Radical Islam is becoming increasingly opportunistic in seeking influence in various domestic affairs across the globe. This is evident in a variety of activities including protests and the recent upheavals in the Arab world.
In the August / September issue of Australian Security Magazine we looked at the similarities between radical Islamists and other groups involved in protesting events, such as CHOGM that occurred in Perth in October 2011. We looked at how the similarities in ideologies between radical Islam, and for example, anarchist groups that sit to the far left of the political spectrum and could lead to homegrown terrorist actors being indoctrinated, recruited and trained to carry out attacks.
These findings were based on various groups and individual activities in the social media spectrum, mostly in protest groups. As discussed previously we found that radical Islamists are seeking to influence protest activity as well as indoctrinate and recruit ‘homegrown’ actors, sometimes posing as Westerners within these social media groups. This tactic is not only an Australian phenomena but rather a global tactic that radical Islamists are utilising to further their cause and their influence. Our observations see it stretch from Australia, to the UK, the US and to a number of countries in the Middle East.
This article will follow on from the last; however it will expand on other findings based on further information we have gathered. It will also draw on the findings and reports of other intelligence companies and various reports to demonstrate that what was found is not an isolated event, but rather a tactic being employed that has a global reach.
In May 2011, the Arab Spring was in full swing in Tunisia. During this time we had collected intelligence from a radical Islamic group that was involved in the uprising in Tunisia. This group affiliated themselves with Al Qaeda, with members profile pictures taking the form of jihadist flags, pictures of Osama bin Laden and various other images that are symbolically relevant to the jihadist ideology.
In a number of online conversations the name Sheikh Al- Khatib is mentioned as supporting ‘the cause’. Based on our research and intelligence Sheikh Al-Khatib is likely the leader of the Salafi jihadist movement in Tunisia. He has issued extreme fatwas in the past. A number of other Sheikh’s were mentioned in the chatter as meeting with group members and supporting the cause as well. This demonstrates that jihadists were seeking to influence the uprising in Tunisia and being supported from a high level within their movement, with a view to likely gaining a foothold in running the country.
In August 2011 we saw the UK riots take place which caused a great deal of destruction to property and injury, and even death to citizens across the wider London area.
During the UK riots jihadist chatter was picked up by intelligence analysts; this chatter was in relation to jihadists seeking to incite more violence during the UK riots. Again, this demonstrates that jihadists were and may well have succeeded in influencing at least some of the rioting that took place.
More recently we found the same types of activity by radical Islamists during the planning of the US Day of Rage that was scheduled for September 17th 2011. While it certainly did not take root and there were none of the violent clashes that took place during the UK riots, none the less the same types of people were there seeking to influence proceedings. Those aiming to influence the US Day of Rage followed a similar pattern as the group and individuals we found to be trying to influence groups for CHOGM. Most were looking to promote violent confrontation, while some were spreading low level jihadist propaganda.
A final example is the 3rd Intifada against Israel earlier this year. Radical Islamic groups were particularly active in promoting and influencing this event. Not only were they encouraging the mass protests against Israel, but were also using the Intifada network on social media to disseminate and spread jihad propaganda and discourse. There were many links to quite radical material throughout this network. Essentially, it was seen as a perfect opportunity to gain influence.
It must be mentioned again at this stage that this is all transpiring in the social media spectrum. These social media platforms make it incredibly easy to spread propaganda and seek to influence people, including homegrown terrorists. One only needs to look at The Arab Spring and how that was, in large part organised via social media. If you know where and how to look for it; these social media platforms are a valuable source of actionable intelligence.
With Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continually calling for recruitment of Westerners to carry out attacks and the utilisation of the internet to do so, they are an important group to monitor in relation to these types of activities. Further, at the time of writing this AQAP has just released its next edition of Inspire Magazine. The cover depicts The Twin Towers; however they are constructed out of characters. One is constructed out of dollar signs and the other out of zeros and ones. The zeros and ones are a curious choice as that is binary. Given the focus on the internet and IT one may wonder if this is a signal or sign of sorts to AQAP’s followers. AQAP are a highly media savvy organisation, they have continually demonstrated this and will likely continue to hone their skills.
Overall, radical Islam is seeking a broad influence in as many domestic affairs as possible across the globe, both in the Arab world and the West. They are becoming increasing networked with a variety of causes as well as becoming more focused and skilled in their use of internet and social media.