17 Jun 2014

#Jihad: how Isis is using social media to win support

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) is not just battling its way into the cities of Iraq it is also fighting for global support and action via a major social media campaign.

A sophisticated social media campaign, backed up by slick videos, is being used to call for support from abroad.

The (training) camps and houses of the mujahedeen are open for every Muslim and Baghdad is the battlefield of every Muslim. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

At the centre of this campaign is a new video released by Isis, the extremist group which has taken control of cities across northern Iraq including Mosul and Tikrit, featuring what is said to be the voice of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In the video, which was posted yesterday and has had 30,000 views so far, al-Baghdadi calls for “Sunni youths” to join the Isis jihad.

“I appeal to the youths and men of Islam around the globe and invoke them to mobilise and join us to consolidate the pillar of the state of Islam and wage jihad against the rafidhas (Shia), the safadis of Shi’ites,” al-Baghdadi says.

“The (training) camps and houses of the mujaheddin are open for every Muslim and Baghdad is the battlefield of every Muslim against the safadis (Shia). So come on, youths of Islam.”

He goes on to say: “Be prepared in arms and keep your finger on the trigger and be ready for the zero moment for the decisive battle which is now upon us.”

One billion campaign

Supporting this video are a host of other videos, in different languages, calling for support from abroad.

The “one billion campaign” calls for Muslims across the world to show their support for the Isis cause, especially on Friday, and even to come and join it.

“Proudly support the Muslim cause”, the videos say, and “fully support Isis”.

Above: a French-language Isis video appealing for support.

A number of Muslims speaking different languages appear in the videos, showing the campaign is targeting people in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and France appealing for people to protest on Friday in support of Isis, or to travel to Iraq to fight.

Men in the video call to “young men and Muslims in various parts of the world”. The videos were posted on Tuesday and by 4pm had received 3,500 views.

‘Rush to the battlefield’

And it is not just French and Arabic languages that are being used to recruit support for the Isis campaign – videos are appearing with English translations as well.

A slick video produced by AlHayat Media Centre includes translation of an Isis song, Let’s Go For Jihad, which calls for people to “rush to the battlefield”, “claim your victory” and “slaughter until the day of judgement”.

The gritty footage, heavy with explosions, gunfire and slow motion effects, looks as though it could have been lifted from a video game – another sign, perhaps, of the young target audience.

It echoes, as well, the words of a British Isis fighter, Abu Summayyah al-Britani, in a podcast published earlier this week in which he said fighting in Syria was better than playing Call of Duty.

Stills from the English subtitled video are below – some may find the images distressing.

The social media campaign indicates a shift in the approach of Isis – previously an insular group – to one that is actively recruiting from across the world.

The sophistication of the campaign is also seen in its promotion of an official Isis twitter application – free to download – which keeps the user updated on the latest news from jihad.

The app, The Dawn of Glad Tidings (pictured, below), is promoted by major Isis accounts such as @Minbar_s and @mghol1122.

Dawn of Glad Tidings app

And it is through a range of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube accounts that Isis members are keeping followers around the world updated on the battle for Iraq.

Pictures of prisoners being executed, fighters in military vehicles and commanders strategizing proliferate online, boosted by accounts such as @alfurqan2013 and @hashtag_isis which command thousands of followers.

How successful this social media campaign has been may be seen on Friday in the numbers of people who respond to the call for global support.

Research by Kamal Kaddourah, supported by David Doyle.