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Case Studies

Online jihadist propaganda report

Europol has published the second edition of its annual report on online Jihadist propaganda. The report by the European Union policing agency’s Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) covers 2019.

A takedown action coordinated by EU member states and Europol, on November 21 and 22, resulted in the severe disruption of pro-IS accounts, channels and groups on Telegram, according to the 35-page report. It notes that ‘globally relevant events incited similar reactions in jihadist circles online, underlining the fact that despite disagreements, these groups share ideological underpinnings and grievances’.

An example is the terrorism against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, that resulted in a flow of online activity by jihadi groups. The groups exploited the right-wing terror attacks to push the narrative that the west is at war with Islam, the report says. An AQ statement for example incited fighters to follow the example set by the ‘heroes’ of the “Charlie Hebdo” attack in Paris in January 2015 and to target the enemies at their [military] bases or in public gathering places, but not in their churches or places of worship.

In March 2019 IS lost its last town in its self-proclaimed caliphate over populated territory. Official as well as supportive IS media outlets and groups are still struggling to rebuild their networks online, the report says.

The document covers the various off-shoots of Al-Qaeda; Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (al-Shabab); and Islamic State (IS). It says: “While counter-terrorism attention was focused on IS, AQ was patiently strengthening its local network of affiliates, from west Africa to Southeast Asia. AQ’s ability to ingratiate itself locally has made the organisation more resilient. Furthermore, al-Zawahiri’s leadership, which many have termed uncharismatic, lends AQ the benefit of continuity. The future of AQ and IS will be largely defined by the competition between the two. One key question is whether this competition will evolve towards more confrontation, or whether some alliances will be forged – at least in some regions (such as have been reported in west Africa).”

This competition between terror groups (which has played out on social media) is due to the similarity in ideology and ultimate objectives, the report says. It concludes: “Combating the terrorist groups’ media reach, limiting their ability to carry out attacks, and attributing online terrorist offences via heightened international cooperation should therefore remain a priority.”


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