The 'caliphate's' ministry of information: Part 2

The 'caliphate's' ministry of information: Part 2
Feature: The Islamic State group's media propaganda efforts have been more successful than those of al-Nusra Front or al-Qaeda. Part two of a two-part article.
4 min read
06 April, 2015
IS's magazine Dabiq publishes articles supporting the group [al-Araby]
Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part article. Read part one here.

By using the media as propaganda, the Islamic State group (IS) has turned it into a powerful psychological weapon. As well as using images and videos of brutal violence to terrorise audiences, the group also tries to attract new recruits by humanising its members as normal people who have responded to the "just cause of jihad".

As part of these efforts, the group has released a number of videos showing IS fighters visiting wounded fellow fighters in hospital. In the footage the camera focuses on the good conditions and comfortable surroundings enjoyed by the wounded fighters.

Other videos show IS fighters handing out sweets and ice cream to happy children or taking care of stray cats, which has led social media to call the group "the Islamic State of cats". The group has also organised and filmed activities and competitions for children in Aleppo and Raqqa. IS's Dabiq magazine has published articles and various tweets justifying the group's actions and depicting it as a utopian state of justice.

Recently, IS has established what it calls "media points", which are street kiosks in areas under its control that distribute the group's publications and video releases free of charge as an alternative to international media, which the group accuses of being dishonest.

Who is behind the IS media apparatus?

Ahmad Abousamra, a 33 year old Syrian-US dual national is reportedly head of IS's media apparatus. He was unknown until 2009 when the FBI published his name on its most wanted terrorist list.

     Some observers believe Arab media has helped IS's propaganda mission by broadcasting the group's statements.

Abu Athir Omar al-Absi is a Syrian member of the group who was released from prison by Syrian authorities in 2011. He is a senior commander in the group's media council and oversees al-Fajr and al-Furqan media groups from Iraq.

Other notable members of IS's media team include Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, reportedly the group's director in charge of video and audio releases, Nero Saraiva, a Portuguese member of the group who is believed to have travelled to Syria in 2012 and Fabio Bokas, another Portuguese member who had aspired to become a professional football player, but joined the group instead.

Media reach and gains

According to the British newspaper, The Guardian, an Italian study of over two million Arabic posts online has revealed that Arabic speaking Twitter users in Belgium, Britain, France and the US show greater support for IS than users in IS-dominated Iraq and Syria. Some observers believe Arab media has helped IS’s propaganda mission by broadcasting the group's statements.

IS has fine-tuned its messages and propaganda to frighten its enemies' armies and governments, and show them as unable to protect their own citizens. On the other hand, it has portrayed itself as a proper state able to defend itself and its citizens, and provide for their basic needs. This has enabled the group to recruit members from around the world using slogans such as "the Islamic State will remain and expand", and playing anthems such as Salil al-Sawarim. This anthem was used at a wedding in Cairo, according to Arab and international news reports.

How did IS achieve its success? Al-Araby al-Jadeed spoke to Raafat al-Ghanim, an expert on extremist groups, who confirmed that IS had been more successful than al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda in tailoring their messages to their intended audiences.

Ghanim explained that if IS wanted to send a message to Tunisians, they would choose a Tunisian speaker who would address the concerns of Tunisian youths. If it wanted to convey a message to the Muslims in France, it would choose a French speaker who would address the issues facing Muslims in France. In its latest French language statement for example, the group did not discuss the Palestinian issue, but spoke about Africa and the oppression of Muslims there instead.

Furthermore, with the advent of social media, IS has spread its propaganda material more effectively than al-Qaeda using internet discussion forums only followed by people who already supported jihadi ideology. IS can now send messages to supporters and opponents, directly and without intermediaries using its various social media outlets.

This is the second of a two-part article. Read part one here.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.
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