Crouching shahid, hidden jihad: mapping the online propaganda campaign of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham-affiliated Ebaa News Agency

The primary objective of this paper is to map the online presence of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s (HTS) media branch – Ebaa News Agency (ENA) – on the surface web. It also measures three years of propaganda output of the group and its viewership, as well as outlines the thematic landscape of its productions based on the content analysis of a sample. It argues that Ebaa’s messaging pattern constitutes a peculiar mixture of opposing priorities. It paid a great deal of attention to portraying itself as an independent news agency that has nothing to do with violent terrorist organizations (VEOs). In effect, its productions are easily available on the surface web. A closer look, however, proves that since 2017 ENA has been dedicated to supporting HTS’s radical Islamist agenda. This paper provides evidence of this. Moreover, Ebaa adopted a two-vector distribution strategy of its productions, composed of standalone websites and Telegram channels. In this context, the output of this media cell appears to be quite impressive. Between 2017 and 2020, it was capable of releasing more than 13,000 pieces of propaganda on its websites. At the same time, however, their viewership was lower than initially expected.

Tags: Ebaa News Agency, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, iba, jihad, Open source intelligence, Propaganda