Jihadist Snapshot: Daesh & AQ Trends — Monthly Analysis #1

Moonshot MEA Snapshot Series

We are excited to announce the launch of our Moonshot MEA (Middle East and Africa) Snapshot Series.

This 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 series will be of interest for those working across online harms and violent extremism with an interest or focus in the Middle East and Africa.

Our first post is a comparative analysis of recent narratives present across pro-Daesh and pro-al-Qaeda (AQ) channels on encrypted platforms in February 2022. This is also the first post in a sub-series of our analysis on pro-Daesh and pro-AQ online discourse.

February 2022

Moonshot collected and analyzed over 600 posts across pro-Daesh and pro-al-Qaeda (AQ) channels on encrypted platforms. This infographic covers discourses propagated in February 2022. It summarizes the primary topics of discussion and analyzes the narratives disseminated by the two groups and their supporters in Arabic and English.

Moonshot collected and analyzed over 600 posts across pro-Daesh and pro-al-Qaeda (AQ) channels on encrypted platforms.

Pro-Daesh channels

Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Pro-Daesh channels started posting about Ukraine on February 7 and the volume of posts was initially low. Discussion surrounding developments in Ukraine increased in the week of February 14, before peaking during the week of February 21 — where the number of relevant posts increased by 1,525% in comparison to those identified earlier in the month. Between February 21–27 approximately 79% of all relevant posts from pro-Daesh channels discussed Ukraine.

  • Approximately 27% of all posts collected and analyzed during February on pro-Daesh channels referenced the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • Prior to Russia recognizing Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk as independent on February 21, Daesh supporters circulated primarily neutral updates regarding conflict developments. Some posts also mocked discussions between world leaders.

After February 21, Daesh supporters shared a significant number of posts celebrating, mocking, and attempting to analyze the events.

  • Celebratory and mockery posts: Some posts claimed that the invasion of Ukraine marked the end of the Global Coalition against Daesh (which Ukraine is a member of and Russia has supported in the past), while other posts claimed that ongoing fighting between Russia and Ukraine was evidence of divine revenge for “fighting the Muslims in Iraq and Syria”.
  • Analysis posts: Pro-Daesh channels circulated posts criticizing mainstream Western media. Such posts claimed that the media was inflating Russian losses. Similarly, Daesh supporters circulated posts highlighting alleged double standards between the Western response to Ukraine compared to other conflicts. These posts included memes claiming the West ignored conflicts in Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan — while crying for Ukraine.

Due to a high volume of posts regarding Ukraine following the invasion, one pro-Daesh channel on Hoop announced a dedicated channel for discussions exclusively relevant to Ukraine. This Telegram channel was primarily limited to neutral updates of on-the-ground developments.

Death of Daesh leader

  • Approximately 14% of relevant posts identified on pro-Daesh channels were related to the death of former Daesh leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. Posts relevant to al-Qurayshi’s death were primarily shared by Daesh supporters between February 3–6, following the U.S. military’s raid on his residence on the night of 2 February.
  • During February 2022, Daesh did not release an official statement discussing his death, though an implicit reference was made in the February 10 issue of the group’s al-Naba magazine. Daesh supporters initially shared updates on developments as the raid was taking place.
  • After the U.S.’ announcement that al-Qurayshi was the target of the raid, pro-Daesh channels circulated significant levels of anti-U.S. sentiment, criticizing alleged civilian casualties of the raid. Daesh supporters also circulated posts warning others not to trust statements that were not released by official Daesh media. In addition, a number of pro-Daesh channels circulated images of seemingly official statements, debunking them as “false”.
  • Daesh supporters shared posts expressing anti-Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) sentiment, alleging HTS had “provided all the information” to the U.S. government to enable the operation.

Daesh’s Activity in West Africa

  • Approximately 10% of posts analyzed on pro-Daesh channels in February were relevant to Daesh’s activity in West Africa. Primarily, such posts consisted of Daesh’s claims of responsibility in the area. The posts celebrated attacks, ranging from ambushes, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, clashes, and mortar attacks targeting Nigerian and Cameroonian military positions.
  • Pro-Daesh channels circulated a number of videos about the attacks in the region. Notably, Daesh supporters circulated posts promoting the group’s IED use in West Africa, emphasizing the “importance” of IED use more broadly, as well as advising on the use of guerilla tactics similar to those allegedly utilized by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Since the beginning of 2022, Daesh’s official outputs in West Africa have focused on ISWAP and activities in Africa more broadly. This includes an editorial dedicated to promoting the activities of the group across Africa and declaring a war against African Christians. Daesh also released a 27-minute video on 18 January titled “Empowerment Generation”, where it depicted the training of child fighters in Nigeria. The following week, the group released an accompanying editorial, promoting the use of child fighters and celebrating ISWAP’s attacks. A series of al-Naba magazines in February 2022 have published infographics detailing the group’s recent activities in West Africa. In the February 17 and 24 al-Naba releases, the group’s self-reported statistics indicated that 54% and 62% of its global weekly attacks were carried out in West Africa, respectively.

Pro-AQ channels

Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Pro-AQ channels started posting about Ukraine on February 1. Discussion surrounding developments in Ukraine remained low but constant until February 23, after which the number of relevant posts increased sharply before peaking on February 24 when Russian forces invaded. Cumulatively, the period February 1–23 generated 26% of the total monthly relevant posts concerning Ukraine; February 24 alone generated 38% of the total posts; and February 25–28 generated 36% of total posts.

  • Approximately 42% of all posts collected and analyzed during February on pro-AQ channels discussed the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • A large number of these posts were neutral reports of events that unfolded prior to and after the invasion.
  • A moderate volume of posts contained anti-Russian sentiment, celebrating the death of its soldiers, mocking and cursing them and claiming that the scenes coming out of Ukraine “will bring joy to no one like to the Syrians”. Despite condemnation of Russia, AQ channels also expressed anti-Western sentiment, principally concerned with the supposed “hypocrisy and double standards” of Western governments encouraging foreign fighters to go to Ukraine.
  • Some channels were seemingly galvanized by the invasion of Ukraine. One pro-AQ channel expressed a “strange optimism” about the future of their struggle in Syria as a result. Others made similar statements, claiming that Russia had quickly captured territories equivalent to “several of the liberated areas [of North Syria]”. In comparison, they lauded the “greatness” of their struggle and the “steadfastness” of its fighters, who fought Russia and other powers for six years without “a single anti-aircraft [battery] or a single plane”.
  • Pointing to the invasion’s “expected” repercussions in Syria, several channels called for the mujahideen to seize the moment of this realignment of the “world order” and “rise up to remove the leaders of humiliation and shame”. While Russia is “preoccupied”, channels urged them to “strengthen themselves” in intelligence, training, tactics, fortifications, technology, and internal discipline.

Death of Daesh leader

  • Approximately 18% of relevant posts by unofficial pro-AQ Telegram channels discussed the U.S. killing of former Daesh “Caliph” Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. Almost half of these were neutral updates and reports of the operation as it unfolded and its aftermath, with some speculation about the motive for the attack and its intended target.
  • A significant proportion of the remaining discussion condemned the killing of 13 civilians in the attack. The U.S. described the raid as a “success”, while pro-AQ channels called the civilian losses a “disgrace”. Several channels framed the killing of civilians as part of a broader “Crusader war” on Islam and Muslims. In response, they called on people to “embrace and incite jihad” as the only “reasonable” response to such a “war”.
  • Channels additionally remonstrated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) for not challenging the U.S. operation, accusing the leadership of either “complicity or cowardice”. They alleged that if HTS knew that their enemy (Daesh) was being targeted and stood down on that basis, that would mean they cooperated with the U.S. for their own strategic, worldly interests. If, however, they did not know the target then supposedly they should have “fought back” against the landing unit as a matter of “duty”. These narratives exhibit the severe animosity AQ have for HTS: even when the leader of their principal rival is killed, Daesh itself was largely absent from their discussion.

Al-Shabaab (AQ) Attacks in East Africa

  • Approximately 15% of relevant posts on pro-AQ channels in February discussed an al-Shabaab (AQ’s affiliate in Somalia) military campaign across the country. Channels shared videos and images of the attacks, including explosive vehicles, as well as the military equipment that militants seized from government forces. They claimed that these operations resulted in them “completely taking [over]” two residential neighborhoods in the capital Mogadishu and three military bases.
  • Posts in Arabic and Swahili celebrated the “heaviest attacks in 10 years’’ in the country as well as government-confirmed reports of national soldiers’ deaths, expecting “great diplomatic and military repercussions”. Channels circulated a 10-minute video interview of the al-Shabaab leader of Banadir province Sheikh Muse Abdi Arrale, who vowed that the attacks “will be repeated as long as there are infidels and non-believers in the country”.

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