Jihadist Snapshot: Daesh & AQ Trends — Monthly Analysis #7

The Moonshot MEA (Middle East and Africa) Snapshot Series focuses on Moonshot’s online harms and violent extremism work across the Middle East and Africa. Our analysis aims to highlight key developments and evolving narratives, and share new insights across the regions.

This is the seventh post in a monthly sub-series of our analysis on pro-Daesh and pro-AQ online discourse. For more information or analysis, please get in touch with info@moonshotteam.com to chat to one of our Jihadism experts.

August 2022

During August, Moonshot collected and analyzed over 800 posts across pro-Daesh and pro-al-Qaeda (AQ) channels on encrypted platforms and identified their relevance to geographic regions. Posts classified as regional were focused on events taking place in specific countries/regions. Posts identified as non-regional were not linked to a physical event or were primarily significant to each groupʼs global narratives.

This brief analyzes the narratives shared by the two groups and their supporters, and provides a breakdown of the topics discussed in relation to each region. For more information or analysis, please get in touch with info@moonshotteam.com to chat to one of our Jihadism experts.

Key Findings

  • The death of AQʼs leader Ayman al-Zawahiri dominated discussion on pro-Daesh and pro-AQ channels during August 2022.
  • Unlike July 2022, this month saw pro-Daesh and pro-AQ channels prioritizing discussion of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region over Africa.
  • A significant volume of pro-AQ discussion was linked to the activities and attacks of its affiliate in Somalia, al-Shabaab.

Pro-Daesh channels

Three main topics were discussed across pro-Daesh channels in August:

  • The death of AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (14% of all posts). On August 1, US President Joe Biden announced that the leader of AQ, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed in a US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. At the time of writing, AQ has yet to confirm a new leader. Daesh supporters primarily discussed his death in the immediate aftermath of the announcement (see Moonshotʼs in-depth analysis of the discussion here).
  • Attacks and developments in Afghanistan (13% of all posts). Throughout August 2022, Daesh carried out a series of attacks in Afghanistan. These included, most notably, an attack on August 11 targeting prominent Taliban “Sheikh” Rahimullah Haqqani. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack, where a fighter for the group detonated a suicide Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Haqqaniʼs office. Daesh supporters discussed this attack and others at length, celebrating the incidents and providing regular updates on developments.
  • Attacks, developments and unrest in Iraq (11% of all posts). Daesh supporters discussed the groupʼs August attacks in Iraq and circulated claims of responsibilities. Additionally, throughout the month, pro-Daesh channels discussed protests organized against Iraqʼs current government by supporters of prominent Shia cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Demonstrations in the country peaked on August 29 when al-Sadr announced his retirement from politics. In response, his supporters stormed Baghdadʼs fortified Green Zone and the Presidential Palace, leading to fighting across the country.

Analysis of regional and non-regional posts on pro-Daesh channels

MENA

  • In August 2022, 29% of regional posts were related to the MENA region. Of these, 39% discussed Daeshʼs attacks, developments and unrest in Iraq; 15% focused on Daeshʼs attacks in Egyptʼs Sinai peninsula, alongside other incidents and developments in the country; and a further 12% discussed the groupʼs attacks and other developments in Syria.

Africa

  • 40% of posts related to Africa discussed the August 10 prison break attack targeting the Kakwangura Prison facility in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Daesh supporters also focused on attacks in Mali (16%), Nigeria (11%), and Mozambique (10%).

Asia

  • Posts related to Asia were largely focused on Daeshʼs attacks and other developments in Afghanistan (79% of Asia-related posts). This included discussion of the August 11 attack against prominent Taliban “Sheikh” Rahimullah Haqqani.

North America and Europe

  • Posts related to North America primarily discussed the August 12 attack on British-American novelist Sir Salman Rushdie in Chautauqua, New York State (75% of North America-related posts). The most discussed topic in posts relating to Europe was the August 20 shooting in Malmo, Sweden.

Non-regional

  • Posts not linked to a specific region dedicated significant discussion to the death of former AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, amounting to 50% of non-regional posts. Additionally, pro-Daesh channels shared guidance with the groupʼs supporters, which included weapons manufacture recipes, cyber-security tips, and advice on how to disseminate Daeshʼs propaganda online — amounting to 36% of non-regional posts.

Pro-al-Qaeda channels

Three main topics were discussed across pro-AQ channels in August:

  • The death of AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (22% of all posts). Similarly to Daesh supporters, AQ supporters primarily discussed al-Zawahiriʼs killing in the immediate aftermath of his death. Pro-AQ channels mourned al-Zawahiri, celebrated his life and expressed anti-American sentiment in response to his killing.
  • Israelʼs offensive on Gaza (10% of all posts). On August 5, Israel launched an offensive on the Gaza Strip, which they described as targeting Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) positions in a “preemptive measure” against “potential attacks” from the group in Israel. The attack lasted for three days before a truce was called with the PIJ. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, the offensive killed 44 Palestinian civilians, including 15 children. AQ supporters discussed and condemned the attacks at length, in line with the groupʼs propaganda focus on Palestine.
  • Al-Shabaabʼs attack on Mogadishuʼs Hayat Hotel (10% of all posts). On August 19, AQʼs affiliate in Somalia began a three day siege of the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu, a venue regularly frequented by government officials and politicians. The attack was heavily discussed on pro-AQ platforms, particularly those linked to supporters of al-Shabaab. Supporters celebrated the attack and provided updates on developments.

Analysis of regional and non-regional posts on pro-AQ channels

MENA

In August 2022, the MENA region amounted to 36% of all posts. Of these, 28% discussed Israelʼs offensive on Gaza. AQ supporters also discussed comments made by Turkish government officials during August 2022, which encouraged reconciliation between the Assad regime and Syrian opposition and Jihadist factions (22%).

Africa

Posts related to Africa primarily focused on attacks and activity linked to the groupʼs affiliate in Somalia, al-Shabaab. 32% of posts on the region discussed al-Shabaabʼs three-day siege of the Hayat Hotel. Similarly, 17% of posts on Africa discussed a video series released by al-Shabaab, which allegedly depicted its members “providing aid” to those affected by drought in Somalia.

Asia

Posts on Asia primarily focused on Afghanistan. The most discussed topics were Daeshʼs August 11 attack that killed prominent Taliban “Sheikh” Rahimullah Haqqani and the one year anniversary of the Talibanʼs takeover of the country.

North America and Europe

Posts related to Europe primarily discussed the possibility of a drought in the continent, while posts on North America discussed the August 12 attack on Sir Salman Rushdie.

Non-regional

The majority of non-regional posts (76%) discussed the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri. A further 12% of posts discussed the release of the seventh issue of AQʼs “One Ummah” magazine on August 26. Pro-AQ channels also provided guidance to the groupʼs supporters on military tactics.

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