Online Jihad: Data Science

Online Jihad has been monitoring online communities since the 2007 release of Asrar al-Mujahidin, intended to facilitate secure communication with Islamic State Iraq amongst other jihadist groups. Over the intervening period the volume of content and platforms used to disseminate content has expanded rapidly. Marking this, Online Jihad will have a new series of posts focusing on Data Science approaches to tracking the Jihadist movement.


The ability of al-Qa’ida (AQ), and subsequently ISIS, to propagate their theology and demonstrate their particular methodology via modern communication technology has proven to be one of the most resilient elements and greatest area of innovation. Supporters even share (and mock) content intended to be part of the ‘counternarrative’ effort. For example, the tweet (below) from @DOTArabic was shared by a range of Jihadist Telegram channels.  The tweet shares the link to an article about  ‘Terrorist rehab‘ (  المركز السوريّ لمحاربة الفكر المتطرّف ) opening in Northern Aleppo.


The sharing of this type of content demonstrates an awareness of the influence operations against ISIS, which is also demonstrated by the Ansar al-Khilafah Publication – The Media War Upon The Islamic State: The Media Techniques of Misleading the Masses that lists different techniques which have been observed being used against ISIS. The techniques are grouped into Media Deviation, Propaganda and Psychological Warfare. These are the ‘three foundations’ through which “to make people stand with them or to turn away from al-Mujahedeen”.

The study of western tactics is particularly clear in two of the techniques identified in the Media War document.

‘Doubt Upon The Strength Of al-Mujahedeen’

The Media War Upon The Islamic State claims:

They will use words such as “so-called” or “alleged” or “apparently”. For example, they will say the “so-called fighters” or “so-called leader al-Adnani” and so forth, as if to give the impression that they do not really exist or that they are insignificant. They imply that there is something suspicious or false about the sources of al-Mujahedeen or any news of their successes or strengths.

‘Media Blackout’

Attempting to control the information available about the struggle with AQ and ISIS has been a common tactic across many theaters including the battle with the insurgency in Iraq and the current fighting against ISIS.

The Media War Upon The Islamic State claims:

“Sometimes [the Western coalition] do not want to admit casualties, and that is why you find many cases of several operations by al-Mujahedeen and news of this coming out of the battlefield or even their videos and evidence of it, yet you do not find any news about it in the mainstream media, as if it never happened.”

Reducing the level of AQ and ISIS content by removing content and suspending accounts has been a focal point of western policy, highlighted by many politicians and the heads of security services including GCHQ.

The Media War Upon The Islamic State, highlights “The mass twitter suspension is the perfect example” of the attempt to Blackout ISIS media. In addition, the ‘Global Coalition’ through official accounts such as the UK Against Daesh twitter account has taken a second angle, attempting to dissuade users and journalists from reporting or sharing Amaq content.


The AQ and ISIS strategists have long studied western tactics and understood how they would be leveraged against their movement. This contrasts with the confused interpretations for the Resilience and Appeal of “Islamic State” Electronic Propaganda often presented to western policymakers. Given the level of innovation, policy makers in the West are struggling to find a way to cope with the massive quantity and often times high quality productions issued by groups such IS who continue to draw in new recruits from western societies each month.

ansar 1000 tweets are 1000 arrows

Understanding how the internet is used to distribute content and build the networks of influence, which underpin the most resilient elements of the Jihadist movement, is vital. Unfortunately, while there has been no let-up in the quantity of analysis being published about ISIS media activities, there have been limitations in the quality of that analysis which has undermined the understanding of the Jihadist movement.


Online Jihad: Data Science

Lacking a nuanced understanding of the movement, both “counter-narratives” and takedowns have become trapped in a tactical paradigm. Once derided as a ‘straw man argument’, the need to understand how ISIS networks of influence operate at a strategic level is now evident to almost all; unfortunately in the meantime the tactical understanding of the movement has meant the U.S. and its Western allies have been drawn into open warfare online, on a battlefield chosen by their jihadist adversaries. As predicted in 2014, it is jihadist groups who have thrived in the chaos that resulted.

In 2017, highlighted in an earlier blog post:

… with the partial loss of territory and the de-population of Sunni urban centers in Syria and Iraq as a consequence, IS has withdrawn to the countryside, to continue the fight – and to maintain and upkeep their greatest weapon: media work as a means of long-term influence and resistance.

The study of the Jihadist movement has tried to understand it in terms of street criminals, gangsters, individuals obsessed with computer games (particularly first person shooters), and a desire to go from zero-to-hero. As shown in an earlier post;

these interpretations often lack any attempt to address the theological aspects of the movement … and prominence of scholars within the Jihadist movement’s overall interpretation of theological concepts, including an Islamic State model of governance.

Interpreting the work of the media mujahidin as marketing or in terms of their ‘brand’, fails to comprehend the role of their work within the movement – just as focusing on infographics and thinking in 140 characters leads to misunderstanding of the breadth and purpose of da’wah. Similarly using Hollywood as a frame of reference, rather than deep-rooted research on Islamic theology; and narrowly defined ‘official’ images rather than the true breadth of Arabic sources may sound good for 15 seconds, but it frequently underestimates the scale of content production and lacks the depth required to understand the purpose or strategy of the movement.

Focusing on social media, images, infographics and videos as ways of branding the jihadist movement, confuses the purpose of Jihad and da’wah;

“Jihad is Da’wah with a force, and is obligatory to perform with all available capabilities, until there remains only Muslims or people who submit to Islam.”[i]

Future posts in the Data Science stream on Online Jihad will focus on two themes,

  1. Applying Data Science methodology to monitor and understand Jihadist online communities,
  2. Highlighting where many of the current approaches to analysis of the jihadist movement lack nuance, use inappropriate methodology and at times fail to produce an authentic understanding of movement nor its strategy.


[i] Hashiyat ash-Shouruni and Ibn al-Qasim in Tahfa al-Mahtaj ‘ala al-Minhaj 9/213

Quoted by Abdullah Azzam, Defence of the Muslim Lands, (English translation work done jihadist media)

IAI and the Islamic State Iraq

There is a gap between the IAI and “al-Qaida”.

First, let us take a look into one of the english speaking forum, where “the base” posted the following:

Assalamu alikum,

Today on Al-Jazeera TV, there was a short interview with Dr. Ibrahim Ash-Shummari, the spokeman of the Islamic Army in Iraq.

I’ve never ever expected him to be so rude like this.

He assurred that the Islamic State committed crimes against Muslims, and he called Sheikh Abu Umar to repent and openly apologize to Muslims.

He said he had evidences and witnesses that the Islamic State (he calls it Al-Qaeda, never testified the existance of an Islamic state) soldiers killed Muslims and were criminals.

And one of the most rude part in his speech on Al-Jazeera, he replied back to what Sheikh Abu Umar said when he called the soldiers of the Islamic Army “My sons”. He replied: “And the Islamic Army soldiers are not sons of anyone”!!!!!! Is this a man who fears Allah??

It is so obvious that the Islamic Army in Iraq is a part of a very big intrigue against the Islamic State.

La Hawla wa la qowatta illa billah.


And now lets turn to a arabic speaking forum, where a 2 page WORD document was upped several days ago – the alnusra admin made a statement that no further statements or posts of any kind by the islamic army in iraq will be possible as the IAI has denounced that the Islamic State Iraq simply is the al-Qa’ida organization in Iraq – therefore the alnusra jihad network has ceased to cooperate with the IAI and forbids the IAI to further use the alnusra network to make their claims, announcements and statements of any kind.

IAI: What is to do when you are put in Prison ?

The Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) released a new edition today of one of their magazines (al-Fursan). In this 40 paged magazine there is a wide variety of topics, such as the “objectives for the new year”, “what is the victory [for], if one doesn’t serve God?” or “the scent of the shuhada.”

Description and assignment to the beginnings of the war in Islam

As usual, magazines as such, are to serve practical purposes besides the “religious” and “political” chit-chat.

What to do, when one is thrown into prison – a personal report from Iraq. “It [being imprisoned] is inevitable for the temptation and the trial” on which the mujahidin tread – a often used jihadi-rhetoric following the belief that one is fighting for the cause of God and as such every test and every temptation is an experiment, which the faithful must withstand; “just like the bloddshed in the streets.” “This recent experiment goes by in the prisons, and always one with oneself in this regard – there I wasn’t in a big shock (except that I was seperated from my wife and children and that there were news from them… the devil let’s you rott in these regards). My house was raided (11 men and one women where inside).” The Author goes with some details of his arrest. “There is no doubt, that the situation is difficult in the first days [in prison]… this is something new for you.”

“My Brother, you must know that Yusuf was imprisoned… Imam as-Sunna, Ahmad b. Hanbal was imprisoned… Sheikh al-Islam, Ibn Taymiyya, was imprisoned – so who are you, even if you are angry with what God has decided, who has decreed over you, before he had created the world (…) you must know, that you will not exit [the prison] until God wants you to.” The author goes in narrating from his perspective how God has made him firm, even when “they took me to confess, I prayed to God that he would make me strong.”

Recently there has been a number of online sources dealing with “our imprisoned brothers”, a couple of months ago a video surfaced in the radical-islamic forums how the Israeli Defense Force arrested a number of administrators in Gaza. Imprisonment has always been a very important issue in the jihad literature, arabic reports from the shuhada’ in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Hurks provided some insight, but a significant document ist the memorandum issued by Sawt al-Jihad after the arrest of one of al-Qa’ida’s chef ideologes Salman Faris az-Zahrani (a.k.a. Abu Jandal) where the exact same rethoric is used.

Lee’s Life for Lies

Lee’s Life for Lies

Lee’s Life for lies – damit wollen die Dschihadis uns zeigen, dass er quasi “einer von uns” war, der sein Leben für ein Gerüst aus Lügen geopfert hat. Das Video ist eine bemerkenswerte Ausnahme der Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI), beinhaltet es keinerlei religiösen Elemente. Die Dschihadis bedauern nahezu den Tod dieses jungen U.S. Soldaten – er war ein ausgesprochener Gegner des Irak-Krieges.

Nachdem er einer Roadsidebomb zum Opfer gefallen war, wurde an seiner Leiche ein USB Stick gefunden, den die IAI verarbeitet hat. Die IAI zeigt auf, dass sie einen Krieg gegen Dick Cheney’s und George Bush’s Amerika führen, aber nicht das amerikanische Volk zum Ziel erklärt haben. Der Film besteht z.T. aus Videoclips die von Lee stammen. Als seine Einheit einen Halliburton Konvoy beschützen soll, kommen kritische Fragen dieses jungen Amerikaners, die die Dschihadis aus einem Word Dokumente angeben zu zitieren. Dieses Word Dokument war ein Brief an seine Familie – darin kritisiert Lee die Bush Administration und zweifelt seine Einsätze für Halliburton an.

Film und dazugehörige Homepage finden sich auf: