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Is ISIS Moving its Capital from Raqqa to Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor?

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Authors: Asaad H. Almohammad, Ph.D. & Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]here is a recurring scene of cheerful crowds in Iraqi towns and city that have been liberated from ISIS; older women, men, and young adults exhaling cigarette smoke and grinning as they relish in this recent regained symbol of liberty and freedom. There was a moment circulated on social media of an older woman cursing ISIS on camera after her town was liberated by Kurdish-led forces. She didn’t hold back! One grievance that she ranted about more than any was ISIS’ ban of cigarettes and smoking.

On the evening of March 30, 2017 we communicated with some of our contacts in Raqqa. A number of trusted sources reported something extraordinary was taking place in the city: more and more people were smoking in public. If it were an act of defiance, it would have come at a steep price—at least 16 lashes, a prison sentence, and a fine. Smoking was not only about defiance; it was also about sating their long-repressed cravings for nicotine in the absence of an enemy that forbids it. Our sources confirmed that ISIS cadres are rarely seen in the city. It was also reported that ISIS had shut down all of its directorates there. It seemed that civilians were beginning to experience some sense of normalcy with the absence of ISIS operatives at every corner.

Since the battel to retake Tabqa dam started in March 2017, ISIS has reacted in unexpected ways. One of these reactions could be sensed by their minimal presence in the city of Raqqa, Syria. However, this limited presence resembles a similar trend that occurred in 2014. Then, ISIS was on the retreat, or at least it appeared to be, when al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-sham, and affiliates of the Syrian army were battling it to retake Raqqa. Notwithstanding their efforts, the aforementioned groups lost that battle against ISIS. ISIS fighters carried out significant attacks from the outskirts of Raqqa city, weakening their rivals, and ultimately defeating them. After that battle, ISIS grew stronger with a greater presence in Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor, Syria. Currently ISIS does appear to be on the retreat in Raqqa governorate. Multiple sources have confirmed that they rarely see any ISIS operatives in Raqqa, including both foreign and local ISIS members. One source reported hearing ISIS members who were fleeing the city asking civilians to “Forgive us.” Other sources confirmed that injured ISIS members who were involving in the fighting in Rif Dimashq governorate were only in the city to receive medical treatment.

However, one might argue that ISIS is using the same strategy that previously gave its adversaries the illusion of winning, while actually out manuevering them. It would be shocking for one of the most ruthless non-state actors to flee its declared capital without a fight. In two separate investigations, one on the significance of the Tabqa Dam[1] and the other on ISIS security forces (forthcoming), evidence points to some degree of readiness and preparation to relocate its stronghold in Syria from Raqqa to the city of Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor.

Financial Operations

Trusted sources from the city of Raqqa reported that between the second half of February and first half of March 2017, ISIS security forces pressured the directorates of public services, electricity, communication (landline and satellite internet), agriculture, water, and finance to expedite the collection of all outstanding bills, fines, and taxes, according to one source within one month’s time. It was reported that other directorates that functioned within this same controlled territory experienced the same pressure. However, unlike the directorates mentioned earlier, we were not able to directly confirm that this same pressure was applied to the other Raqqa directorates. For the specified directorates, other trusted sources confirmed the reports and added that ISIS security forces assigned a financial inspector to oversee the implementation of this order. Additionally, the inspector was reported to lead a team of members from ISIS security forces. This team was tasked with listing the details of those involved in the collection of outstanding taxes and fines with each directorate. Members of the team made sure that all collected money was reported and that each directorate didn’t exceed a month to fully implement the order.

The inspector and his team were reported to meet at the Wali’s (ISIS governor’s) office every day after 5 p.m. to report to the leadership of ISIS security forces and the Wali of Raqqa. In addition, the team and inspector assisted another group formed by ISIS security forces to transport the collected money. On an almost weekly basis, the group provided security to move money collected by the directorates within Raqqa city to the city of Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor. On one occasion ISIS security forces managed to move just over USD $20 million. One source described the operation, that ISIS security forces carried out an operation to move such large amounts of money. The source added that ISIS used three taxies, two medium agricultural trucks, and three pick-up trucks to move the money. The pick-up trucks provided security and were full of ISIS fighters. The agricultural trucks had civilians and their belongings along with two armed ISIS fighters in each truck. The taxis transported the cash and had women and children in them.

The timing, pressure, and detailed workforce involved in implementing the financial collections order within Raqqa city indicate some degree of urgency. It is unclear why ISIS made such a move. Raqqa city is not only an ISIS stronghold in militant terms but also functions as the center of its financial operations. Its grip on the financial aspects of the provision of public services, oil and gas, real estate, and dealing in stolen goods (e.g., vehicles) has allowed the group to finance its operations within Syria, Iraq, and abroad.

To that effect, ISIS might be moving its cash reserves to reduce the losses it might endure if the American forces and their Syrian allies manage to succeed in their operations within Raqqa city. Another justification could be the increasing pressure of forces around Raqqa governorate. In this sense, ISIS might be planning to relocate its financial center to the city of Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor. In either case, ISIS loses much of it’s maneuvering power if its financial reserves and operations are eliminated. To execute this, American forces and their Syrian allies may need to consider simultaneous attacks, not only in Raqqa but also in ISIS controlled territories in Deir ez-Zor.

Key Figures and Their Families

Details from trusted sources showed that during the second half of August 2016, key ISIS players and their families were moved from the city of Jarabulus in Aleppo to the city of Tabqa in Raqqa governorate. In Tabqa, units from ISIS security forces hosted the members and their families for a day and then suggested moving them to Raqqa city. ISIS’ decision to get the families out of Tabqa was due to a number of mysterious assassinations of the major ISIS players in the city. On the first day of the families’ arrival in Raqqa city, ISIS security forces provided them protection and escorted them to the city of Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor. Moreover within the same month, ISIS security forces removed additional major players and their families from Raqqa city. It seemed that the additional ISIS members who were relocated from Raqqa had prior knowledge of such an order. Those members were reported to have sold their belongings (personal cars and real estate) for extremely low prices. In addition, ISIS restricted the movement of unauthorized operatives from the southern outskirts of Raqqa city. Civilians who did not reside in that area were totally banned from any entry into the southern outskirts of Raqqa city. Furthermore, it was reported that ISIS kept only trusted residents and moved the ones who were not deemed to be as such to Raqqa city.

Sources reported that during late September 2016 ISIS moved leading foreign members (not Syrians or Iraqis) to the eastern outskirts of Raqqa city. Many of those members were staying at Al-Thakanah, Raqqa city. During October 2016 over 500 fighters and their family members were resettled in Al-Thakanah. The order for that resettlement came from the leadership of ISIS security forces. All of the resettled fighters came from Mosul, Iraq. As of mid-November 2016, leading Iraqi ISIS members who had fled Mosul were settled in the southern outskirts of Raqqa city.

Recently obtained information indicates that a large number of leading foreign and local (Syrians and Iraqis) members of ISIS and their families were moved to the city of Mayadin and towns in close vicinity of it. Moreover, the movement of key ISIS members and their families were restricted to Mayadin. Those members needed to obtain permission and protection prior to any movement outside the city and towns within close vicinity.

To that effect, the city of Mayadin is clearly viewed by ISIS as safe haven. Information obtained from trusted sources has shown a trend of ISIS moving highly valued members to the city of Mayadin. The data indicates that the trend started during the second half of 2016. This makes the city of Mayadin of great significance in the fight against ISIS. If high numbers of key ISIS members are indeed operating from this place, it might be worthwhile to consider taking the fight to that city. However, the American forces and their Syrian allies are at a disadvantage there. Deir ez-Zor presents a mixed cocktail of extreme violent jihadists and Syrian regime forces, backed by the Russians and Hezbollah. It is important to note that controlling the city of Mayadin and towns in its immediate vicinity gives ISIS a financial advantage. That is to say, through the oil and gas fields in that area, ISIS may be able to generate more revenue—including selling commodities to the Syrians—to fund its ongoing operations.[2]

Conclusion

Information obtained from trusted sources presents concrete evidence of the value of Mayadin city in the fight against ISIS. Recent accounts indicate ISIS financial reserves have been moved to that city. In addition, leading foreign and local ISIS members have made the city their safe haven. As mentioned earlier, such operations might be in place to reduce the potential losses in the event that American forces and their Syrians allies take the fight to ISIS’ stronghold and self-declared capital. It might also be a ploy to draw the American forces and their Syrians allies to the city of Raqqa only to carry out a major assault against them. The American forces and their Syrian allies might try to reduce civilian causalities, slowing down their reaction time in hitting potential civilian targets. ISIS has proved that the loss of human lives is inevitable in their fight and civilian lives are expendable for them. In fact, statements from their social media operatives suggest that they might be preparing the local population in the city of Raqqa for such a loss. ISIS social media operatives presented on Telegram a hadith, a saying from Mohammad, the Islamic Prophet that suggests that out of a hundred, only one righteous believer will survive to carry out Jihad. [3] Below are some comments on it.

Moreover, the Russians, through their forces and influence on the Syrian regime, have an advantage in taking the fight to the city of Mayadin. The current American administration has been preaching about the invaluable significance of American-Russian cooperation in the fight against ISIS. The Whitehouse, insofar, has given the Russians the benefit of the doubt on many domestic and foreign issues on the premise that this unusual trust will prevail in such a moment.

In this report we argue taking the fight to ISIS’ safe haven in the city of Mayadin could result in massive financial and insurgent losses on the part of ISIS. It might very well be a key operation that leads to the decline of ISIS in Syria. More fundamentally, if the United States cannot and or will not get the Russians’ support in taking the fight to ISIS’ safe haven then why is such cooperation needed? If not to eliminate ISIS operations in the city of Mayadin, then where and when will this cooperation come into play?

The sign of ISIS’ defeat in Syria might be people triumphantly cheering—and defiantly and jubilantly smoking cigarettes in the city of Mayadin. ISIS’ defeat might first be sensed in Mayadin barbershops where men are getting their previously imposed beards shaved. It might be also seen as the city dumps become littered with burqas. However, foremost it will be sealed by an older woman recounting the horrors of ISIS as she inhales the smoke from her long-awaited cigarette.


(*) Asaad H. Almohammad, Ph.D. is a Syrian research fellow and novelist. He completed his doctorate in Political Psychology and Marketing. His academic work addressed how psycho-political factors alter implicit and explicit emotional responses and to what levels these responses are predictive of political behavior. He has also spent several years coordinating and working on projects across ISIS-held territories. To date, drawing upon a strong network of sources on the ground in Syria, he has addressed a number of financial, operational, and militant activities of the terrorist organization. He is also interested in political branding, campaigns and propaganda, post-conflict reconciliation, and deradicalization. In his spare time Asaad closely follows political affairs, especially humanitarian crises and electoral campaigns. He is especially interested in immigration issues.

Reference for this article: Asaad H. Almohammad & Speckhard, Anne (April 3, 2017) Is ISIS Moving it’s Capital from Raqqa to Mayadin in Deir ez-Zor?ICSVE Brief Reports

[1] Asaad Almohammad and Anne Speckhard, “Why Taking the Tabqa Dam is Important in the Fight against ISIS and Retaking of Raqqa,” International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, Washington, DC, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/why-taking-the-tabqa-dam-is-important-in-the-fight-against-isis-and-retaking-of-raqqa/

[2] Speckhard, A. (April 27, 2016). ISIS revenues include sales of oil to the al-Assad regime. ICSVE Brief Reports. Retrieved from http://www.icsve.org/brief-reports/isiss-revenues-include-sales-of-oil-to-the-al-assad-regime/

[3] “Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The Last Hour would not come before the Euphrates uncovers a mountain of gold, for which people would fight. Ninety-nine out of each one hundred would die but every man amongst them would say that perhaps he would be the one who would be saved (and thus possess this gold). (Book #041, Hadith #6918)”

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She has interviewed over 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and many countries in Europe. She is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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How 4chan Radicalizes Youth and Grooms Them Towards Terrorism

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The image board was started in 2003 to discuss anime and various other topics but festered into a safe space for hateful rhetoric soon after. In the aftermath of yet another racially motivated mass shooting by a frequent user, its dangers have finally reached the mainstream.

4chan is an extremely unique website. It has been running since 2003, and over the course of almost 20 years, has influenced many internet memes and phenomena. However, in the wake of the European Migrant Crisis in 2015 and the 2016 Presidential Election, it became associated with white supremacy, especially on its /pol/ board. This hateful rhetoric festered, worsening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and George Floyd protests. 4chan was sprung into the spotlight once again on May 14th, 2022, when a white supremacists livestreamed his massacre of a supermarket.

This attack, fresh in American’s minds, led many to question why 4chan is still allowed to exist. This comes after 4chan’s rhetoric inspired a 2015 mass shooting in Oregon and its users aided in the organization in the Unite The Right Rally and the January 6th Riots. Clearly 4chan is a hotbed for far-right terrorism. But why is this image board the way it is? The answer lies in its lax moderation of content.

Upon looking at 4chan, you will find it is mostly made up of pornography. However, if you go on the site’s /pol/ board, it does not take long to find the kind of rhetoric that radicalized the Buffalo shooter. One particular post I found featured a racist joke at the expense of Black people. Another was praising fighters in the Ukrainian Azov battalion while joking about killing trans people. Yet another post complained about an “influx of tourists” due to the Buffalo shooter, who they insulted with an anti-gay slur. These memes and jokes seem to appeal to a younger, perhaps teenaged audience. It is clear that they are still trying to recruit youth into their ranks even after the tragedy in Buffalo.

The content is, to say the least, vile. The fact that this stuff is permitted and encouraged by not just the userbase (which numbers in the millions) but also many moderators tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong with 4chan. In fact, copies of the livestreamed Buffalo massacre were spread widely on 4chan to the amusement of its userbase.

Many of the users on 4chan are social rejects who feel as if they have nothing to lose. They feel unaccepted and alienated from society, so they turn to 4chan. Many harmful ideologies, such as White supremacy and incel ideologies, seem extremely validating for these dejected youth.  Young, socially alienated men, who make up the majority of 4chan’s userbase, are also among the most vulnerable demographics for radicalization.

What can we do to prevent further radicalization of youth and deradicalize those already affected by harmful rhetoric? First of all, we need to either heavily regulate 4chan or have it shut down. There is no space on the internet for this kind of hatred or incitement to commit horrific acts like what happened in Buffalo. For those already radicalized, we need to perform a campaign of deradicalization among those affected by this rhetoric. But how can this be done?

4chan prides itself on anonymity, so it is difficult to figure out who uses it. Thus, education on radicalization and identification of propaganda is vital. This education should focus on adolescents mostly due to their predisposition towards radicalization when exposed to hateful rhetoric. While White supremacy must be emphasized, other forms of radicalization should be mentioned as well such as Jihadism and other forms of ethnic supremacy. Finally, tolerance must be fostered among all people, not just those at risk of becoming groomed into terrorism.

The age of 4chan has spawned many humorous memes, but it has since become a hotbed for hatred and terrorism. Since memes are able to convey dangerous ideas, websites like Reddit and Facebook need to be heavily regulated to prevent the dissemination of dangerous misinformation. It is unlikely that 4chan will ever moderate itself, as lack of strict moderation is its defining feature. Thus, it has overstayed its welcome and no longer has a place in today’s information-driven society.

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New ISIS Strategy and the Resurgence of Islamic State Khorasan

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ISKP Uzbek Jihadist

Unlike Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the second late leader of ISIS, who was derided as a “secluded paper caliph” and “an unknown nobody” for his relative anonymity and non-publicity, the new caliph of the Islamic State, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, has apparently launched a new strategy to strengthen linkages to regional wilayahs (provinces) and boost the group’s global presence.

Indeed, during his short time leading the group (31 October 2019 – 3 February 2022), Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi never publicly addressed his followers, which negatively affected the coordination of the activities of Islamic State-Central (ISC) and its regional branch of the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP). Although his killing during a US counterterrorism raid in northwest Syria in early February was a major blow to the global jihadi organization, the change in leadership nevertheless provided it with new opportunities to update its command-and-control, recruitment and propaganda campaign.

Predictably, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the new ISIS overall leader, sees his historical role not only in ensuring the Caliphate’s continuity and avoiding its potential fragmentation but also in establishing a more direct and consistent command line between its core in Iraq and Sham and its Central and South Asian affiliates.

ISIS collage dedicated to rocket attack on Uzbek Termez

The new strategy of the Islamic Caliphate not only gave a new impetus to its Khorasan offshoot waging a holy jihad in post-American Afghanistan against the Taliban but also opened a new front line against the post-Soviet Central Asian regimes. Indeed, the analysis of ISKP activities revealed that the proclamation of Abu al-Hassan al-Quraishi as the new Caliph and the launch of a new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” increased the combat capability of IS Uzbek and Tajik fighters, as well as strengthened the coordination of local language and IS-Central propaganda machines.

Notoriously, on April 17, ISIS launched the new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, and his official spokesperson, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who were killed in a US raid in February in the northwest Syrian town of Atmeh. In his recent audio address, Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu-Omar al-Muhajir called on the Caliphate warriors to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leaders by “painfully striking” the enemies of “al-mujahideen” and saying that if they kill, they should “kill by many.” This call was made to the group’s followers worldwide and asked them to remain patient, but also be ready when the “war” begins. Al-Muhajir called to expand the campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to the territory of US, Europe and Central Asia, urging Muslims living there to follow the lead of past “lone wolves” who conducted operations that “filled with horror.” He asked them to repeat “lone wolf” operations by stabbing, attacking, and ramming, and drawing inspiration from recent attacks in Israel.

ISKP Threat to Central Asia

Among the first to support the Islamic State’s new ‘global offensive’ campaign were ISKP Uzbek and Tajik jihadists challenging the new Taliban government and dreaming of overthrowing the ‘Taghut (idolaters) regimes’ in Central Asia. Thus, inspired by the new Caliph’s new strategy, for the first time in the history of the Islamic State, they managed to conduct a transnational jihadi operation from Afghanistan to the territory of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Initially, on April 18, 2022, the ISKP fired ten rocket salvos into the territory of Uzbekistan, which was successfully exploited by the Uzbek-speaking regional jihadi media and IS-Central’s propaganda resources as evidence of the opening of a “second front” in the Central Asian direction. Expert assessments clearly observed the good coordination between the IS-Central’s media and ISKP’s local jihadi mouthpieces, both in terms of Islamic ideological content and hierarchical sequences.

ISKP Uzbek nasheed performer Asadulloh Urganchiy

The Islamic State-Central’s Amaq News Agency reported that “Mujahedeen of the Caliphate have fired 10 Katyusha rockets at a murtad (apostasy) Uzbekistan’s military base in the border town of Termez.” The ISIS central media wing also released a photo and video of the projectiles to back its claims. Another IS-Central’s weekly al-Naba newsletter also widely covered the topic of rocket attacks by detailing how the projectiles were fired from Afghan territory on the Central Asian nation.

Following IS-Central official news agencies reports, IS-Khurasan Willayah’s local media outlets, such as Al-Azaim Foundation and Khurasan Radio, the Uzbek-language Xuroson Ovozi (Voice of Khurasan), Tavhid Habar (Tawhid News), Tajik-language Telegram channels Mujahideen of the Caliphate and The Army of the Victorious Nation published a series of audio, video and text messages in Uzbek and Tajik detailing the goals, causes, and consequences of the rocket attack. In particular, Al-Azaim Foundation glorified the rocket attack as “the heroism of the brave lions of Allah Almighty punishing the corrupt army of the murtad Uzbek government.”

The ISKP media outlets were extremely outraged by the Uzbek government’s denial of the rocket attack, claiming that nothing had landed on their territory. In response, pro-ISKP Uzbek, Tajik and Russian Language Telegram channels re-posted IS-Central’s statement, photos, videos of the attacker and a map marked with the possible rocket impact location in Termez.

Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi experts’ attention was drawn to a 24-minute audio address of Khuroson Mujahid, the leader of ISKP Uzbek group, whose speech style and ideological views strongly resembled the late ISIS chief strategist Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. His speech revealed that the ideological vision of ISKP Central Asian jihadists, staunch followers of Takfiri Salafism, is in line with the Islamic State’s global agenda. He considers democracy to be the religion of “murtad states” of Central Asia, the Taliban government and Pakistan. He believes that due to committing shirk (idolatry), deviating Allah and doubting Tawheed (God’s Oneness), the leaders of taghut countries should be killed.

Considering Khuroson’s oratorical skills, Takfiri persuasion and ideological savvy, it is quite possible that the ISKP recruitment and incitement campaign will intensify in Central Asia in the near future. Obviously, the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP in the military, media and ideological directions reached a new level in the more permissive operating environment of post-American Afghanistan.

On May 7, the ISKP carried out a second rocket attack, this time into Tajikistan. According to the Central Media Office (Diwan al-I’lam al-Markazi) of ISIS, “Caliphate’s fighters fired seven rockets from the Khawaja Ghar district of Afghanistan’s Takhar Province towards the Tajik military base near the city of Kulob.” The rocket attacks on the territories of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for three weeks nevertheless mark a clear escalation by ISKP Central Asian foreign fighters from just hostile anti-five post-Soviet “murtad governments” rhetoric to direct militant action.

Notably, the methods of media coverage of both attacks and the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP’s local media resources were clearly similar. The algorithm of their actions was in line with the new ISIS strategy. Thus, IS-Central posted a brief information about the rocket attacks with video and photos, then the Tajik, Uzbek and Pashto-language local media resources of ISKP glorified the “warriors of Allah”. The Uzbek-language pro-Islamic State Telegram channels Islomiy Maruza Davat Guruh, Khuroson Ovozi, Tawheed news, the Tajik-language Telegram channel of Ulamoi Rabboni (إنَّ اللّٰهَ مَعَنَا) actively propagated ISKR rocket attacks, undermining the image and credibility of the military potential of Tajikistan and the Taliban.

These Central Asian pro-IS media resources, supported by IS-Central propaganda bodies and comprised of a constellation of official branch outlets, regional pro-ISKP groups, and grassroots supporters have become a prominent voice aggressively impugning the Taliban’s reputation in the global jihadi world. Such method makes it possible to preserve the hierarchical structure and maintain a uniform media strategy of the global jihadi group. This reflects that after the fall of the Caliphate and a series of dramatic losses of its leaders, ISIS has learned a bitter lesson and is now moving from centralizing power to strengthening its wilayahs.

Apparently, the ISKP seeks to broaden its appeal in Central Asia both through increasing cross-border attacks against Afghanistan’s neighbors and ramping up the production, translation, and dissemination of propaganda directed at Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz communities in the region. These rocket attacks and ISKP’s propaganda campaigns targeting Central Asians for recruitment are any indicators, the group has become a serious jihadi power challenging not only the Taliban government, but also the post-Soviet authoritarian regimes. Through its Uzbek, Tajik and Pashto-language Telegram channels, the ISKP is conducted an unprecedented activity to recruit Central Asian jihadi groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as new radical Islamists from the Fergana Valley.

Future of ISKP Central Asian Jihadists

Obviously, the ISKP is exploiting the US military withdrawal from the region and the Afghan Taliban’s deviation from the hardline jihadi concept by successfully portraying their government as a Pashtun ethno-nationalist organization rather than a bona fide Islamic movement.

In conclusion, it is to be expected that the ISKP will actively capitalize external operations to undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban government, which assured the US and Central Asian neighbors not to allow Afghan soil to be used to attack Afghanistan’s neighbors. Strengthening cross-border rocket attacks has already raised the morale of ISKP fighters and consolidated its support base.

Thus, the new Islamic State’s strategy to strengthen its offshoots in its provinces is quite capable to reestablish its positioning in the broader global jihadi movement, which we see in the example of IS-Khorasan Province.

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How Memes Can Spread Dangerous Ideas

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Internet memes are an excellent way to send powerful messages to millions of people. But what happens when they are used for malicious purposes?

Memes have been a means of transmitting messages for centuries, proliferating immensely in recent decades due to their mass proliferation through the internet and their ability to broadcast messages to a massive audience. They have quite a bit of cultural significance and can be based on almost anything, provided they achieve viral status. However, memes have been subject to abuse by malicious groups and actors.

From the Blue Whale Challenge, an internet challenge that resulted in multiple suicides worldwide, to terrorist organizations like ISIS, which use internet memes to recruit young people, memes can be used for malicious purposes. Even toxic subcultures like MGTOW serve as a pipeline towards the incel movement. Indeed, such male supremacist organizations are not strangers to using memes and viral media to propagate their ideas and recruit young men and boys to their cause. In fact, one influencer, who goes by Sandman MGTOW, often posts such misogynistic memes and videos on his Twitter and YouTube channel.

These kinds of memes are easily identifiable by their bias towards a specific issue and their often-political message. One great example of a meme that has been subject to abuse by malicious actors is Pepe the frog. Based on a character by Matt Furie, this meme was abused by the alt right, being depicted as controversial figures such as Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. The meme was so badly abused by these far-right actors that it was listed as a hate symbol by the ADL.

Memes have also influenced major world events like the 2016 election in the United States and the Arab Spring revolutions in the early 2010’s, which garnered immense media attention through the use of internet memes and viral media. This shows that memes can have the power to influence elections (albeit slightly) and topple oppressive regimes. Being a powerful tool for spreading information, there is also the use of memes for spreading misinformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic mediated a sizeable but modest anti-vaccine movement in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. These anti-vaxx groups used social media like Facebook and Reddit to spread memes full of misinformation and pseudo-science It can also be argued that memes were effective tools in spreading misinformation around the elections of 2016 and 2020 in the United States. Memes, while powerful, can be used by malicious actors such as far-right groups and anti-vaxx groups to peddle false information. This has contributed to the US having a COVID death toll of over one million, higher than most other countries worldwide.

The world has progressed quite a bit in the information age. People are able to communicate ideas with millions of people worldwide in seconds. The proliferation if information has never been more efficient in history. That is why the threats that arise from the mass proliferation of memes and viral media are so dire. As was seen during the 2016 and 2020 US elections, COVID, and Arab Spring, memes can be spread to convey messages that can change nations, affect millions (perhaps even billions) of people, and topple dictators. It has become possible for people to change the course of history with a single tweet or a single meme on Reddit or Instagram going viral.

What can we do to stem the massive proliferation of memes that serve to recruit people into dangerous organizations and fill their minds with misinformation? The answer lies in how we confront our biases and how we detect misinformation. People need to be informed about how they can detect bias and propaganda, in addition to using independent fact-checking services. By identifying propaganda from malicious actors and misinformation from online groups, we can stop the spread of dangerous memes before they proliferate.

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