Mapping the online presence and activities of the Islamic State’s unofficial propaganda cell: Ahlut-Tawhid Publications

This paper, which takes the form of a case study, aims to contribute to the debate on activities of the Islamic State’s unofficial media bureaus. Based on tools of open source intelligence, as well as a limited content analysis, it maps the online presence and activities of Ahlut-Tawhid Publications (AHP). Its means of distributing pro-Daesh content in the surface web as well as its general impact are discussed. It also deliberates on the interconnectedness of AHP with other online propaganda cells supporting the self-proclaimed “Caliphate.” This paper argues that this group was part of the ongoing online campaign of the Islamic State in the World Wide Web in 2018 and 2019. It maintained quite an impressive and long-lasting online presence, combining the potential of the most popular microblogs, hosting services and social media with the flexibility of standalone websites. In contrast to the most recognized propaganda cells of Daesh, such as al-Hayat Media Centre or Amaq News Agency whose productions have been quickly detected and removed from the mainstream webpages for years, AHP kept a low profile for the most part of 2018. In effect, it benefited from its relative anonymity and for months operated a network of pro-IS distribution channels throughout Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 environments. This ceased to be the case in 2019, when most of them were incapacitated (banned) by law enforcement or abandoned. It is clear that the attention given to proliferating propaganda through the surface web decreased at this time, probably in favor of the Telegram communication software, as the discovered statistics suggest. The only active (still updated) locations—partially related to Ahlut-Tawhid Publications—belonged to the Bengali Ansar network. It has to be stressed, however, that AHP failed to spark increased attention of Internet users.

Tags: Ahlut-Tawhid Publications, Dabiq, Islamic State Propaganda, jihad, Open source intelligence