Cyber Caliphate

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Takfiri terrorist groups' activities on the virtual battleground are introduced and analyzed. We see how they use social media to propagate their ideas, recruit forces, and distort news.

TIME CODE:00:00_05:00

Narration: In 2011, when political upheavals were rocking the Arab world, a Twitter manager expressed his astonishment for the widespread use of Twitter and other forms of social media among Arab citizens who utilized them as a powerful tool for spreading their views and sending their messages hoping to affect the course of events across the Middle East and North Africa.

As popular protests in the region turned into war and massacre, terrorist groups with Takfiri origins began to pop up one after another.

Along with the inhumane crimes they were committing, these terrorist groups gave cyberspace a shot, beginning a new chapter in psychological warfare. In this regard, the terrorist groups, along with journalists and researchers in Syria, made the most progressive use of social media. Soon, social media like Twitter began to change the world’s view about what was happening in Syria with all issues around it. They became a strong tool that would connect cyberspace to battlefield.

Now, after a few years since the onset of the crises in Syria, millions of videos, photos, audio files, political or military announcements have gone viral by Takfiri terrorist groups to challenge the mainstream media in the region and across the world and to shape public opinion about the war in or on Syria.

These armed groups are so dependent on cyberspace in military, media and logistic arenas that their first serious appearance was online. In 2012, Riad Mousa al-Asaad, a former Colonel in the Syrian Air Force who defected in July 2011, announced officially the foundation of the so called Free Syrian Army through a video file uploaded on YouTube. After all, YouTube channels such as The Omawi News and Ugarit News are the cyber arms of the so called Free Syrian Army.

Soon after, other armed groups involved in the war followed suit and began their activities in social media. Among them, the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front that lauched its propaganda campaign to recruit more and more terrorist militants by establishing the Al-Manar Al-Baiza Foundation.

According to study by the Brookings Institution conducted in 2015, more than 46,000 Twitter users have been detected who are supporting Takfiri Terrorist groups.

These users are directed by a group of Salafi clerics active in social media who try to justify terrorist activities of their comrades in Iraq and Syria.

These cyber-preachers who are the dominant standard-bearers of the anti-Shia discourse try to show Shia Muslims as the enemies of the Islamic world who are hatching schemes all the time.

Among the most influential clerics active in Twitter is Adnan al Arour with more than 2.8 million followers, half of them aged between 18 and 24 years old and most of them living in Suadi Arabia and Kuwait. His posts are re-tweeted as many as 300 times on average.

His tweets appear to peak in response to significant events in the Middle East with an anti-Shia tone intended to stir sectarian violence. They keep referring to Shia Muslims as Kafir or Rafidha which means the rejectionists.

SOUNDBITE [English] Abu Mussab Wajdi Akkari, Salafi Preacher: “Do not speak to them, and this is what you Muslims, you in particular need to turn a light, do not speak to them. The same way you could not have a friend, what I mean not an acquaintances, you can have acquaintances from Jews, Christians, Hindus, everybody in the world, people that you know that you interact with, that you are nice to, and you treat Ghandi to bring him to Islam. You can have many acquaintances because people always misinterpret what is being said in the lectures, I mean friends as in your friend the same way you cannot have a Christian friend, you cannot have a Shia friend. In fact,having the Christian friend is less harmful to Europeans .than a Shia.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: The language the Salafists use to describe Shia Muslims is almost invariably sectarian. Adnan al Arour has also an anti-Iranian discourse that associates every single crisis in the Middle East to Iran and Hezbollah, a popular movement in Lebanon.

Recruiting aimless users in social media is one of the main activities of Takfiri terrorist groups, in particular Daesh. Daesh has complex process of recruiting begins with making the target users sympathetic to them. Then, the users are asked to refrain from meeting other people so as to preserve their own faith. Isolating the users, the recruiter calls them on a regular basis. And after a while, if everything goes as planned, the users join the small group of Daesh fans and in the end, they will agree to be an online supporter of this terrorist group.
After months or even a year of working for Daesh, the users are then required to emigrate in order to fight in territories under Daesh’s control.

According to a research conducted by the Brookings Institution in 2015 about 96% of the phrase “MAKE HIJRA” - which mean emigrate - has been used by Daesh supporters.

SOUNDBITE [English] News Presenter: “Ahhh I do apologize it seem so close report from James Robins and stay Bill too in few minutes ago because we gonna be discussing the issue of crime and the politics comments …”

Narration: In 2014, first the video game servers belonging to Microsoft and Sony Corporations were hacked and soon after in January 2015, the Malaysia Airline website. The users saw this message on the website: “ISIS Will Prevail.” And then they were connected to a webpage with this sentence on it: “404 - Plane Not Found, Hacked by Cyber Caliphate"

Hackers affiliated with this terrorist organization have done the most controversial cyber-attacks over the past two years. Hacking the YouTube and Twitter accounts of the US Central Military Command (Centcom) in January 2015 and leaving this message: "I love you ISIS" on their pages has been one of the most controversial action by this group; at the same time, the group claimed that they had managed to hack Newsweek’s website. The boldest attack of this group came after the Charlie Hebdo Shooting in 2015. At the time when the sentence “Je suis Charlie Hebdo ” used to be uttered in meetings and conferences by outstanding political figures and artists as a way of expressing sympathy with the victims and the survivors of the attack, the group crippled the French television station TV5 Monde in a cyber-attack. For 16 hours, the broadcasts had been replaced with a black screen that read: “Je suIS IS”

After a series of attacks in Iraq, Daesh is not as active on the net as it used to be. However, it doesn’t mean that this terrorist group is giving up its cyber-terrorism.

The group has the know-how needed in information technology; it has access to oversees hackers and knows how to benefit from them; and it still seeks ways to stir old sectarian conflicts in the Middle East. With focusing its cyber operations on the younger generation in the Middle East and Western countries, a generation that lacks historical identity or social status or both, the group is likely to invigorate enough to recruit new members and influence public opinion much better than other terrorist groups.

With citizens of different countries participating in this cyberwarfare, a new world has been created for war-mongering with new players there to challenge the existing power structure.

Voluntary or mercenary hackers, state-run intelligence organizations, along with the new technology that has brought about things like the Internet, social network and drones all and all have made war ubiquitous in all aspects of modern man’s life. A new war has already begun: EVERYWHERE WAR

   

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