Deep Dive

In its propaganda blitz, Daesh is increasingly focusing on Africa

Over the past year, Daesh’s media activity in Iraq and Syria – where the ‘caliphate’ was founded – has been reduced in favor of its African provinces. Currently, some of Daesh’s most formidable ‘provinces’ are located in Africa, particularly ISWAP and ISCAP. The organization intensified its operations and expansion in Africa because it sees it as fertile ground to achieve its goal of military and state control. Meanwhile, the identification of all ‘enemies’ by official Daesh propaganda is echoed and amplified by unofficial propaganda from supporters and sympathizers. For the organization, the use of media is inseparable from operational and military strategy. The terror group has proved adept at leveraging media and propaganda to build sympathy, or instill fear and terror in its enemies, by attempting to show the strength of its various provinces.

Read time: 12 min.

Since its inception, Daesh has used extensive and widespread propaganda to increase recruitment and convey a consistent image of itself. For the terrorist organization, the media “war” is as important as the military one, if not more. Unlike other jihadist organizations, Daesh has invested heavily in quantitative and qualitative propaganda. Its propaganda has revolved around certain characteristics and media channels but is a little different now than in the past. 

In the early years of the ‘caliphate’, greater emphasis was placed on lengthy propaganda videos or nasheeds (vocal music), books, and magazines, often in different languages. Examples of these include productions from Al Hayat Media Center, Al Bayan radio, Al Himmah bookstore, Al Itisam, Ajnad Media and the magazines Dabiq, Rumiyah, Dar Al Islam, Al Qustantaniyah, and Istok, which addressed diverse themes. 

To date, while upholding this propaganda typology, the organization has developed different media methodologies. 

Daesh propaganda is disseminated on numerous (unofficial) websites and blogs and messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Hoop Messenger, Rocket Chat, TamTam and Element, among others. Daesh also relies on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to disseminate its ideology and lure potential recruits. 

In general, official Daesh propaganda can be divided into 5 different types of publishing material: Video; audio; magazines and newspapers; reports featuring photographs; and claims and statements.

In addition to official propaganda, disseminated directly by the organization’s central media, the group’s messaging is also carried out through unofficial media channels run by supporters and sympathizers (Daesh has often referred to them in its publications, encouraging them to continue). Unofficial channels not only disseminate, and thus give greater visibility to, official propaganda material but also carry out productions and publications of propaganda material of their own, often of a lesser quality, though. 

Finally, it is interesting to note that official propaganda is also adjusting to the need for using languages other than Arabic, and evidence of this comes from the latest video productions that have seen the use of Kurdish, Hausa and Swahili in some media productions alongside the use of Arabic, due to the need to spread the message more locally as well, leading to a regionalization of the message. 

Daesh currently operates and publishes propaganda across three media channels: Al Furqan Media Foundation; Al Naba newspaper; and Amaq News Agency. These outlets differ in the type of material they publish. 

Al Furqan Media Foundation is the most prestigious and important of Daesh’s media wings. It is currently responsible for disseminating the official audio of the organization’s central, albeit scattered, leadership. Its most recent release was in March 2022, in which the names of the organization’s new leader and spokesman were announced. It is also in charge of disseminating lengthy propaganda videos of a good production quality covering the organization’s various ‘wilayats’ or provinces. 

Al Naba newspaper is an Arabic weekly, now in its 355th issue, that reports on military activities of all wilayats. It is published every Thursday. It includes news, analysis, photos, infographics, religious content, and advertisements of other Daesh media productions. Consisting of about 12 pages, it regularly has infographics of the week’s operations and an editorial. Once out, it is translated in the following days by the unofficial media into more than 50 languages. 

Finally, there is Amaq News Agency, which reports on Daesh’s activities, publishing news briefs, photos, audio, video and claims. The Amaq News Agency is also in charge of disseminating reports featuring photographs from the different wilayats released by Daesh to showcase armed operations, oaths or renewals of allegiance (Baya’a) to the current ‘Caliph’, executions and punishments, prayer and spirituality, training and community support.  Parts of these reports featuring photographs are then included in the weekly Al Naba. 

All propaganda material produced by the different wilayats is sent to the central media and published by Daesh through its official channels with the logos or names of the different provinces. This is done both with photos and videos of claims, with the publication of photo reports disseminated under specific circumstances (for instance Ramadan, oaths) and finally with lengthy operational videos, such as the series ‘Makers of Epic Battles’, which was disseminated between 2021 and 2022). 

Unofficial propaganda related to Daesh holds special importance, both from the point of view of monitoring and analysis. When it comes to distribution, operating under the official central media agencies are other foundations or media channels that translate, broadcast and amplify the content. There are two types of unofficial propaganda: One that only includes translation of official material into other languages (such material has been disseminated over the years in more than 50 languages); and the other which, in addition to disseminating official material, includes additional production of magazines, posters, videos and other materials.

Many unofficial media outlets have emerged over the past two years. Those that have disseminated the most propaganda have been Halummu, which has been responsible for the English translation of all official material disseminated by Daesh media, Al Azaim Media Foundation of Daesh-Khorasan Province (Daesh-KP), which has been particularly notable for disseminating ‘Voice of Khorasan’, a detailed and qualitative English-language magazine (which has replaced and encompassed the magazine production of the Indian Daesh ‘province’ that published 26 issues of ‘Voice of Hind’) and the ‘Khorasan Ghag magazine’ (now in issue 8), and the Pakistani Daesh-PP province that publishes the Urdu-language magazine ‘Yalghar’ (now in its third issue). 

The importance of unofficial media was also recognized by the Daesh central organization in issue 288 of Al Naba, in which it encouraged supporters and sympathizers to continue their media operations. 

Also, there is no shortage of sites and channels dedicated to protecting and disseminating online safety guides for users, such as disseminating lengthy articles or magazines to provide advice on navigating online security protocols through the use of VPNs, and the use of specific apps to disseminate propaganda material without taking risks. 

Over the past year, Daesh’s media activity in Iraq and Syria – where the ‘caliphate’ was founded and which was the organization’s central geography since its inception – has been reduced in propaganda terms in favor of the African provinces. This was also evidenced in the official Daesh core – in Iraq and Syria – videos released in June, in which remnants of the core leadership in the Levant and Iraq praised the work of the African provinces, particularly the West African province (ISWAP) and the Central African province (ISCAP). 

Daesh attacks in Iraq and Syria have dropped significantly, particularly after the defeat of the organization there and the liberation of the lands it had seized. In the past, this type of strategy has always been a precursor to violent military escalations by the group. Daesh has chosen to decrease its operations and maintain a low profile so that it could carry out less regular but more impactful and ambitious operations in both Iraq and Syria. Examples include the Ghwayran prison assault in January in Syria, where Daesh operations had decreased significantly in the months leading up to the attack, or the last major campaign in Iraq, which came after Daesh’s activities had decreased significantly for six consecutive months.

An interesting aspect of the group’s tactics in Iraq and Syria, which can also be seen in the released videos, is to keep the enemy in a constant state of tension on the one hand and to convey a false sense of inaction on part of Daesh on the other. The idea is to induce the enemies to decrease pressure and vigilance. Daesh propaganda and operations in Iraq and Syria have been reformulated according to the new realities on the ground. In both countries, the propaganda continues to be published daily and draws on a wide range of technological resources that have seen a significant increase in quantity and quality. When it comes to disseminating propaganda, Iraq still remains a key province for Daesh. However, most of Daesh’s propaganda focuses on its African operations.

Some of Daesh’s most formidable ‘provinces’ are currently located in Africa, particularly ISWAP and ISCAP. The organization intensified its operations and expansion in Africa because it sees it as fertile ground to achieve its goal of military and state control. The African continent offers the right opportunities due to rampant corruption, religious and ethnic conflicts, high levels of poverty, poor governance, and minimal presence of foreign military forces. This allows Daesh to recruit, expand and effectively control territory. 

The importance of Africa to Daesh can also be measured from a propaganda perspective. Africa has been its main region of media expansion for the past two years, with several officially recognized and active provinces producing different types of propaganda, including both formal and informal material of varying quality. The official recognition of new provinces (Daesh-Sahel and Daesh-Mozambique) and the stabilization of existing ones (ISWAP and ISCAP) have increased the quantity and quality of the propaganda in the African provinces. 

Other provinces that are militarily very weak still manage to disseminate a fair amount of propaganda material (Daesh in Egypt, Libya and Somalia). The media in the West Africa Province (ISWAP) is mainly concerned with local operations, particularly against the Nigerian army and, in recent months, against its Boko Haram rivals. ISWAP is among the most active provinces in Daesh media, releasing official material, photographs and taking responsibility for attacks almost daily, with numerous short videos of military operations, lengthy high-quality propaganda videos (often using local languages), and many reports accompanied by photographs. 

In the past six months, a sharp increase in propaganda, linked to the growing number of military operations, has also occurred in the provinces in DR Congo (Central Africa Province-ISCAP) and Mozambique. The latter has seen a significant increase in propaganda since it was officially separated from ISCAP and became an autonomous province in terms of operations and also disseminating propaganda. ISCAP and Daesh-Mozambique propaganda is mainly focused on attacks against Christians. 

In its videos and reports over the past three months, Daesh has increasingly focused on Africa, especially Nigeria and ISWAP, but also Mozambique, DR Congo, and the Sahel. 

One of the organization’s most important media productions in recent months was the ISWAP video released by the official Al Furqan media on June 14, lasting about 40 minutes, titled ‘A book that guides and a sword that gives victory’. It was narrated in Hausa and had Arabic subtitles. It was aimed at a local audience, thus pointing out Daesh’s media effort to win ‘hearts and minds’ in Africa. The organization flaunted its ISWAP governance activities, with scenes of religious outreach by hisbah (Islamic public morals) teams, distribution of zakat (charity), preaching to civilians, interviews with commanders and entertainment for children. The key message conveyed by Daesh propaganda is that of full implementation of Shariah law and land management and control. The video demonstrated how ISWAP has become arguably the most important of all of Daesh’s global provinces.

Daesh’s African propaganda in recent months has emphasized the importance of the ‘Breaking the Walls’ campaign to free all the organization’s imprisoned militants. The video concluded with a call for Muslims around the world to perform hijrah (migration) to the African continent. The call was also renewed in issue 343 of Al Naba, in which Daesh declared the African continent “a key front”. 

The importance of Africa in Daesh’s current propaganda and operational strategy was also confirmed by two videos published in June by Amaq News Agency, both about five minutes long, from Syria and Iraq. These were titled ‘From the Land of Sham to the Lions of Africa’ and ‘From the Lands of Iraq to the Lions of Africa’. These videos showed Syrian and Iraqi jihadists praising their African ‘colleagues’, particularly those in ISWAP, for their recent ‘victories’ in the continent. In the video, moreover, Syrian and Iraqi fighters called on Muslims in general, and those in Africa in particular, to travel to the group’s provinces in Africa, especially Nigeria, to join them and fight. 

Propaganda about other African provinces is not as consistent as that for ISWAP, but still there have been numerous publications and videos in Al Naba and the Amaq News Agency in recent months. Detailed infographics for Sahel Province, Central Africa and Mozambique have been included in Al Naba. Mozambique province attacks and related propaganda on Amaq News Agency and in Al Naba have also increased significantly. 

Sahel Province, meanwhile, after a propaganda vacuum lasting several weeks, published numerous photos released by Amaq, referring to violent and extensive attacks conducted in the regions of Menaka in Mali and Tillaberi in Niger. The same was the case with ISCAP, which greatly increased propaganda, both videos and photos. Sinai Province, on the other hand, was featured several times in Al Naba and Amaq News Agency in 2022, as was the Somalia Province, whose claims of attacks conducted in Mogadishu were highlighted by both Amaq and Al Naba.

In its current propaganda, ideologically, Daesh focuses on its main enemies: The “crusading” West, Muslims who oppose it, particularly nationalist or democratic Arabs, and Shiites. In Al Naba and in a recent video, for example, when the organization was talking about the campaign against Christians conducted in Congo and Mozambique, it stated: “The war with Christians is a religious war, not an ethnic or tribal war; and they have only one of three options: Convert to Islam, pay the jizya or be killed.” (Jiziya is a tax paid by non-Muslims in a state governed by Islamic law).

In its propaganda, Daesh refers to Shiites as ‘Al Rafidah’ (the ‘rejectors’). Anti-Shiite rhetoric continues to proliferate through Daesh propaganda – having begun in Iraq by Daesh-core’s predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.  Shiites are often targeted in military terms, for example, in Iraq. Besides, civilians are routinely targeted, like currently in Afghanistan. Condemnations and accusations are a regular feature of Daesh propaganda, especially against Muslims considered apostates or spies. Its anti-Western propaganda always focuses on the oppression of the Ummah and deviance. 

The identification of all ‘enemies’ by official Daesh propaganda is echoed and amplified by unofficial propaganda from supporters and sympathizers. For the organization, the use of media is inseparable from operational and military strategy. The terror group has proved adept at leveraging media and propaganda to build sympathy, or instill fear and terror in its enemies, by attempting to show the strength of its various provinces. To that end, the organization often showcases its military hardware in photos and videos. It also publicizes its imposition of religious law and its military control to convey a message of strength. Daesh’s recent choice of generating propaganda in local languages is necessary to convey the depths of its message and increase recruitment and control.



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