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Friday, April 10, 2015

ISIS Strategy, AQ Fractures, Twitter Suspensions, INTELWIRE Weekly Brief 04/10/2015

In an uncharacteristically forthcoming manner, Twitter revealed it had suspended 10,000 ISIS-linked accounts in one day, April 2.

This is consistent with the number of suspensions I tracked during that period, which totaled about 8,000 by the time I finished analyzing them on April 4. As Twitter points out, correctly, outside estimates are almost guaranteed to lag the actual number, since analysts (myself included) don't have access to the company's full data.

As a result, many analysts and activists underestimate the scope of Twitter's suspension program and overestimate the quality or completeness of their assessments thereof.

ISIS has also been fighting back with a renewed vigor, although it takes some days to regenerate what Twitter cost them in a single day. The suspension battle has its ups and downs, a process that was visible in the ISIS Twitter Census.

A couple of interesting items emerged during this process:

  1. ISIS has been creating accounts at an increased pace to counter the suspensions, but not fast enough to keep up with suspensions in real time. At least 2,000 accounts were created as Twitter was suspending 10,000.
  2. ISIS supporters estimated the number of suspensions extremely accurately. That means the accounts targeted were almost certainly the mujtahidun and that those accounts are being tracked programmatically. (The mujtahidun are discussed in detail in my new book, ISIS: The State of Terror, with Jessica Stern.) Given the 10,000 figure, it is likely that each mujtahidun user is maintaining multiple accounts, and other evidence supported this.
  3. A group of about 12,000 ISIS-supporting users has remained largely undetected, with around 10,000 accounts that have escaped suspension for some months.
  4. ISIS supporters are using an as-yet undetermined method (likely an app but there are other possibilities) to automatically follow certain accounts very quickly in specified numbers (more for high-profile accounts, fewer for key disseminators trying to fly beneath the radar while still getting the job done). An app produced under the name "Cheap Juice" was able to follow accounts for anyone who signed up, but was shut down during the same early April period.
  5. Based on the New York Times story and anecdotal observations, the Anonymous-driven campaign to report ISIS accounts is almost certainly behind the large volume of suspensions. Twitter has changed its responsiveness to reporting, but according to the Times, it still relies primarily on reporting. This point to an issue I raised last week in a tweet: The primary trick to beating ISIS on Twitter is to not get bored with fighting them. If the reporting pressure recedes, the number of suspensions will recede, and ISIS will rebound until there is a new incentive to report its accounts. 

An updated chart tracking the competition between al Qaeda and ISIS. Click here for more.

-- J.M. Berger 


The Middle East’s Franz Ferdinand Moment
For Foreign Policy, an examination of the ISIS strategy for external operations: Hit targets where unrelated tensions carry the potential to spark follow-on violence. With the Sanaa mosque bombing of March 20, ISIS may have outperformed its own expectations, setting off a chain of events leading to a wider regional war. This story also looks at the state of ISIS's command-and-control potential.


The Rise and Decline of Ansar al Sharia Libya
By Aaron Zelin. Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL) has continued its work of facilitating a future Islamic state since the spectacular attack on the American consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.As a result of leadership deaths and the growth of the Islamic State in Libya, there are many outstanding questions for ASL.

Responding to Cyber Jihad: Towards an Effective Counter Narrative
In this research paper, ICCT Research Fellow Dr. Bibi van Ginkel analyses the role of the internet and social media in processes of radicalization.

The Western Muhajirat of ISIS
An unprecedented number of Western women have recently joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The group has envisaged strictly non-combat roles for them, but violence is an essential part of their embraced ideology and several signs suggest that they could claim a more militant role.


How ISIS attracts Westerners
By ISIS: The State of Terror co-author Jessica Stern. As Congress considers President Obama’s request for authorization of military force in the war against ISIS, it needs to understand that fighting ISIS in its home territory is only part of the battle: Many of ISIS’s recruits are foreign fighters, willing to kill and die for ISIS’s cause. Some 22,000 foreign fighters from about 100 countries have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, which have become a “veritable international finishing school for extremists,” according to a report submitted to the United Nations Security Council.

One year later, ISIS overtakes al Qaeda: What’s next?
By Clint Watts. A year ago, the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) was on the rise but few expected them to travel such a rapid trajectory to the top of the global jihadi community. Through audacity, violence against Assad, Shia, the West, and slick social media packaging, ISIS now dominates al Qaeda on the global jihadi scene. Foreign fighters have flocked to ISIS ranks and when unable to travel, have sworn allegiance to ISIS (bayat) in groups across North Africa to Southeast Asia.

The Slow-Motion Push To Drive ISIS From Anbar
While the Iraqi army has had their eyes on capturing Mosul, militia leaders in Anbar grind away against an entrenched ISIS.

Iraq's army and Kurds will join forces to retake Mosul
At a joint press conference with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani on Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the Iraqi army would work together with the peshmerga to oust the Islamic State from Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.

The Revealing Naïveté of One ISIS Recruit in Libya
The ignorance behind the indoctrination suggests an organization that is making up facts as it goes along.

Madison man who allegedly wanted to join Islamic State group arrested at O'Hare
A Madison man intent on joining the Islamic State group in Syria made it as far as Turkey before he was detained by Turkish authorities in October, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Palestinians Agree to Work With Assad to Oust ISIS From Refugee Camp
An agreement has been reached between the Syrian government and Palestinian factions to cooperate in a joint military operation to remove ISIS from the Yarmouk refugee camp in south Damascus,


Tensions Between Iran and Saudi Arabia Deepen Over Conflict in Yemen
Iranian leaders lashed out Thursday with rare vehemence against the continuing Saudi air campaign in Yemen, even hurling personal insults at the young Saudi prince who is leading the fight.

Cuba may lose 'sponsor of terrorism' designation
President Obama said Thursday that his State Department had finished a review of whether to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, potentially the first step in formally changing U.S. policy toward the island nation at a time of warming diplomatic relations.

Kenya attack: Accounts suspected of funding terrorism frozen after massacre
Kenya froze dozens of accounts linked to suspected terror supporters after militants massacred 147 people last week at a university in Garissa.

Neo-Nazi's plot to win over small villages in Germany through settlers
Neo-Nazis who refer to themselves as “Nationalist settlers” are reportedly occupying small villages that they believe will be susceptible to their influence in Eastern Germany.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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