New study: Islamic State overtaking al-Qaida in social media

IHS head Asia analyst: We are also seeing indicators that the Islamic State is attempting to establish a presence in South Asia.

Cyber hackers [illustrative] (photo credit: REUTERS)
Cyber hackers [illustrative]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jihadist social media sites have begun promoting Islamic State messages over those of al-Qaida and its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, according to a report by the IHS global market information and analytics company.
“The Islamic State’s burgeoning presence in South Asia can be measured by its success in gaining control of social media sites that had been controlled by al-Qaida or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan,” said Omar Hamid, the report’s author and head of Asia analysis at IHS Country Risk.
Until now, al-Qaida or its affiliates controlled the Global Islamic Media Front, one of the main English-language jihadist forums, as well as the Ansarullah Media and Bab-ul- Islam forums, said the report.
“The Ansarullah and Bab-ul-Islam media houses became umbrella media organizations for authentic jihadist news and developments because of their capacity to cover almost all related jihadist media content in multiple languages like Arabic, Urdu, English, Pashto, Bangla, Turkish, Russian and Bahasa,” Hamid said.
Zawahiri’s messages used to be the focus and given priority on these websites. However, “Zawahiri’s announcement of the formation of a subcontinental branch of al-Qaida received no coverage on these sites,” IHS reported.
In a video aired a couple of weeks ago, Zawahri, named Pakistani Asim Umar as the emir of al-Qaida’s new South Asian wing.
Zawahri’s announcement was widely interpreted as an attempt to seize back the initiative from Islamic State.
Jean-Pierre Filiu, professor of Middle East studies at Sciences Po’s Paris Institute of Political Studies and a longtime French diplomat who served in Arab countries, told The Jerusalem Post last week that Islamic State’s separation from al-Qaida is the “posthumous victory of [Abu Musab al-]Zarqawi over [Osama] bin Laden.”
The head of Islamic State, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi “won against Zawahiri because, like his mentor [Zarqawi], he is a seasoned fighter, not a chatterbox,” said Filiu, implying Islamic State’s results and growing power is more than al-Qaida’s leadership has achieved.
“Our monitoring of these sites over time has shown a clear shift away from core al-Qaida and toward the Islamic State,” Hamid asserted.
“We are also seeing indicators that the Islamic State is attempting to establish a presence in South Asia.”
Islamic State could expand to South Asia as jihadist sites demonstrate that the terrorist group is gaining popularity in the region, he said.
For example, Hamid points out, “We have also seen several disgruntled Tehreek-e-Taliban factions, previously expelled by leader Mullah Fazlullah, expressing their admiration for the Islamic State.”
The head of the group’s Mohmand Agency chapter, Omar Khalid Kurasani, located in the tribal area of Pakistan, and who commands a large network in Karachi known for its brutality, is likely to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State, the report said.
“While it is unlikely that the Islamic State would be able to support such branches with any material resources other than money, their financial strength gives them a large advantage over core al-Qaida,” Hamid explained.
“Obtaining the loyalties of these groups will provide the Islamic State with an operational foothold in South Asia, one that could see these groups change their target patterns,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.