectacular characters such as – Ali-Charaf Damache – The Black Flag or the ISIS recruiter currently resisting deportation or Mahdi al-Harati and his receipt of several million EURO from one of the US alphabet agencies to sponsor rebels in Libya – go completely unnoticed by them until drawn to their attention by externals?

In relation to the Radical Islamist threat we allege that Irish government policy, inertia and ignorance combined with the support and encouragement of ill informed pressure groups, biased refugee support groups and “one size fits all, up for anything” liberals has allowed Ireland to become the soft underbelly for jihadist movement, organisation and support (in particular propagandist social media accounts) in Europe.

Irish Based ISIS Recruiter Fighting Deportation Order 

Mahdi al-Harati (Centre) Irish-Libyan 
Liwaa al-Umma Founder & Alleged US Alphabet Agency Asset 

Three Serious Emerging National Security Threats 

There are three new distinct threats to the Irish State which the Irish State is inadequately equipped to tackle: Islamic Jihadists, Cyber Threats and Espionage.

Cyber Threats and Espionage because of Ireland’s large R&D sector and the massive foreign direct investment Ireland receives while acting as EMEA and in some cases Global HQ’s for many tech and pharmaceutical giants. The Cyber Warfare and Espionage Threats will be the subject of separate blog posts.

There have been arguments that Ireland needs one agency to deal with these three threats alone.

This contrasts sharply with the rhetoric of the Irish government and the downplaying of the threat posed by these newish phenomena in terms of Ireland’s security landscape.

Myriad Weaknesses in Irish Government Policy

In particular, when it comes to tackling Islamic extremism there are myriad weaknesses in the Irish system and the approaches used have not changed much since The Troubles, despite the modern challenges and vastly different methods being used by jihadists.

The Irish government’s assessment is that the Irish security services, despite their small size, have an extremely competent counter-terrorism wing, honed over decades of tackling Irish republican militancy.

The question, however, is to what extent this expertise can now be repurposed towards dealing with militant Islamism, especially given that the threat is rapidly growing and evolving and is culturally, structurally and ideologically at complete odds with what the alleged past experience of the Irish security services has been – from which officialdom in Ireland draws comfort.

Counter Terrorism International (CTI)

Last year the Garda established the Counter Terrorism International (CTI) unit to target groups supporting extremist operations in other countries. The unit it is said works closely with its counterparts throughout the EU, with the CIA, and the National Security Agency in the United States.

Nóirín O’Sullivan is the current Commissioner of the Garda Síochána

Despite this progress, the Irish security services – even this allegedly specialized Islamist-focused unit – face significant resourcing and expertise shortfalls. Irish media recently reported the Gardai lack key counterterrorism tactics such as knowledge of the Arabic-language skills, a dedicated unit tracking jihadist social media and a de-radicalization strategy to rehabilitate returning foreign fighters (Irish Examiner, November 21, 2015).

A source told the Sunday Independent late in 2015 that: “What you have is small groups of jihadis who cannot travel directly to Turkey, for access to Syria, arriving here, receiving support and money and then transiting through Ireland to the war zones. There is quite an elaborate support network based in Dublin and other major Leinster towns which is attracting the attention of security agencies in the rest of Europe and further afield.”

As the above instances demonstrate, Irish jihadists’ alleged use of the country as a logistical and transport hub where false passports can be procured poses potential risks not only to Ireland but also abroad. Uniquely, Irish citizens do not need passports to travel to the UK, and the country is part of the EU and enjoys easy travel to the US under the latter’s visa waiver system. As a result, Islamist radicalization in Ireland does not just pose a threat within Ireland’s borders, but also to countries further afield, and Ireland has failed utterly in its responsibilities in that regard with its laissez-faire attitude to the problem.

That paper also reported that foreign intelligence agencies believe that extremists have been holding training camps in remote areas of Leinster – a province in the East of Ireland.

A Garda spokesperson recently told The Journal Dot IE, that: “In line with best international practice, we seek to promote engagement with communities to counter the threat of radicalisation and devote appropriate resources to investigate individuals who are assessed to pose a threat. A close working relationship is maintained with police and security partners in the EU and other countries in respect of developing threats and ongoing, international efforts to counter terrorism generally. It would be inappropriate, in view of ongoing operations and enquiries, to comment further on specific strategies or methodologies.”

The Islamic Jihadist Threat in Ireland 

Since 2012, it is claimed by official sources that up to 60 Irish citizens have traveled to Syria to fight for a number of different Sunni rebel groups including ISIS. The government in Ireland insisted as recently as January of 2016 that the figure was between 25 and 30. The government of Ireland often states that three of these war zone tourists have been killed. Yet a cursory trawl of records online shows at least five casualties.

  1. Irish citizen, 22-year old Hudhaifa ElSayed, who was of Egyptian origin but raised in Ireland’s County Louth, was killed with Liwaa al-Umma during a clash with Syrian government forces in Idlib province in northern Syria in December 2012 (The Journal, December 20, 2012).
  2. Another individual, 16-year old Shamseddin Gaidan, a Dublin resident of Libyan origin, was killed in Syria in February 2013 fighting with an unknown rebel group, having crossed into the country from Turkey the previous year (Independent [Ireland], February 23, 2013). 
  3. Hisham Habbash (29), a Libyan-born man who grew up in Ireland was been killed during fighting between rebels and regime forces near the northeastern town of Raqqa. (Irish Times, June 24, 2013).
  4. Jordanian-born Palestinian, 22-year old Alaa Ciymeh, who had been brought up in Ireland before returning to Jordan in 2008. He was killed while fighting for the group in April 2013 (Irish Times, May 3, 2013; Herald [Ireland], June 27, 2014).
  5. Muthenna Abu Taubah, 24, an Irish jihadi who defended the beheading of western hostages by IS blew himself up in a bomb-making factory. He died in an accident along with his best friend in the terror group’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, Syria. (The Irish Sun, June 25, 2015)

Although details of Irish involvement in more hardline groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, Jahbat al-Nusra, are scarce, there is evidence that Irish citizens are active with these groups. In August 2014, Irish media reported that a self-described “Irish-Nigerian” convert to Islam had been trying to recruit individuals to come to Syria via the ask.fm internet forum, an approach used by other Islamic State recruiters (Independent, August 21, 2014). In one exchange, the individual – whose online name was “Muthenna ibn Abu” – defended IS’s beheading of British aid worker, David Haines (Independent, September 14, 2014). His identity and current whereabouts are unknown.

TMGCS Counter Theory on Radical Islam in Ireland

Over the course of the last twenty four months TMGCS carried out research that commenced after the publication of our blog post Precision Guided Message (23rd July 2014). The investigation sought to provide a detailed assessment of the actual jihadi culture in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Various methods were used to collect the information that informed the conclusions drawn below including information from sources who participated in relevant events, participation in and observation of certain relevant groups, information from sources in agencies and organisations external to the Irish State, information from sources from the Middle East region living elsewhere in Europe who have been on the ground in Syria, Libya & Iraq, interviews and discussions with associates of known jihadists, observations at a number of student group gatherings as well as input from a number of other methods and OSINT.

The evidence that Ireland, as well as a key exporter of jihadists, is home to a number of Islamic State supporters who are actively providing financial and other forms of support, using the country not only as a recruiting centre, but as a logistical hub is compelling.

The headline outcome of the process is that TMGCS estimate that the actual figure of travelling Irish jihadists is closer to 125 and that, conservatively, there are 20 plus active ISIS supporters providing logistical assistance to that group from within the Irish State.

In November 2015, independent cyber security analysts used leaked details of Islamic State-supporting Twitter accounts to establish that between 20 and 50, active Islamic State online-based supporters were residing in Ireland (The Journal, November 23).

In another indicator of latent support for the Islamic State in Ireland, Irish Muslims responsible for organizing a ‘Not in Our Name’ protest against the terrorist group in July 2015 claimed that they were assaulted by two self-identified Islamic State supporters in an unnamed mosque in Dublin (Irish Times, July 27).

At present, the Irish government is seeking to deport a 52-year old individual (who cannot be named for legal reasons) to a Middle Eastern country (The Journal, December 29). The government has described him as “the foremost organizer and facilitator of travel by extremists prepared to undertake violent action” on behalf of Islamic State in Ireland, and of having also recruited for jihadist groups in Afghanistan (Ibid).

In a potentially related development, in November 2015, citing a security service source, Irish media reported that “a small number of Irish-based Muslim extremists” with a “central group consisting of around 12 radicals” had been sheltering British and European jihadists, including supplying them with fake passports for travel (Irish Independent, November 1, 2015). The source additionally said that Ireland was being used as a stop-off point for jihadists en route to Turkey, in order to confuse security services watching for jihadists travelling to Turkey directly (Ibid).

Excluded Groups

The research process did not include a review or conclusions drawn from the elements of Irish society who are Muslim converts, are non-Muslim or have no direct links to the Middle East but who nonetheless support certain Radical Islamist ideals and groups.

“Taliban Terry” aka Muslim Convert Khalid Kelly

This section of the jihadist infrastructure in Ireland – North and South – mainly draws support from former members or supporters of certain paramilitary organisations, other extremist groups, certain left wing independent politicians, the usual array of the psychologically challenged and a small number of official as well as un-registered “political” parties.

Derry man Eamon Bradley 
Irish fighter in Syrian civil war after arrest in Northern Ireland
and subsequently charged with terror offences
Eamon Bradley in the Middle East with a number of weapons

The Official vs the Unofficial Extremist Per Capita Statistics

At first glance, it would appear that the official and even the increased TMGCS estimates are insignificant compared to other European countries’ jihadist cultures, in particular France and Germany, and minuscule when compared to say active participants in the Syrian conflict from North African countries such as Tunisia and Morocco.

But that is the danger of stand alone numbers versus the value of statistics and analysis.

Countries with relatively small Muslim populations have sent a disproportionately large numbers of jihadis abroad. Finland and Ireland according to reports have the highest number of foreign fighters per capita – nearly one per 1,400 Muslims living in those countries have gone to Syria.

Britain and France have comparable percentages of local Muslims going to fight in Syria – just over one in 6,000 British Muslims and one in 6,666 French Muslims have gone to Syria, governments say. The figures in the Netherlands are not far off, around one in 7,700. American Muslims are going to Syria at a much lower rate, closer to one in 25,000.

CNN recently conducted a study based on data provided by twenty five national governments, from Pew Research Center and a number of other sources. That study concluded that Ireland had the second highest per capita rate of Muslims going to fight in Syria of the twenty five countries surveyed.

Percentage of Local Muslims Who Have Gone to Fight (CNN Study)

The CNN Study put the figure of Irish Jihadists at 0.07% of the overall number of Muslims in Ireland. Out of a Muslim population of around 43,000 only 25 to 30 individuals have gone to fight in Syria according to the information CNN received from the Irish government. Globally, even these incorrect figures still put Ireland in second place in terms of per capita rate of Muslims going to fight in Syria.

  1. Finland: 0.071% – 42,000 Muslims call Finland home. Roughly 30 of them have left to engage in jihadist battles in Syria;
  2. Ireland: 0.070% – Out of a Muslim population of around 43,000, 25 to 30 individuals have gone to fight in Syria according to official Irish government figures; 
  3. France: 0.0175% – Over 700 Muslims have gone from France to fight in Syria out of a population of over four million;
  4. Tunisia: 0.0319% – Out of a population of over 10 million Muslims, there are around 3,000 jihadis;
  5. Indonesia: 0.000370% – A population of over 200 million, has only seen between 30 and 60 Muslims going to fight in the conflict in Syria; 

Ireland Has An Abnormally High Per Capita Rate of Radical Islamists

Ireland is estimated to have a total Muslim population of between 45,000 and 60,000. For the purposes of developing the TMGCS statistics the median figure of 52,500 was chosen.

The result of the CNN study based on government figures was (as outlined above):

Ireland: 0.070% – Out of a Muslim population of around 43,000, 25 to 30 individuals have gone to fight in Syria according to official Irish government figures. Approximating to roughly one in 1400 Irish Muslims;   

The result of the TMGCS study based on the methods we described above is:
Ireland: 0.2761% – Out of a Muslim population of 52,500 (median value), 125 plus individuals have gone to fight in Syria and the radical Islamist process is directly supported by 20 facilitators in Ireland for a total figure of 145. One in every 362 Irish Muslims;     
If the Muslim population estimate of Ireland of 43,000 is used as per the CNN study then the figures are:
Ireland: 0.3372% – Out of a Muslim population of 43,000 (CNN Study Benchmark Figure), 125 plus individuals have gone to fight in Syria and the radical Islamist process is directly supported by 20 facilitators in Ireland for a total figure of 145. One in 297 Irish Muslims;   
Why So Many Radicalized Irish Resident Muslims?
(Excerpted & Referenced from Articles by The Jamestown Foundation)
One potential causes of Irish Muslim radicalization is the range of Islamist groups from the Arab world with strong ideological commitments to “sharia law” and to creating an “Islamic state” that are strongly entrenched in Irish Muslim communities.

These groups have prepared the ground for recruitment and re-inforced the previously slick ISIS propaganda machine while hampering attempts to combat it. Most notably, the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI), based in a mosque in Clonskeagh, Dublin has positioned itself as a representative of all Muslims in Ireland and consequently enjoys privileged access to the Irish government.

This group is closely tied to the hardline European Council for Fatwa and Research, run by Muslim Brotherhood figurehead Yusuf al-Qaradawi, which has sought to promote highly conservative interpretations of Islam to European Muslims.

Even today, ICCI’s website openly offers PDFs of books calling for adulterers to be flogged or stoned to death, thereby directly promoting the same core Islamist ideologies as the Islamic State itself, even while remaining a key partner of the Irish government.

As with other Islamist-influenced organisations in the West, the ICCI has also consistently denied that any radicalization is taking place in Ireland, greatly hampering the attempts to understand domestic radicalization or gain the support of Muslim communities.

For instance, following the November 2015 Paris attacks, the ICCI’s spokesman, Ali Selim, told Irish media that while he condemned the attacks, Irish Muslims “have not been entertaining the ideas [the Islamic State] has been trying to sell them” (RTE, November 14, 2015).

The ICCI has also sought to publicly undermine other Muslim group’s anti-Islamic State protests, for instance, refusing to join an anti-Islamic State march organized by a non-Islamist Sufi Muslim group, further undermining Irish efforts to combat Islamist radicalization (Irish Independent, July 5, 2015).

Irish Government Reaction – Withdrawal of Passports
To counter this issue the most radical action that the Irish government has taken was when it decided last year (2015) that the passports of those involved in illegal jihadi activity in Iraq or Syria would be withdrawn. Pure lip service. 
Additionally, nearly a year earlier when the UK considered introducing similar measures Nick Clegg said it was not obvious how the UK could withdraw passports from British jihadis and remain inside international law. The then deputy prime minister indicated that the idea was unlikely to work, saying that the UK would not do anything illegal. 
The British government had been examining the possibility of withdrawing citizenship from suspected jihadis returning from Iraq and Syria. However, David Cameron acknowledged that there were legal difficulties and omitted it from his package of measures to deal with the problem. 
David Anderson, an independent reviewer of terrorism, said there were significant difficulties with giving police the powers to withdraw passports from UK citizens, in effect leaving them stateless.
In Ireland, we have failed to find any instances of the policy being put into action and the most recent case running through the Irish Courts is ample evidence of the inability of the Irish judiciary to tackle what seems to amount to an open and shut case in terms of an ISIS recruiter operating openly in Dublin, Ireland.  
ISIS Recruiter Fighting Deportation Order 
Before publication we contacted a number of Islamic institutions in Ireland for comment on the findings and assertions in this article and offered them an opportunity to counter our thesis and respond with corrections or suggestions. We received no responses.
References & Sources 

The Jamestown Foundation
James Brandon, Political & Security Risk Analyst
Terrorism Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 1 January 7, 2016
Global Research & Analysis – EURASIA:Terrorism
Michael Sheils McNamee @michaelonassis michaelsm@thejournal.ie
Michelle Hennessy @michellehtweet michelle@thejournal.ie
The Journal Dot IE
Vocativ
Die Welt
France 24
El Mundo
VICE News
RT.com
The Syrian Human Rights Observatory
The Irish Times
The Foreign Policy Institute
War on the Rocks Blog
The Long War Journal
The Irish Sun
The Independent
The Guardian
The Daily Mail

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Libya unchecked – haven & base for extremists to poison the region

In February 2011, English photographer Charlie Waite had just finished a month long assignment across Libya capturing some of the country’s most iconic sites in a peaceful tranquil atmosphere. Less than two days after his departure, civil war had erupted (Kingsley, 2014). Libya has been in a state of violent flux since then, long-term leader Muammar Gaddafi in power since 1969 was killed in October 2011, the National Transitional Council promptly declared Libya to be officially ‘’liberated’’ and on the road to ‘’democracy’’ (BBC, 2014).


June 25th 2014, marked a crucial date in determining the future of the “new” Libya with elections held across the nation. After the historic elections of 2012, which saw over 62% of registered voters electing a secular alliance, Libya has struggled to build upon that excitement and hope, particularly with instability and violence emanating throughout the region (Manfreda, 2012). The country has stagnated over the intervening years, with political uncertainty and rebel violence dominating the agenda.

The Specter of Al-Qaeda & IS

The divide between extreme Islamists and ordinary Libyans has steadily increased inline with the upheaval across the country. Violent clashes are a daily occurrence (Zirulnick, 2014). The situation is by no-means a simple struggle between shades of radical Islam. The specter of Al-Qaeda and IS hovers over the region with growing support for their extremist messages among the disaffected Islamists and others who feel they have been omitted from the ruling process since the fall of Gaddafi (Abiew, 2013).

The appetite for political change in Libya which was empowering in 2012 has failed completely as the 2014 electoral turnout indicated (Fetouri, 2014). In spite of the rhetoric of foreign politicians, chief among those President Obama who described the elections as a ‘’milestone’’, the situation within Libya is far from optimistic (Washington Post, 2014).

A Shift from Democratic Tendencies

The situation in present day Libya is complex on a number of different levels, the facts would appear to indicate a strong shift away from democratic tendencies, yet the reality is something different altogether. Disenchantment and regret at the current situation within Libya is shared by the majority of a population who anticipated an altogether different Libya in 2011. 

Gone is the hope that encapsulated the Arab Spring and in its stead is a sense of betrayal and confusion over the dismal performance of those in power since 2012 (Stephen, 2014). To further outline the depth of disillusionment held by ordinary Libyans, Mustafa Fetouri contends that ‘’The unmistakable reality now is that the world helped us create the mess we live in, but it has long since turned its back on us and gotten busy with other crises elsewhere. In our hour of need, we find no friends to help us heal our country’’ (Fetouri, 2014).


The impact Libya’s allies have had on the situation within the country is one which divides opinion. Interestingly the removal of Gaddafi and the involvement of NATO in his ousting were universally welcomed, but crucially the failure of NATO to provide any lasting legacy or plan in their wake has altered the mind-set of ordinary Libyans. 

Apportioning The Blame

To apportion the blame of the current malaise within the country to outside factors is in itself short-sighted as the major issues within Libya today are dominated by internal factors (Pack, 2013). Analyzing and identifying the problem is just the start of the process, for Libya to emerge into a fully functional democratic nation its leadership must govern in a manner that integrates all sectors of a deeply divided society.

Clashes in Benghazi have dominated the country since 2012, with thousands killed and numerous groups fighting in the name of Libya (Morajea, 2014). The threat of bankruptcy looms increasingly likely as the clashes over oil continue to halt any previous progress made within the economy (Al Jazeera, 2014). 

Essentially Libya is in the midst of a fundamental struggle with its identity. The present situation cannot continue along its current trajectory without a complete failure of the Libyan state according to Mansour O El-Kikhia who opines that urgent action is required to establish a well-functioning government and a country that is both safe and secure (El-Kikhia, 2014).

In-Fighting & International Ambivalence

The future for Libya is deeply uncertain given the present climate that exists. The general public have grown increasingly disenchanted at the turbulence and chaos that has permeated across the nation since 2011. The primary issue that needs to be addressed is re-establishing law and order across the region and unifying the Libyan population behind a well-structured democratic process. 

In the midst of these enormous challenges is the backdrop of internal fighting, budgetary concerns and a lack of assistance from outside partners who promised much but delivered little after the fall of the previous regime. Hope still exists for Libya, but if the situation isn’t acted upon as a matter of urgency, we will soon be referring to Libya as a failed state and a haven for radical Islamists from where to poison the region.

Bibliography

Abiew, N. G.-O. &. F., 2013. Libya, Intervention, and Responsibility: The Dawn of a New Era?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Al Jazeera, 2014. Al Jazeera. [Online]
Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/countingthecost/2014/03/libya-heading-towards-bankruptcy-2014313173334276217.html


BBC, 2014. Libya profile. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13754897


El-Kikhia, M. O., 2014. Al Jazeera. [Online]
Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/03/libya-tale-two-regions-ship-201431651453444440.html


Fetouri, M., 2014. Almonitor. [Online]
Available at: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/06/libya-militia-chaos-friends-tripoli-business-state.html#


Fetouri, M., 2014. AlMonitor. [Online]
Available at: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/contents/authors/mustafa-fetouri.html


Kingsley, P., 2014. Libya: The calm before the storm that blew away Gaddafi. [Online]
Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jul/02/libya-gaddafi-calm-before-storm-photographs


Manfreda, P., 2012. Parliamentary Elections in Libya 2012. [Online]
Available at: http://middleeast.about.com/od/libya/a/Parliamentary-Elections-In-Libya-2012.htm


Morajea, H., 2014. Al Jazeera. [Online]
Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/05/benghazi-clashes-test-libya-new-government-201451865451626982.html


Pack, J., 2013. Exit Gaddafi: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution by Ethan Chorin. The Middle East Journal , 67(2), pp. 319-322.
Reuters, 2013. More than 40 killed in explosion at Libyan arms depot. [Online]
Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/10482490/More-than-40-killed-in-explosion-at-Libyan-arms-depot.html


Stephen, C., 2014. The Guardian. [Online]
Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/25/libya-revolution-democracy-confusion-voters


Washington Post, 2014. Obama: Elections mark ‘milestone’ for Libya. [Online]
Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-elections-mark-milestone-for-libya/2014/06/26/d1add3ea-fd43-11e3-beb6-9c0e896dbcd8_story.html


Zirulnick, A., 2014. Rogue Libyan general’s ‘coup’ against Islamists unleashes wave of violence. [Online]
Available at: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/terrorism-security/2014/0605/Rogue-Libyan-general-s-coup-against-Islamists-unleashes-wave-of-violence

Precision Guided Message – Radical Islam, Social Media, and Building a Sleeper “Army”

One of the contributing factors in the forward momentum of the Islamic State (IS) [formerly and variously the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq & al-Sham;and the Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant (ISIL)] is the rapid and regimented dissemination of the organization’s message.


In contrast to the occasionally disorganized and single-language social messages of other extremist groups, IS’s strategic use of social media is filled with attempts to intimidate and demoralize as well as recruit both local and Western audiences. Depending on the intended objective or the target audience the IS message and the methods adopt a different “tone of voice” and set of production values.

With a reported 2500 Western fighters (Grose, 2014), IS’s efforts would appear to be a success, but how influential was the use of social media and what are they doing differently? Additionally, are “boots on the ground” the only indicator of success. We do not believe so. A more threatening and undermining effect of this strategy is the construction of a sleeper network and the manipulation of international cells whom IS never intend to draw to the actual conflict zones.

To solely focus on the immediate effect in terms of IS fighting numbers in the field and to encourage this social media activity so that Western intelligence agencies can locate activists or anticipate operations in the short term is one dimensional and ignores the more worrying mid to long term effects and possible strategic intentions of IS.

TMG Corporate Services is conducting a long range study, to determine the success of these methods on all levels while considering established notions about social media, persuasion, and the psychology of scarcity.

‘IS’ as a Corporation – Employing savvy social media use to build a Western “Army”

IS is a more sophisticated and organized extremist organization than most identified in the past, rising from the ashes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its carefully planned four-part operation to target separate processes and terrorize select groups of individuals involved in the rebuilding of Iraq (Kirdar, 2011).

It should come as no surprise, then, that their media wing operates as a manipulative, top-tier, social media savvy corporation with carefully prepared materials in a variety of languages, designed to appeal to myriad audiences. IS uses the same Twitter strategies adopted by key players in social media customer service, including the careful use of hash-tags, tweeting to celebrities, and mobilizing their Twitter followers with calls to action.

The findings of Burson-Marsteller’s first Global Twitter Influence Study (2014) show individuals who follow large corporations are predominantly young, male, Western, and have a social pull 3,274 times stronger than their peers – a powerful audience of potential recruits that IS has designed a very careful social media strategy in order to reach. IS, as a corporation with a carefully deployed social media strategy, uses two main tools: YouTube and Twitter.

YouTube, Scarcity, and Recruitment

TMG Corporate Services have received exclusive YouTube content from sources in the Middle East showing a more complex and sophisticated plan, utilizing original creative content to target desired audience segments in a manner more reminiscent of an experienced public relations firm than a terrorist organization.

When questioning the possible success of these videos as recruitment tools, we first analyzed the content of these videos, as professional production values as well as the use of English may make them more dangerous than previous materials when used for Western recruitment. Second, we considered these videos using the psychological and rhetorical concepts of scarcity, and the role these concepts play in the effectiveness of the clips on their intended audience.

TMG Corporate Services received seven links to YouTube videos, between mid-June and mid-July 2014, which are of value to security and risk management providers as they illustrate that IS, in our view, is adopting media tactics heretofore unseen from Middle Eastern extremist organizations.

These videos feature elements similar to those one might expect to see in a coordinated advertising campaign or a large-scale non-profit drive. All videos feature target audience native speakers delivering the IS message in a calm, rational manner, at visual and vocal odds with the societally constructed idea of a raging extremist. All videos feature song’s with sophisticated arrangements that serve as a backdrop for carefully constructed lyrics brimming with anti-Western / anti-Jewish sentiment. The professionally created content of these videos is dangerous, increasing targeted Westerners’ identification with the group and giving it a similar footing with other sources in the mainstream media.

Another unique aspect of these videos, when considered in conjunction with their high production values, became clear when our analysts noted the viewer numbers of each clip. Unlike other YouTube videos uploaded by IS associated accounts and distributed to the public at large via mass Twitter links and other methods, these videos had low hit counts.

A low YouTube “hit” count and shoddy production values are clear indications of propaganda and easily dismissed as traditional extremism. However, a low number of viewers combined with professional production speak and audience segment targeting makes the “chosen” viewers more susceptible due to the social psychology concept of scarcity. A study by Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975) illustrated that individuals value an object more highly if it appears to be more rare. Similarly, information that is harder to obtain is viewed as more trustworthy. Two thousand years earlier, Aristotle was already covering the subject in his “Rhetoric,” stating, “Further, what is rare is a greater good than what is plentiful,” and additionally, “… Besides, what comes only as long intervals has the value of rarity.”

In a society where being unique has become a valuable commodity, particularly during key developmental phases for an individual’s personality, it should come as no surprise that these “rare” IS videos have the capability of being dangerous recruitment tools. The videos are viewable to all YouTube users while they are “live”. However, the invitations to view this content were privately sent to multiple TMG Corporate Services dummy Facebook, Google+ and YouTube accounts. These accounts had deliberately demonstrated a demographic and behavior pattern that would make their “owners” interesting recruitment targets for IS.

Over a two week period, of twenty highly active pro-Islam / pro-Jihad accounts, seventeen were privately “invited” to add temporary IS accounts to their profiles or circles and in the process view the seemingly exclusive content. The IS accounts issuing the invites variously stayed active for between two and five days after receipt of the invitation and in the intervening periods some links to external content were withdrawn or the target content source deleted or moved. The objective in this behavior would appear to be to manifest feelings of exclusivity and insider knowledge in the target and may engender increased enthusiasm in a vulnerable or disenfranchised individual, creating the illusion that they may be of particular worth to IS.

Twitter, Propaganda, and Intimidation

If IS has found a niche on YouTube for recruitment and testing the usefulness of audience targeting, then the organization’s tactics when using Twitter should be considered its anti-thesis. IS appears to be using Twitter as a platform for large-scale information dissemination, sharing images and a message of intimidation with local Middle Eastern and Western sources. When deliberating on whether IS’s Twitter strategy has been successful, there are three main points to consider when analyzing the intersection of IS, Twitter, and success.

If learning how to become ingrained in the culture of Twitter is considered success, then IS is making steady progress. From inserting themselves into a World Cup hash-tag with a violent image, which helped IS accounts acquire thousands of unintentional views, to co-opting a sign held by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and subverting her message, the social media strategists at IS understand how to attach themselves to successful social media campaigns to garner more attention (Nordland, 2014). However, this method does not appear to have furthered any of IS’s goals, with the exception of press coverage. While this should not be ignored, it is unlikely to be the organization’s only desire for such a convenient, global communication platform.

If IS’s purpose in using Twitter is not to recruit but to threaten, in a general and non-targeted manner, then results should be considered mixed. There is no doubt that their threatening messages on local accounts for specific Middle Eastern areas may have negative effects on the psychological well-being of the local populace, especially when these account feature images of violence. It is likely that such messages, spread by loudspeaker and on Twitter, led to Christians fleeing Mosul on July 19th 2014 (Swarts, 2014). However, even when accompanied with images of a most violent nature, threats have only served to rouse Western audiences and provide them with a cause to unite against IS more cohesively (BBC News, 2014).

Finally, if the purpose of IS’s Twitter strategy is to exercise control over the platform, it should perhaps be considered a resounding failure. IS’s accounts stay open and active only at the behest of the US intelligence community (Daileda & Franceschi-Bicchierai, 2014), and Twitter itself can shut them down at any time.

Suggested Course of Action

This analysis considers IS’s basic use of two social media tools through June/July 2014. When al-Qaeda used online tools for recruitment, a thorough tactical analysis with in-depth assessments about the organization’s success was not possible until almost a decade after recruitment began (Gerwehr & Daly, 2005).

It is likely that in-depth research about IS’s success or failure to use social media may take a comparable amount of time. However, since IS has succeeded in recruiting more Westerners than any other group to date, it is imperative to begin the process now.

We recommend analysis of accounts which are providing the highest level of audience segment targeting toward Western audiences, including analyzing names chosen for such accounts and their use of idioms and slogans, with particular attention to evidence of positive Western response and IS’s ability to capitalize on success, to predict threats and develop countermeasures. Other avenues for analysis are currently being developed and results and findings will take the form of further posts on our various publishing platforms.

Reference List

BBC News, 2014. Americans scoff at isis twitter threats. BBC News, 8(7), pp.1-15. Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-28136109 [Accessed July 21, 2014].

Burson-Marsteller, 2014. The global corporate twitter influence study – burson·marsteller. Burson·Marsteller, 8(7), pp.1-15. Available from: http://www.burson-marsteller.com/bm-blog/the-global-corporate-twitter-influence-study/ [Accessed July 21, 2014].

Daileda, C. & Franceschi-Bicchierai, L., 2014. Us intelligence officials want isil fighters to keep tweeting. Mashable, 8(7), pp.1-15. Available from: Http://mashable.com/2014/07/11/us-wants-iraq-radicals-to-tweet/ [Accessed July 21, 2014].

Gerwehr, S. & Daly, S., 2014. Al-qaida: terrorist selection and recruitment. In Al-Qaida and Global Jihad, Part 1. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, pp. 73-89.

Grose, T.K., 2014. Western ‘jihadists’ trekking to syria, iraq pose new terror threat. US News, 32(5), pp.906-914. Available from: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/07/09/western-jihadists-trekking-to-syria-iraq-pose-new-terror-threat [Accessed July 21, 2014].

Kirdar, M., 2011. Al-qaeda in iraq. Strategic Comments [Online], 8(7), 1-15. Available from: Http://csis.org/ [Accessed July 21, 2104].

Nordland, R., 2014. Iraq’s sunni militants take to social media to advance their cause and intimidate. The New York Times, 8(7), pp.1-15. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/world/middleeast/iraqs-sunni-militants-take-to-social-media-to-advance-their-cause-and-intimidate.html?_r=0 [Accessed July 21, 2014].

Swarts, P., 2014. Christians flee mosul after isil threat: convert to islam or die. Washington Times, 8(7), pp.1-15. Available from: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jul/19/christians-flee-mosul-after-isil-threat-convert-is/ [Accessed July 21, 2014].

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