A 3-D PLASTIC representation of the Twitter, Facebook and YouTube logos is displayed in front an Isis flag. Islamic State is considered a pioneer among terrorist organizations regarding innovation in the cyber world..
(photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS)
The Islamic State is considered a pioneer among terrorist organizations regarding innovation in the cyber world, including making leaps forward in sophisticated recruiting and fundraising schemes, according to an advance copy of IDC’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism 2016 cyber trends report obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post.
“Unlike in the past when the processes of mobilization, manpower recruitment and training mainly took place in the physical realm, today the Internet has become a central and anonymous arena in which these activities take place,” the report says, adding that a deeper “technological focus” gave ISIS and others “a free hand to recruit using an anonymous connection between the recruit and the terrorist organization through the Internet, irrespective of their physical location or standing.”
Internet-based manpower recruitment was crucial in light of the need to import foreign fighters to Syria, Iraq and other countries, says the report, and that ISIS disseminated messages on a range of Internet platforms both directly and via secondary agents to maximize its recruitment potential.
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Most impressively, “terrorist organizations have recently been investing efforts in adjusting the recruitment content for a specific target audience (narrow casting), such as speakers of various languages or certain professionals. For example, a campaign for the recruitment of children that includes computer games and comics, [and] campaigns for the recruitment of hackers, Web designers and developers for this specific population.”
But ISIS has gone even further in this kind of tailored campaigning, reminiscent of the current US election campaign in which both parties tailor their pitches to local state specific issues, using recognizable local terminology.
The IDC report says Isis has “leveraged existing technological platforms more than any other terrorist organization, with one of its prominent ‘flagships’ reflected in a venture named ‘Nasher’ (publisher), which is responsible for translating the organization’s official materials into various languages and distributing them on Telegram channels.”
Further, adapting the message to a specific “target audience is not only part of recruitment, but is also part of the format in creating specialized target audiences for lone wolves on social networks, such as Facebook and Telegram.”
The report explains that this technological development increased the “use of advanced communications applications (mostly encrypted) by jihadist organizations in the advanced stages of the recruitment process, such as Telegram, Skype, WhatsApp and Kik.”
As with many other areas, ISIS has outplayed al-Qaida in this arena. Al-Qaida continues to operate on a much more limited and less dynamic basis in Web forums and Internet sites, though it is not completely absent from social networks, says the report.
Whereas al-Qaida’s size and breath is limited by its emphasis on maintaining a connection between various arenas of jihad and “Al-Qaida Central,” ISIS has altered its recruiting and propaganda strategy when necessary, notes the report, recently moving from seeking volunteers in Syria and Iraq to focusing on “the ‘far enemy’ and on encouragement for ‘lone wolf’ attacks and cyber attacks against the West” with no strings attached to its central hub.
Moreover, the report indicates that “the competition between the Islamic State and al-Qaida is... manifested in a propaganda battle that includes…’hashtag wars’ and publications on ideological matters.
Al-Qaida supporters accuse ISIS of “establishing an Islamic Caliphate in sin, killing innocent Muslims, conduct contrary to sharia, and deviation from the principles of Islam.”
ISIS supporters accuse al-Qaida of “deviating from the path of Osama bin Laden, and describe it as an organization that has run its course and is occupied with survival and the narrow interests of its leaders,” according to the report.
Recruiting is not the only place that ISIS and other terror groups have revolutionized in a short time.
ICT’s report describes the field of terrorism financing as significantly changing in parallel with technological development, both in terms of fundraising and the transfer of funds.
“The Internet has enabled the practice of fundraising and the transfer of funds from any location to any location in the world,” the report says.
“It has expanded the circle of fund-raisers and the ability to raise capital through them and directly from the potential target.”
Furthermore, “the network organizational structure has also enabled the independent mobilization of funds by terror cells and foreign fighters on their way to battle arenas, eliminating the need to find ways to transfer money from country to country.”
Put differently, just as US election campaigns have shifted from a sole focus on fundraising from big-money bundlers to a large volume of small online contributors, ISIS and others have done the same with their fundraising.
This empowers smaller cells to even do their own fundraising without having connections to high-net-worth individuals or senior terrorist operatives.
In addition, “The Internet also serves as a preferred arena for fundraising due to the sense of security that it gives the donor who tends to believe that his identity remains anonymous, even if this is not always the reality,” says the report.