Islamic State Propaganda and Attacks: How Are They Connected?

What is the relationship between the words and deeds of a terrorist group? Despite frequent speculation in media and policy circles, few studies have tested this relationship. This study aims to verify a potential correlation between the volume of propaganda produced by Islamic State (IS)—including statements by the group’s leadership—and the number of attacks carried out in its name. We examine this issue by comparing two datasets: one of all official propaganda produced by the Islamic State in 2016, and another of the completed, failed, and disrupted plots carried out by the group and its supporters in Europe in the same year. We find no strong and predictable correlation between the volume of propaganda Islamic State produces and the number of attacks the group and its supporters carry out. There is no regular rise in IS propaganda output before or after its attacks. In particular, there is no regular rise in attacks after leadership statements. However, the results may have identified differences in how IS central and regional media offices respond to attacks. The findings suggest that rather than merely looking at the volume of IS propaganda, it is necessary to also examine its content. As such, the deliberately broad premise of this study is intended as the first in a series of papers examining the potential relationship between IS propaganda and IS attacks.

Tags: Islamic State, Propaganda