Documenting the Islamic State
Thursday June 20, 15.30 - 17.00
Session 3, Auditorium 7, Eilert Sundt building
Chair: Will McCants
- Intelligence Failure: How Islamic State Propaganda Could Have Been Used to Anticipate the Surge of Terrorist Attacks in Europe - Michael S. Smith II
- The Modern Phoenix: Documenting the Insurgent Campaign of the Islamic State of Iraq (2008-2013) - Craig Whiteside
- ISIS and the use of slavery: building a data picture from Sinjar - Andrew Mumford and Nadia al-Dayel
- Propaganda as source: The history of the Islamic State through its official publications - Truls H. Tønnessen
- Building Jihadi Legitimacy: ISIS’ Strategies for Building Popular Support - Adam Hoffman
Intelligence Failure: How Islamic State Propaganda Could Have Been Used to Anticipate the Surge of Terrorist Attacks in Europe
Michael S. Smith II, Johns Hopkins University
By mid-2015, Islamic State had distributed a vast amount of digital propaganda online. Despite this data having indicated that mobilizing attacks in the West was among Islamic State leaders’ priorities, security services in Europe were not adequately equipped to address the ensuing surge in group-linked terrorism. This paper challenges assumptions that Islamic State propaganda was not a credible source of information concerning threats posed to civilian populaces in the West. It considers how a cost/benefit analysis framework for evaluating Islamic State’s agenda-setting messaging could have improved understandings of threats posed by the group. Its author argues that, when evaluated alongside other data available to intelligence professionals and terrorism studies scholars, contents of Islamic State propaganda could have been leveraged to anticipate an increase in group-linked terrorist plots in Europe. In turn, such threat estimates may have stimulated earlier interest among governments in increasing collaboration on counterterrorism investigations, and allocating more resources to help prevent and respond to attacks like those perpetrated in Paris in November 2015.
The Modern Phoenix: Documenting the Insurgent Campaign of the Islamic State of Iraq (2008-2013)
Craig Whiteside, U.S. Naval War College
The rise of the Islamic State has been blamed on a number of factors, but very little has been done to examine the empirical evidence supporting the campaign to establish a caliphate, one that lasted for three years before its demise. Our research team collected five years of Islamic State of Iraq operational summary claims and used machine learning in order to quantify, for the first time, the width and breadth of the campaign across Iraq. Subsequent analysis of the types of attacks and their locations assisted us in drawing a series of observations about the character of the campaign that allowed the group to expand into Syria as “ISIS,” and later establish the so-called Islamic State. The end result of the project will be the creation of a database of Islamic State self-claims for researchers to use to further examine one of the most influential insurgent campaigns in almost half a century.
ISIS and the use of slavery: building a data picture from Sinjar
Andrew Mumford and Nadia al-Dayel, University of Nottingham
This paper will create new data points to offer a comprehensive assessment of the three-fold use of slavery by ISIS in the Sinjar crisis of 2014: the sexual exploitation of female captives for reasons of ideological propaganda; the forcible use of child soldiers to augment its fighting force; and participation in human trafficking to enhance its internal revenue.
ISIS is a group at the nexus of modern slavery and contemporary terrorism. The capture and release of documents from inside IS-controlled territory is a unique opportunity to understand how the Islamic State utilised enslavement as a tactic of power, contributing to the political, military and financial growth of the organisation.
This paper will build on this base of knowledge to fundamentally assess how slavery has played a role in sustaining ISIS on an operational level. This research will utilise the growing pool of ‘grey literature’ emerging from international bodies like the UN (who have published committee hearings that have compelling survivor testimonies) and ISIS documents (declassified by the US government and/or the Global Coalition) to map the utility of slavery in Sinjar in 2014 to create a first step towards comprehensive data mapping of slavery inside ISIS territory.
Propaganda as source: The history of the Islamic State through its official publications
Truls H.Tønnessen, Norwegian Defence Reserarch Establishment (FFI),
Recently there has been keen interest among researchers in internal documents from al-Qaida branches and the Islamic State which have been captured in military campaigns and counter-terrorism operations. Based on a vast collection of primary sources issued by the Islamic State (and its predecessors), this article will instead focus on how we can use the official publications released by the group to study the group’s evolution. The article will examine the strengths and weaknesses of using propaganda, such as martyr biographies, to study the history the groups such as Islamic State.
The article will also address how the ongoing intra-rebel conflict in Syria between the Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates has provided us with new insights about the inner workings of jihadist groups. These conflicts have resulted in polemic debates between several top leaders of the groups, and have largely taken place openly in social media. From these heated debates one can identify some interesting ideological fault lines within the Islamic State.
Building Jihadi Legitimacy: ISIS’ Strategies for Building Popular Support
Adam Hoffman, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
How do state-building jihadi groups build legitimacy? Jihadi groups use extreme brutality, and some scholars even argue that religiously-inspired terrorists don’t care about popular support. However, while the use of brutality is indeed a core part of the behavior of jihadi groups, this research highlights the non-violent strategies used by jihadists to increase their political power. Jihadists are aware of the gap between their desired end-goal to unite the umma and the limited support for their political goals in the Muslim world. The challenge to overcome this gap is especially important for state-building jihadi groups, who face the challenge of creating popular support for their political projects.
To answer this question, this paper analyzes the mechanisms used by ISIS to build legitimacy for its self-declared Islamic State since June 2014. Based on an analysis of primary and secondary sources on ISIS, this paper identifies the mechanisms used by ISIS to build legitimacy for its caliphate. These mechanisms fall into three categories: material (territorial expansion and services provision), ideational (Islamic precedence and religious purity, hijrah (emigration), and da'wa (proselytizing)), and media use.