The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the former Al-Qaeda affiliate that has seized over one-third of Iraq, is open about its desire to establish a new caliphate with Baghdad as its capital. ISIS supporters are distributing propaganda on social media indicating its next targets towards that goal are Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The image (above) shows territory in Iraq and Syria currently held by ISIS with arrows indicating future expansion into Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, there are no arrows pointing into the Shiite-majority southern Iraq:
ISIS supporters are also spreading a graphic that purportedly shows its five-year plan to reestablish a caliphate that stretches from western Africa to Indonesia, conquering Israel, Iran and India. It was first spotted by NBC News foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin. The picture lacks the professionalism of other ISIS-issued propaganda, perhaps indicating it reflects the aspiration of a supporter than a plan drawn up by the ISIS leadership.
ISIS and its supporters have proven to be masters of social media. Much of its online propaganda is in English and involves sarcasm and dark humor. One pro-ISIS account retweeted a joke about the national bird of Yemen and Pakistan being the drone. Supporters in Indonesia are also selling pro-ISIS clothing online. The group’s social media strength is so great that the Iraqi government is blocking Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google.
Clarion Project national security analyst Ryan Mauro appeared on Fox & Friends on June 22 (see clip below) to discuss the use of ISIS by social media through Photoshop, a Twitter application for Android cell phones and well-produced videos.
One online meme mocks the notion that the U.S. will provide meaningful military assistance to the Iraqi government.
Another mocks First Lady Michelle Obama’s photo of herself holding a sign that stated, #BringBackOurGirls. Obama’s action sparked a viral campaign bringing awareness to the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by the Boko Haram terrorist group. The ISIS supporters changed it to glorify their seizure of American vehicles from the Iraqi security forces.
Another meme mocks the radical Shiite militiamen of Moqtada al-Sadr, an Iranian-backed cleric who has vowed to defend
Baghdad and other Shiite cities from ISIS. It was inspired by an image of a Sadrist fighter wearing a yellowish Ghillie suit during a public rally.
ISIS even distributed its own Twitter application for the Google Android cell phone named “The Dawn of Glad Tidings” launched in April. Google recently deleted it. Users were required to input personal data and then their accounts would be updated by ISIS. This permitted ISIS to instantly make propaganda go viral and to dominate popular hashtags like those related to the World Cup. The power of the tool was evident when ISIS began attacking Mosul in northern Iraq and 40,000 tweets were published in one day.
There are also many professionally made videos by ISIS, including one that featured three English speakers, at least two of which claimed to be from the United Kingdom. An expert involved with the intelligence community that monitors extremist social media said that ISIS is making a strong push to reach Americans.
ISIS does not claim to have recruited any Americans yet, but up to 15 Somali-Americas in the Minnesota area have disappeared and are thought to have joined ISIS. About 100 Americans have gone to Syria.
The only firm case of an American arranging to join ISIS is that of Nicholas Michael Teausant of Acampo, California. He is a white convert to radical Islam that originally aspired to carry out a terrorist attack inside the U.S., but instead decided to fight in Syria. He was arrested before he could make the trip to join ISIS.
According to the criminal complaint against him, Teausant expressed his desire to see the “downfall” of America and join “Allah’s army” on Instagram. He also asked for advice on how to find an online handbook that would prepare him for violence. He was also active on Ask.fm, a forum where users have the option of asking questions anonymously.
If ISIS’s propaganda is any indication, Jordan and Saudi Arabia should prepare for an assault after ISIS finishes consolidating its hold over the Sunni areas of Iraq. Social media will be an integral part of that assault.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.