last update: selected 10 videos… updated dates for all the latest issue of magazines, Amaq in Bengali, al-Bayan in Bengali.
The defeated attack by the Islamic State on Ben Guerdane in Tunisia on 7 March 2016 probably indicated a worrying shift in tactics and strategy, which must be considered (e.g. Vanessa Szakal, “Mainstream Media on Ben Guerdane: victory and foreboding in Tunisia“, Nawaa, 11 March 2016). This attack may be seen as having been heralded by a significant call made by the Islamic State to the Islamic Maghreb through five psyops videos published over two days (19-20 January 2016).
In parallel, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb started to copycat the Islamic State’s type of videos (Andrea Spada, “Al-Qaeda tries to imitate Daesh in new threatening video“, Islam Media Analysis, 8 January 2016), as well as earlier attacks, as occurred tragically on 13 March 2016 in the Ivory Coast (e.g. BBC News, “Ivory Coast: 16 dead in Grand Bassam beach resort attack“, 13 March 2016).
Meanwhile, warning signals sent by Western officials of impending major attacks by the Islamic State, notably on European territory, have never been so strong. On 7 March 2016, during a media briefing, Mark Rowley, U.K. national head of counter-terrorism (Scotland Yard), warned that the Islamic State “has big ambitions for enormous and spectacular attacks, not just the types that we’ve seen foiled to date.” (Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, 7 March 2016).
Previously, on 19 February 2015, Europol head Rob Wainwright, reiterated that Europe faced “its largest terrorist threat for the last ten years” by “the Islamic State or other terrorist group” (NeueOsnabrücker Zeitung), as he had previously stressed on 13 January 2015, when answering questions in a committee of the British House of Commons (House of Commons, Committee Room 8, Parliamentary TV, 15:48 to 15:56:40). According to him thousands of those january 2015 estimated 3000 to 5000 Jihadist EU nationals Jihadist fighters (video 15:55 to 15:56:40) were now returning or had already come back (NeueOsnabrücker Zeitung).
On 1st March 2016, U.S. General Breedlove, Commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe at a news conference after testifying to the Senate armed services committee (transcript) mentioned “news reports saying as many as 1,500 fighters have returned to Europe”, as he could not use intelligence reports (Alan Yuhas, The Guardian, 1 March 2016), even though, initially, all may not have the intention to carry out terrorist attacks (transcript p.54).
Rowley notably stresses the importance of the effect the Islamic State’s propaganda has in terms of radicalization, and thus in increasing the terrorist threat. Meanwhile, Dodd (Ibid.) pointed out that “privately, counter-terrorism officials see no sign of Isis’s internet propaganda campaign being thwarted”.
It is thus time to update our knowledge and understanding of the psyops products used by the Islamic State, beyond the infamous videos and Dabiq magazine. Building upon and completing what was gathered previously, in December 2014, we shall revisit the concept used for the Islamic State psyops, notably in the light of the Islamic State’s very perceptions thanks to new as well as recently published Islamic State’s documents. Then, we shall present the now wide array of products and channels found to date, from infographics to cell phone app, with concrete examples. Finally we shall turn to the sources, i.e. major “official media” centers, including the way the “media administration” stands in the overall state structure of the Islamic State.
Psyops, propaganda and media
In our initial framework, we pointed out that the concept of psyops – “planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals in a manner favorable to the originator’s objectives” (US JP 3-13, Tatham, 2013: 8) could be adapted to the Islamic State, with, however, the challenge constituted by the fact that the Islamic State may not differentiate similarly between foreign and domestic audiences, a challenge that was then confirmed by our study of the worldview of the Islamic State (see Worlds War and Ultimate War). As a result, we suggested the older definition of propaganda, i.e. “any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly”, assuming one replaced “national” by “a polity’s”, was even better suited to the Islamic State, notably because it did not introduce the divide between domestic and foreign.
The way the Islamic State portrays its own psyops or propaganda is by using the simple term “media”, as exemplified in the infographic “The Media in the Year 1436 AH” (Islamic State English translation of infographic in An-Naba – or al-Nibā’ – #8, first week of December 2015?). For the Islamic State, they are
“A principal means to promote them [the practical steps on the ground, i.e. organisation of the individual and group, of the wilayat, administration of education, training, projects, wealth etc.] that should be comprehensive. All of its ideas and activities should be advertised in the interest of the aforementioned practical steps. That will not be realised without media foundations that are branched out and comprehensive in operation within one administration and background.” (Chapter 10, Administration of the media, Principles in the administration of the Islamic State – 1435AH [2103-2014] via The Guardian)
This confirms our initial broad framework and choice of definition, as the Islamic State’s aim is coherent with the older definition of propaganda. Meanwhile, the comprehensive approach corresponds to a similar point regarding psyops and propaganda made by both Paul Kamolnick (June 2014) in his Countering radicalization and recruitment to Al-Qaeda: fighting the war of deeds and Steve Tatham, U.S. Governmental Information Operations and Strategic Communications, 2013: 8 (see A Framework for more on this aspect).
Furthermore, according to the Islamic State’s vision, their media do not present any differentiation between what would target foreign audiences by opposition to what would target domestic ones, which follows logically from our previous findings in terms of worldview. What we find in terms of categorisation is first the use of various languages – foreign languages versus arabic – to reach audiences composed of both possible recruits and groups to mobilise (or radicalize if seen from the point of view of those countries fighting the Khilafah), and, most probably, of fighters to motivate.
Second, the Islamic State’s vision of their own “media” underlines that the “wilayah media offices” are “tasked with covering internal events within the wilayah of the Islamic State” (for explanations regarding what is a wilayah or wilayat, see H Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Structure and Wilayat“, 4 May 2015 and “Wilayat and Wali in Yemen“, 22 February 2016, The Red (Team) Analysis Society). We see here indeed a reference to what is internal or domestic, but it is done at the level of the content of the product, not according to the target audience. Furthermore, these “wilayah media products” deal also with events taking place outside the wilayat as seen, for example, in products aimed at motivating or recruiting people and groups to join the Islamic State: e.g., recently, the series aimed at the Islamic Maghreb, or, in October 2015 the series aimed at Somalia.
As a result, it would seem that the best adapted definition to deal with the Islamic State “media products” is the old definition of propaganda. However, because of the impossibility to use a word which has changed meaning, we shall continue using the terms psyops, however imperfect its current definition is for the Islamic State. The advantage of this choice is that we can continue using the corresponding framework. We can thus now turn to products, channels, and sources, updating the previous article to reflect the state of the Islamic State’s psyops/propaganda to date.
The Islamic State psyops products and channels
Online visual media
“Selected 10 videos from the wilayat of the Islamic State” – New video product (9 May 2016)
The Islamic State has long been publishing in its magazines a kind of top ten of its best videos. For the first time on 9 May 2016, this “Best of” has now become a new video product. It is very short (2:51) and presents videos, starting from the 10th best one to the first. The product is created by al-Hayat Media Center,.
We focused previously on videos, probably the most famous psyops product of the Islamic State. These have continued being widely published and they are one crucial medium to understand the Islamic State in its many dimensions, as commonly used by most analysts as well as in our various articles on the Islamic State. As a result, we shall not come back to them further here, save to point out a particularly interesting article regarding the technical aspect of these videos: Cori E. Dauber and Mark Robinson, “ISIS and the Hollywood Visual Style“, Jihadology, 6 July 2015.
Footage is most of the time about attacks, fighting or aftermath of attacks, notably shelling by the U.S.-led coalition or, more recently, by Russia. The pieces broadcast may also deal with other themes as with the second example displayed below, a footage showing the destruction of Christian educational books in Mosul (10 March 2016). The obvious aim of the footage is to be solely informative, and thus, most probably, to counter any accusation of propaganda – here in its usual meaning of spreading half truth if not lies – when, of course, the choice of the topic, of what is filmed or not, influences audiences (which is also true for all films).
Footage is one of the media products of Amaq News Agency (see below), and spread through the latter’s channels, as well as through Islamic State’s sympathisers’ websites and fora.
At Red (Team) Analysis, we started seeing Amaq News Agency’s footage appearing at least with the fall of Palmyra (26 May 2015), but they may have been created before this date.
Photo reports are usually series of, most of the time, four to twelve photos, organised around a specific theme, often related to everyday life within the Khilafah and state administration, for example, see “A Tour of the Ben Sinai Hospital In Sirte” (26 June 2015, wilayat al-Tarabulus (Tripoli, in Libya) in “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Money, Wealth and Taxes” (RTAS, 13 July 2016), part “Other sources of revenue”.
However, one also finds photo reports related to attacks (and executions). A recent example is the 9 March 2016 photo report by wilayat Sanya (Sinai) “Detonating an explosive device on a foot patrol of the apostate army near the “gas station” south of Sheikh Zuweid”.
Although we would need systematic quantification to conclude with certainty – assuming one has been able to find all photo reports, which is increasingly difficult considering the ongoing cyberwar to counter the Khilafah psyops – it would seem that photo reports are increasingly devoted to military operations – and executions, while those portraying state-building or everyday life become relatively less numerous compared with spring 2015 for example. Should this be true, this would most probably be indicative of the successful military pressure put upon the Islamic State.
Photo reports are produced by the various wilayat media offices (see below).
We should also mention that Zelin has noted a decrease in the Islamic State visual products publication between January and November 2015, considering photos as well as videos, but not Amaq footage and most probably products (“The Decline in Islamic State Media Output”, ICSR, 4 Dec 2015). Ideally, should resources to do so be available, such quantitative study should be ongoing but consider all Islamic State psyops products.
Infographics have become systematic since the “launch” of an-Naba (or al-Nabā’ ) newsletter (see below) in mid-October 2015. They are part of the newsletter, and thus in Arabic, but, interestingly infographics are also officially translated in English – as well as in Bengali – and spread as stand alone.
They cover a wide range of topics, from military prowess to state-building or warnings and announcements on different topics. For example, we found the infographic below on sanitary precautions to avoid Swine influenza al-Nabā’ #16, 1 February 2016). Consequently, we may wonder if the Islamic State has been faced with such an epidemic. Meanwhile, ideologically, it was also useful to the Islamic State to stress the wisdom related to the prohibition to eat pork in Islamic law.
Amaq News Agency is also using infographics.
On 4 February 2016, Amaq published for the first time a bilingual interactive infographic “Attacks of martyrdom fighters around Kweiris airbase from the date of September 17, 2015 to January 29, 2016” as exemplified by the screenshot below
Audio (and text) statements
We previously detailed this type of product, crucial because of the status of the people making the speeches, however relatively rare. See the previous article.
Al-Bayan radio programs
Al Bayan radio (see below) started broadcasting first in Arabic and Russian (in early 2015?),and launched a news bulletins on 7 April 2015 in English (Associated Press, Al Arabyia), as well as in French, Kurdish language (Memri FR, 16 April 2015).
Islamic State News Bulletin
This news bulletin is broadcast daily or twice daily and covers all military operations of the Islamic State across wilayat and ribat (for all areas concerned, see H Lavoix, “At War against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War“, RTAS, 23 Nov 2015). The News Bulletin is also published as a pdf transcript, via usual Islamic State’s channels.
The news bulletin started being published in Bengali at least from 9 January 2016 onward.
According to the infographic by al-Nabā’ (#9 – 12 December 2015 – date and number deduced from date of posting), the programs cover, beyond news related to military activities, religious teaching and lectures, interviews with officials and fighters, fatwas, and finally poetry and nasheeds.
Nasheeds are “militant Islamist hymns” sang a capella, according to Behnam Saidab (“Hymns (Nasheeds): A Contribution to the Study of the Jihadist Culture“, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Volume 35, Issue 12, 2012l listen also to Saidab podcast, “Nashids: History and Cultural Meaning“, Jihadology, 29 Feb 2016).
They are produced by Ajnad Media Productions. Forty-five were created in 2015.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi has translated many of the Islamic State’s nasheeds, see Pundicity.
Written media: magazines, newsletter, books
Magazines in different languages
A German version of Dabiq #13 was published around 25 March 2016. Note, however, that both Dabiq #14 (13 April 2016) and Dar al Islam #9 (26 April 2016) were published to be very late, most probably reflecting the Islamic State defeats, such as the loss of Palmyra over Easter weekend 2016 in Mesopotamia.
To Dabiq must now be added three other magazines: Dar al Islam in French, started on 22 December 2014 (all issues available to members or on Jihadology), Istok in Russian (#1 26 May 2015; #3 30 Nov 2015; #4 1 May 2016 on Jihadology), and Konstantiniyye in Turkish (#1, 2 June 2015; #5 26 Jan 2016; #6 22 April 2016 on Jihadology).
These magazines are all produced by Al-Hayat Media Center (see A framework). Dar al Islam, Istok and Konstantiniyye cater – or try to – for the specificities of the Islamic State’s populations speaking the language of choice of the magazine, be they fighters, inhabitants, or people to mobilize and recruit, thus still leaving in their countries of origin.
None of these magazines are very regular in their publication, as the varying number of issues shows. The most frequent publications are Dabiq and Dar al Islam, which tended to be monthly initially, but evolved towards being published approximately every two months.
Weekly Newsletter in Arabic and some translations in English
The weekly an-Naba (or al-Nabā’ ) newsletter in Arabic is the latest psyops product of the Islamic State. It is produced as a pdf and e-book in epub format.
Considering the war on the Islamic state psyops, we could not find full issues prior to #10. Those were not found either by Jihadology. We could nonetheless trace some of those issues thanks to English language infographics.
Zelin on Jihadology gives the 1st issue of the newsletter as a magazine, published on 31 March 2014, at the time by then the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). However, as the latest issue at the time of writing is #21, 8 March 2015, we count that #2 must have been published during the third week of October 2015. this would thus be a republication with a change of format.
This weekly newsletter is most certainly much easier to produce than the magazines, as, furthermore, it does not require any translation. It could be to the Islamic State’s written media what the photo reports are to the videos, a fall-back product, better adapted to duress. However, as the other psyops products have not disappeared, we should be careful not to draw any hasty conclusion.
Starting with al-Naba 24 (29 March 2016), some articles from the original weekly an-Naba (or al-Nabā’) newsletter in Arabic are translated in English.
Daw’ah (preaching of Islam) products
At least from July 2015 onward, relying on Jihadology archives, the Islamic State started producing written products in Arabic related to the preaching of Islam. Initially mainly leaflets, from January 2016 onwards much bigger reports or books were added to the series. The latest samples being “Abū Ḥamzah al-Muhājir: “The Thirty Commandments for the Leaders and Soldiers of The Islamic State, Second Edition” (1 March 2016, 74 p.) and “Muḥammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahāb’s book: The Duties: The Knowledgable Obligations Upon All Muslim Men and Women” (8 March 2016, 26 p.).
Considering the religious nature of the Islamic State Daw’ah products are part and parcel of the means used to “influence” groups.
Web and Cell phone products and channels
Amaq App (Arabic and English)
The Islamic State affiliated Amaq News Agency has launched its own cell phone application, for Android. The current app is version 1-2 and can be downloaded from the world-wide-web (Warning: Do not download nor test it for obvious security reasons, as this application would most probably directly connect the user to the Islamic State (see screenshot below).
According to the screenshots displayed below, the app. in its version 1.1 allowed access to Amaq news and reports, to their videos, and to sharing. It appears to be available mainly in Arabic with at least some instructions in English.
Amaq Agency launched its app in English, most probably on 17 April 2016.
Al Bayan App
On 31 January 2016, Al Bayan radio launched a new app, also on Android (Gilad Shiloach, Vocativ, Feb 01, 2016), to allow for an easier access to its radio programs, notably outside the typical FM radio coverage, yet without being as vulnerable as through its classical webstream (Warning: As for the Aamaq app, do not download nor test it for obvious security reasons, as this application would most probably directly connect the user to the Islamic State (see screenshot below).
Social Network, websites, forum and channels
All psyops products of the Islamic State are spread through the world-wide-web. Despite the crackdown on Islamic State’s propaganda by states’ apparatuses and actors such as Anonymous and other hacktivists, accounts on social networks are constantly recreated, while some sympathizers’ websites have remained or are being relaunched. Meanwhile, classical non-Islamic State web channels – from fora, to various messaging – notably Telegram – and storage facilities, which thus cannot be brought down without damaging the very infrastructure of the world-wide-web – are now privileged as Islamic State’s channels.
We shall see more in detail the cyberwar against the Islamic State psyops in a forthcoming article.
The Islamic State psyops sources: major “official” media centers and affiliates
Rather than list here haphazardly all Islamic State sources, we shall use the classification promoted by the Principles in Administration, as this structure also sheds light on the inner workings of the Islamic State and thus prepares us to better understand it.
Media are important enough to constitute a whole chapter – chapter 10 – in the 24-page leaked internal Islamic State manual obtained and translated by The Guardian (“The Isis papers: leaked documents show how Isis is building its state“; 7 December 2015). This is confirmed, should the text of the Principles in Administration of the Islamic State (see below) be followed, by the location of the media diwan in the overall structure of the Islamic State, i.e. directly under the supervision of the Khilafah and/or the Shura council (see for an explanation of this top-level structure, H Lavoix, “The Calif and Legitimacy“, RTAS, 25 May 2015)
To lead the whole “comprehensive” media operations, one finds first the Media Diwan, which is considered as the “base foundation”. Its place with the Islamic State state structure and its work are defined as follows:
“To be directly affiliated with the Diwan al-Khilafa [office of the caliph] or Majlis al-Shura [advisory council] of whoever so represents them, and the official for it should be connected by his relations with the military commander, [chief] security official and the caliph himself. The office will … implement the main media principles and tasks and it should be supervising the distribution of the media offices in the provinces and the media foundations that take a name and are independent from the administration of the provinces [ie so-called auxiliary agencies and foundations mentioned below].
And the Base Foundation defines the priorities of publication and broadcasting as well as the media campaigns, just as it directly supervises through a committee the activities of the offices and undertakes inspection campaigns in the provinces and activist places.
The foundation also sets the preparation of media staff, their expenses and requirements and receives monthly reports on the activities of every office.” (Chapter 10, Administration of the media, Principles in the administration of the Islamic State – 1435AH [2103-2014] via The Guardian)
Wilayat media offices
Each wilayat created by the Islamic State (see Structure and Wilayat) has his own media office, which produces videos, photos and photo reports. The wilayat media offices are independent of each other and “work under the direct supervision of the Media Diwan”. According to the principles of administration of the Islamic State, they are
“Affiliated with the governor himself and in coordination with the military and security official in its region, and its director should be in direct contact with the media official in the Base Foundation.
And among the offices’ tasks are covering the military operations and their results, with issues concluding the end of every great military operation or distinguished operations for the soldiers of the state, as well as services’ facilities, implementing sharia rulings and the course of life in the province.
Also the office should be interested in implementing tasks of printing and distribution or supervising them within the province.” (Chapter 10, Administration of the media, Principles in the administration of the Islamic State – 1435AH [2103-2014] via The Guardian)
We see again here the emphasis on the comprehensive approach.
Auxiliary agencies and foundations
The last level for the media administration is “Auxiliary agencies and foundations”. We thus find here the centers and foundations to which many analysts and Western media most often refer, such as al-Hayat Media center and al-Furqan media foundation (see A Framework for more details on these specific agencies) .
Their position and work is defined as follows:
“It is suggested that production foundations or auxiliary agencies are established according to the mother office’s needs and interests.
The auxiliary office specialises in tracking military and services coverage in a province or number of provinces without there being in the name of the foundation or its symbol something to directly link it with the Islamic State.
The auxiliary foundations are not to be allowed to cover security operations or implementations of [judicial] rulings.” (Chapter 10, Administration of the media, Principles in the administration of the Islamic State – 1435AH [2103-2014] via The Guardian)
Amaq News Agency
If we follow the principles detailed above, Amaq News agency is most probably an instance of what is labelled as “auxiliary office”. If this is correct, then it first proves the so-far assumed link between Amaq and the Islamic State. Amaq is thus the official news agency of the Islamic State, as, for example, Russian News Agency TASS (previously Itar-Tass) is for Russia, or Xinhua for the PRC. However, in the case of Amaq, there is a willingness to hide the official link to the Islamic state. According to the Principles, if it is an auxiliary office, it is directly linked to the Media Diwan.
According to the current website of Amaq News Agency, Amaq started operating at least in March 2015 as this is the oldest month for which archives are available. During the first week of March 2016, it began publishing also in English.
On 18 March 2016, Amaq started publishing regular news in Bengali.
According to SITE, Amaq News Agency would have started operating during the battles of Kobani, Winter 2014 (Rukmini Callimachijan, “A News Agency With Scoops Directly From ISIS, and a Veneer of Objectivity“, The New York Times, 14Jan 2016).
Al-Bayan radio is a FM radio broadcasting in Syria and Iraq, as well as in Libya’s wilayat Tarabulus (see infographic above). According to FMScan, it would broadcast in the following cities: Site, Benghazi, Derna and az-Zawiyat. It also uses a webstream.
Being obviously covering security operations as well as implementation of sharia, al-Bayan radio is most probably an instance of an auxiliary office.
Production foundations and agencies
The agencies below, if we follow the Principles in Administration‘s classification would most probably put together documents and coverages of all sort, but not cover directly security operations and Sharia rulings.
The agency that produces the weekly newsletter of the same name, as well as, most probably, the infographics.
Anad media production
The agency specialised in producing sound-related products, i.e. nasheeds and Quran recitations.
Al-Furqan Media Foundation
See details in “A Framework“.
Al-Hayat Media Center
See details in “A Framework“.
The Daw’ah literature is most probably under the responsibility of the Diwan al-Daw’ah. As a result, Daw’ah literature is most probably completely separated administratively from the Media Diwan’s production and part of the documents produced by the sharia related “nexus” of administration (see The Calif and Legitimacy, Money, Wealth and Taxes and Means of Violence) .
Featured image: from the Islamic State infographic, “Media in the year 1436 AH”, An-Naba.