Daesh retreats online to ‘virtual caliphate’
Daesh retreats online to ‘virtual caliphate’
Back in 2015, when the jihadists held territory the size of Italy, they also commanded a huge digital presence, flooding the web with slick propaganda lionizing their fighters and romanticizing life under their rule.
Today, with many of the top Daesh leaders either dead or on the run, what remains of the group’s once-sophisticated propaganda machine is also a shadow of its former self.
Their media centers destroyed, remaining propagandists find themselves struggling to maintain an Internet connection while battling surveillance from international intelligence services.
The group is less and less vocal on the web, largely leaving supporters whom it cannot control to speak in its name.
“It’s almost as if someone has pressed the mute button on the Islamic State,” said Charlie Winter, a researcher at King’s College London who has been studying Daesh communications for years. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Between November 8 and 9 the group even went completely silent for a full 24 hours in what Winter said was an “unprecedented” break from social media.
In 2015, when Daesh was ruling over roughly seven million people in Iraq and Syria, its propagandists produced “content from 38 different media offices from West Africa to Afghanistan,” Winter said.
But by December, more than three quarters of these outlets had been “almost totally silenced,” he added.
Albert Ford, a researcher at US think-tank New America who has studied the exodus of foreign fighters to join Daesh, also said the group’s media output was “falling off considerably.”
“Fewer places to get information, fewer ways to upload it,” he said.
LOST 'GOLDEN AGE'
Back in March as Iraqi forces were ousting Daesh from their long-held bastion Mosul, an AFP journalist was able to pick through the wreckage of what was once a jihadist media center.
Between the burnt walls of the villa in an upscale part of the city were the remains of computers, printers and broadcasting equipment.
In the months before and since, the US-led military coalition fighting Daesh has repeatedly announced the deaths of senior jihadist communications officers, usually in air strikes.
Among them was the top strategist and spokesman Abu Mohamed Al-Adnani, killed in a US strike in northern Syria in August 2016.
These days Daesh propagandists mostly use the web to encourage supporters to launch attacks on their own initiative, with the much-weakened group unable to play a direct hand in organizing them.
These calls are often issued via the “deep web,” a heavily encrypted part of the Internet which is almost impossible to regulate, or the Telegram app.
Winter said he had seen a trend emerging of posts seeking to cultivate a sense of nostalgia among supporters for the height of the group’s power.
By portraying events three years ago a “golden age” stolen by “the enemies of Islam,” Daesh is hoping to convince new recruits that such times could come again if they join the cause, Winter said.
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism specialist at Georgetown University in Washington, said the principal danger of Daesh now lies in what he calls “enabled attackers.”
A jihadist recruit such as this would have “no previous ties to terrorist organizations,” Hoffman said.
“But he is furnished very specific targeting instructions and intelligence in order to better facilitate and ensure the success of his attack.”
Such wannabe jihadists need look no further than the Internet for abundant advice that has been available online for years — and will merely pop up again after any attempt to remove it.
Japan halts missile drills after Trump-Kim summit
TOKYO: Japan has halted evacuation drills simulating a North Korean missile attack in the wake of historic talks between Washington and Pyongyang, local media reported Thursday.
Government officials did not immediately confirm the reports, but authorities in one town said they were suspending a drill planned for next week on orders from Tokyo.
The decision comes after US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un met last week in Singapore, with the pair signing a joint document calling for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Yaita in Tochigi prefecture north of Tokyo had been planning an evacuation drill for next week involving some 800 residents including 350 school children, city official Yutaka Yanagida said.
But the city suddenly canceled all preparations late Wednesday after being instructed by the government that “drills should be postponed for the time being following a change in the environment after the US-North Korea summit,” he said.
Contacted by AFP, a Cabinet Office official said the government would announce its policy on evacuation drills on Friday, declining to comment further.
Last year, Pyongyang fired two missiles over Japan and it has splashed others into the sea near the country, sparking a mix of panic and outrage.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Tokyo residents scrambled for cover in the Japanese capital’s first evacuation drill for a military attack by Pyongyang.
North Korea has singled out Japan, a key US ally in the region, for verbal attacks, threatening to “sink” the country into the sea and to turn it into “ashes.”
But the regional mood has turned toward diplomacy since the Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea, which set off a series of diplomatic moves culminating in the Trump-Kim meet.