Jihadist terrorist propaganda
The origins of practically all major jihadist terrorist groups can be traced to regions outside the EU. Consequently, online propaganda is an essential part of their attempts to reach out to audiences in EU Member States, as it enables them to make the link between the grievances of potentially vulnerable people living in the EU with the armed struggle that they conduct in their areas of operation.
Jihadist online propaganda has developed over some two decades. The methods used today are tested and optimised to achieve the greatest possible impact. They have been tailored for specific audiences. This long experience notwithstanding, jihadist propaganda has adapted quickly to new forms of communication and design, most recently incorporating graphical elements and styles copied from youth culture and online gaming, in an attempt to attract younger audiences in particular.
Likewise, the contents of jihadist propaganda vary over time, always aiming to achieve the greatest impact at any given point. Following the claim by IS that it re-established the caliphate, IS propaganda in 2014 and 2015 aimed to create the impression that the group represented victorious Islam. Its main topics were the purported defence of Islam, the creation of an Islamic state under IS leader Abu Bakr alBaghdadi in his arrogated function of caliph of all Muslims. IS’s claim to success in this endeavour was supported with the display of IS policies that ostensibly guaranteed justice, welfare and services for the population under its control. Videos showed the implementation of social policies, consumer protection, religious education, but also military victories and the execution of enemies.
In 2016 the topics dominating IS propaganda shifted. The most remarkable change was the replacement of the narrative of a victorious Islam, embodied by IS, with one that depicted Sunni Muslims as being under attack by an alleged Western-Jewish-Shi’i alliance that aimed to eradicate Sunni Islam. The IS leadership claims that its fight against its enemies is part of the final battle, detailed in the sources of Islam, in which Islam will prevail on the Day of Judgement. In August 2016, the Dabiq magazine, whose name refers to the location in which Islamic tradition locates the last battle between Good and Evil, claimed that IS was not fighting the West due to its policies but on account of its “unbelief”.
In an effort to suppress and deter any attempt of dissension in territories under its control, IS published a large number of videos showing individuals labelled as traitors and spies for the anti-IS coalition. Other videos showed the killing of members of armed opposition groups fighting against IS. The victims were made to confess deeds that were alleged to be crimes against Muslims and then assassinated, generally by beheading or shooting from a close range. Videos showing these killings used repetition, multiple cameras and slow motion to increase the impact of the killings. In one video published in late 2016, two Turkish soldiers captured by IS in Syria were burnt alive. With regard to the West, IS told its supporters that they were obliged to seek “retributive justice” for attacks perpetrated by the international anti-IS alliance. Muslim scholars opposed to IS were also identified as targets of lone actor attacks. IS also called for the killing of prominent representatives of Sunni Muslims in Europe, including Salafist preachers opposed to it.
In an attempt to restrict access to independent information in areas under its control, in early June 2016 IS conducted a media campaign, including a series of videos, urging people to destroy their satellite dishes and receivers.