ISIS’s Media Network in the Era after the Fall of the Islamic State

The Arabic reads,

The Arabic reads, "The Islamic State remains unchanged and expands," "in spite of every infidel and apostate Muslim" (Twitter account of @nizaraboahmade, March 30, 2014).

Video documenting the execution of 21 Egyptian immigrant Coptic workers by operatives of the ISIS province in Libya. It was produced by ISIS's al-Hayat Foundation and uploaded to the social networks on February 15, 2015.

Video documenting the live immolation of a Jordanian prisoner captured by ISIS. Right: The pilot before being put into a cage and set on fire. Left: The pilot watches as the flames approach (al-Minbar al-A'lami al-Jihadi).

Video documenting the live immolation of a Jordanian prisoner captured by ISIS. Right: The pilot before being put into a cage and set on fire. Left: The pilot watches as the flames approach (al-Minbar al-A'lami al-Jihadi).

"Jihadi John" in a video a few minutes before he decapitated American news photographer James Foley, August 19, 2014 (Twitter account of curdistani@curdistani, September 27, 2014).

Overview

This study analyzes ISIS’s media network in view of rise and the fall of the Islamic State and to an essential change in ISIS’s nature (the transition from the Islamic State to a terrorist organization). The loss of territories and resources, which accelerated in 2017, struck a hard blow to ISIS’s media network. At the same time, there have been signs of a recovery in recent months, at the beginning of the new era after the fall of the Islamic State.

  • The signs of the blow dealt to ISIS’s media network include the hiatus in the activities of its media platforms or their irregular appearance; a significant reduction in the volume of publications produced; the inferior quality and reduced quantity of publications and the changes in their contents. The changes included shorter reports; a defensive tone; late reporting and late claims of responsibility; inaccuracies and exaggerations; problems with the translation of titles and headlines from Arabic to English and in the quality and quantity of videos and pictures. However, there was also an increase in the number of calls to ISIS operatives around to globe to carry out attacks and calls to operatives in Syria and Iraq to be patient and persevere in the struggle, in view of the difficulties facing ISIS.
  • The height of ISIS’s media activities was in 2014 and 2015. During that era, which began when ISIS was established and split from al-Qaeda, the organization’s morale rose and its military and financial situation improved, peaking with the conquest of the city of Mosul in Iraq and the establishment of the Islamic State (June 2014). At that time ISIS established a media network that was of high quality, effective and centralized, operated by the Islamic State’s “Central Media Department.” It employed skilled professionals, some of whom came to Syria from Western countries. At the time they produced very high-quality videos that resounded greatly around the globe.
  • At its height, the media network went from local to global. Traditional channels were increased to include extensive media activity that sought to reach target audiences around the globe. They also used languages other than Arabic, primarily English. European languages were complemented with languages spoken by Muslims countries and communities, such as Turkish, Indonesian, the Turkic language spoken by the Uyghur minority in China and Pashto, spoken in Afghanistan. Extensive activity was also conducted on the social networks, particularly Twitter, used as a platform to disseminate ISIS media materials. At ISIS’s height its media products dealt with boasting about the Islamic State’s governance and its conduct as a living, functioning body that dealt with civilian life as well as fighting. It also encouraged operatives from around the globe to enlist in the ranks of the Islamic State and represented the “new Caliphate” as the embodiment of pure, utopian Islam.
  • In 2016 and 2017, as the Islamic State suffered blow after blow, there was a gradual, significant decline in the quantity and quality of ISIS’s publications. Some of the reasons were the following: the killing of some of its senior media figures; the general lack of financial resources, which influenced the resources allotted for its media; and the Islamic State’s loss of territory and population centers (especially the fall of al-Raqqa and Mosul, where the media network’s main centers were located). In addition, even at the height of its activity, ISIS was forced to deal with intensive activity conducted against it by the managements of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and with cyber attacks that toppled sites.
  • Only towards the end of 2017, at the beginning of the post-Islamic State era, did ISIS’s media network begin showing significant signs of recovery. ISIS reconstructed most of its websites and its affiliated propaganda institutions, and began issuing more updated and better quality products. Its recovery is noticeable both in its central media outlets (which continue to be dominant) and in the local media materials disseminated by its provinces in Syria, Iraq, and abroad. It is evident in the provinces in Syria and Iraq where, after the fall of Islamic State, it again conducts guerrilla and terrorist activities. Most prominent are its media activities in the Sinai and Khorasan (Afghanistan/Pakistan) Provinces, in full adaption with its intensive attacks in those provinces. However, the extent and quality of ISIS’s current media have not yet returned to the status quo ante.
  • Below are ISIS’s propaganda platforms operating today (updated to the middle of January 2018). Some of them officially belong to ISIS. Most of them do not but their contents are clearly affiliated with ISIS.
    • ISIS’s news agencies: the most important is the A’maq News Agency. Others include Moata, the provinces’ news network (WNN) and al-Qarar.
    • Institutions for the production and distribution of propaganda material: the most important institution is al-Hayat, the production wing of the Central Media Department. Others include al-Furqan Media Foundation, al-Ajnad Foundation for Media Production and the Rimah Foundation.
    • ISIS-affiliated websites: the most important is Akhbar al-Muslimin. Another is al-Sawarim.
    • Internet magazines: ISIS’s main internet magazine is the weekly al-Nabā’. A less important one is al-Anfāl.
    • ISIS’s internet radio station: Radio al-Bayan.
    • Local media offices in the various provinces: In the past such offices were responsible for the dissemination of most of ISIS’s media material. At least some of them continue to operate.
  • In addition, there are media platforms, some of them important, which ceased their operations. They include the Haqq website, the monthly magazine Rumiyah, the magazine Dabiq, the al-I’tisam Media Foundation and the al-Ansar site. Some of the platforms will return to operations as ISIS reconstructs its operational and propaganda capabilities.
  • Even at the height of its power ISIS’s media network was forced to reduce and later completely end its presence on popular social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. That was mainly the result of activity taken against them by the networks’ managements. As a result ISIS and its supporters often use the encrypted Telegram application, which enables groups of ISIS operatives to communicate anonymously. That provides a certain solution for communication with ISIS operatives and provinces around the globe, but at the price of the difficulty of disseminating propaganda to a larger audience and spreading its messages through general discussions on the social networks.
  • The materials produced by ISIS’s media network indicate that even after the fall of the Islamic State, ISIS remains, in its own eyes and those of its provinces, a global jihadist organization whose activity is not limited to Iraq and Syria (still its core states). ISIS regards its local and global media network as very important for the following reasons: it enables ISIS to remain relevant as one an important jihadist organization; it enables ISIS to maintain ties with operatives and provinces abroad, to continue issuing information about its operational activity, to send ideological messages to its supporters and to Muslim communities around the globe and to wage a campaign of incitement whose objective is to motivate Muslim supporters to carry out local terrorist attacks (ISIS-inspired attacks).

The threat of ISIS’s global terrorism did not end with the fall of the Islamic State, and it is possible that it will grow in the future. That is because ISIS is not currently staggering under the load of the routine management of the Islamic State, defending its borders and providing for the needs of the inhabitants. Moreover, now that the Islamic State has fallen, ISIS and its provinces will be motivated to prove they are still relevant. ISIS’s recovering media network is a vital branch in the structure of the provinces in Syria, Iraq and abroad. ISIS can use it to call on its supporters in the Muslim countries around the globe to carry out independent terrorist attacks. That incitement, to which ISIS gives an important place in its publications for foreign audiences, has proven itself as fruitful and fueled the ISIS-inspired attacks around the globe, especially in the West.[2]

Sources
  • The study is based mainly on an examination of the various media platforms that compose ISIS’s media network and an analysis of the material appearing there. The platforms include ISIS-affiliated websites, foundations for the production of media material, internet magazines and activity on the social networks. Use was also made of former ITIC documents dealing with ISIS and, among other issues, the development of its media network, beginning in 2014. In addition, use was made of studies published by experts and institutions monitoring the issue.

Structure

  • This study has four parts:
    • Part One – ISIS’s media network at the height of the organization’s power and subsequent changes.
      • ISIS’s media network at its height (2014-2015).
      • Changes that occurred in ISIS’s media network during the campaign against the Islamic State.
      • The influence of the deaths of senior figures in the media network.
    • Part Two – Features of ISIS’s current media network.
      • Overview
      • News agencies
      • Foundations for production and dissemination
      • Websites
      • Internet magazines
      • Internet radio station
      • Defunct media platforms
    • Part Three – Local ISIS media activity in the various provinces of Syria, Iraq and abroad.
      • Overview
      • Provinces in Syria and Iraq that are prominent for their media activity
    • Part Four – Media and communications on the social networks
      • The transition to the Telegram application
      • Anonymous web surfing
      • Establishing a pool of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for ISIS operatives (“the bank of supporters”).

[1] Two examples of ISIS-inspired attacks are the vehicular attack in New York on October 31, 2017, and the detonation of an IED in New York on December 11, 2017, both carried out by ISIS supporters.