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ISIS Taking its Last Breaths as Electronic Noose Tightens | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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French police near the Bataclan concert hall following the ISIS attack on November 14, 2015. (Reuters)

Riyadh – ISIS prospered since its formation through its superiority over other extremist groups in taking advantage of the internet to launch media campaigns to promote its messages and goals.

The campaigns were carried out in different languages and audio and visual means, media statements and direct communication with others. Those messages varied depending on who the target audience was. Some messages stoked some viewers’ sense of adventure, while others were lured through the group’s alleged religious goals.

The different means ensured that the largest number of people were recruited without having to meet them face to face. ISIS did not limit itself to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, but it reached chatrooms, the “Telegram” app and even resorted to encrypted messages.

ISIS was unique in its use of the so-called “electronic jihad”. It steered away from traditional methods and instead attracted different nationalities and identities and encouraged lone wolf who are sympathetic to its cause. The group played on the psychological weaknesses of those sympathizers, who have went on to carry out random assaults against civilians thereby ensuring ISIS’ success in remotely controlling attackers.

The group was successful in spreading its hate speech through audio and visual means and through advanced methods. It chose experts who were able to influence others and exploit psychological factors and justify the use of violence in the name of religion.

ISIS’ videos sought to showcase the group’s strength and ability to defeat its enemies while disregarding the reactions to its brutality. This has not stopped others from joining the group, whether to seek a thrill or in sympathy of its cause. ISIS had its own brand of violence and every recruit could achieve his barbaric dream without shying away from attacking Muslims or targeting some of the religion’s holiest sites, such as the Great Mosque of Mecca. After everyone who does not belong to the group was deemed an infidel, shedding their blood became acceptable.

ISIS’ Dying breath

Tightening the noose around ISIS has proven to be the beginning of its end, especially in wake of the International Coalition’s airstrikes against it in each of Syria and Iraq. This has led to fall of the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose death in a strike in Syria is yet to be completely confirmed by Russia. A large number of the terror organization’s leaders have also been killed, including Rayan Meshaal, one of the founders of the “Amaq” agency, the group’s official mouthpiece.

The successive development of these events indicates that ISIS is dying even if the group is not based on a pyramid structure of other terror organizations. The destruction of their strongholds has crippled them and led to a series of random attacks in Iraq, Syria, Brussels, Iran and Mecca.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared that ISIS’ destruction of the historic al-Hadba minaret of Mosul’s Grand al-Nuri Mosque is tantamount to the defeat of the group as this was the site where Baghdadi announced in 2014 the establishment of his so-called “caliphate”. The destruction of the minaret could be seen as the end of ISIS’ era of terror and a crippling of its ability to electronically recruit new members and to garner new supporters from different parts of the world.

Security precautions

In its beginning, ISIS was seen as the “superman” of terror groups. It was able to infiltrate Mosul and Raqqa, turning them into impenetrable strongholds that led to the eventual declaration of the “caliphate” that threatened neighboring countries. Experts were brought in to relentlessly recruit new members and garner sympathizers. These efforts have waned since the terrorists’ defeat in Mosul. They have since fled to Syria, where they will once again be targeted by the International Coalition.

Security precautions have been taken to reveal the identities of the extremists through their online activities. The extremists have been successfully traced and their locations have been pinpointed.

Defeat of the electronic dream

Encrypted messages had recently been sent by ISIS to its followers, warning them against using social media, which is a sign of how weak the group has become. It said that the use of social media will harm the organization, adding that the users “have forgotten that this media were originally created by the enemies of God and his Prophet.” It said that several terrorists have been killed and locations have been destroyed because of social media.

This demonstrates the concern that has shaken ISIS and it highlights its attempt to flee world authorities that are hunting it down. Orders to stop using the internet are not new however.

Similar orders were made when the group first seized Raqqa when it imposed a media blackout in order to hide the nature of practices in the Syrian city.

The current internet restriction however could be indefinite, especially since international capabilities have developed enough to uncover the identities and locations of online users. The group has limited its video recordings and the new ones are poor in quality compared to the ones it issued when it first rose to prominence. This could also be a sign of weak resources.

The new videos are also seen as a desperate attempt by the group to continue its message. In the beginning, the terrorists used their messages to bring in new recruits, but now, they seek to prove their longevity against mounting adversity. The social media blackout however is a sign that the organization is headed to the abyss because this defense tactic contradicts with one of its original strengths of being able to infiltrate the virtual world.