Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Cyber Terrorism a case of ISIS Social Media Strategy


This research paper aims to address the emergence of one of the biggest and most versatile terrorist organizations, in fact, one of the richest and wealthiest organizations that ever operated in the world, ISIS. The transformation from AL Qaeda to ISIS is one of the alarming and serious threats to the security of the region as well as outside the region.

Emergence of ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq, and Levant ISIL, Islamic State are the same names used interchangeably for the same organization, but a factor of geographical proximity, evolution, Objectives, and legitimacy attached to it. The extremist group has drawn widespread attention around the world for its terror operations and its public threats against the people of Iraq, and the World. International leaders could not make a consensus on what should they call the group. Commonly used names are ISIS, IS, ISIL, and Daesh. Media outlets, Organizations, Individuals, States, and leaders referred to the group with these different names, but they do have different connotations and meaning attached.[1] Many local media organizations used Islamic state organization terms for them because Using Islamic State gives them (ISIS) the legitimacy of an established Nation. Daesh is an Arabic word that means al-dawah al-Islamiyah fi al-Iraq Wa-Al-Sham that is quite a similar word to Daes which means one who crushes something underfoot. The group hates the term and allegedly threat of cutting the tongue that will use this term. [2] ISIS is a very successful and powerful militant group seizing huge chunks of Iraq and Syria. The group had been infamous for its brutal and vicious activities, and violence against non-belligerents and civilians. Their leader Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi who proclaimed himself as Caliph and declares Iraq as Caliphate has claimed several attacks on civilians, foreigners, and the military in and outside of Iraq. ISIS also destroyed religious temples, Monuments, and ancient and priceless artwork. ISIS spread with tremendous speed, several foreigners left home to join ISIS, and in just a few months ISIS got the momentum it wanted. They quickly spread to Iraq and Syria and started implementing Strict Sharia law “A religious code based on conservative and traditional Islamic rules and practices”.

In 2014, the Second biggest city of Iraq Mosul, Fallujah, and Tikrit fell under the hands of IS. The group declared this territory a Caliphate and Baghdadi self-proclaimed himself as Caliph of all the Muslims. He appeared in a sermon and was declared as the Caliph of all the Muslims.

Brutal fighters of the group attacked a town (Northern Iraq) that was home to Yazidis, (Yazidis is a minority group in Iraq) they killed hundreds and turned captives into slavery, forced converted them into Muslims, and caused many to flee outside the area. The incident got the attention of the international Media, and everywhere was the name ISIS. One of the reasons that are picked that light was the fact They carried out heinous tactics and captured them. Their social media was quite modern and well-trained as compared to Al-Qaeda; they used that scene with the outside world. Public Execution videos have been recorded by the IS Media and are being posted, this is how It picked the Public or international Eye.

History and Ideology of IS:

·       2004: AQI or Al Qaeda in Iraq was formed by Musab Al Zarqawi

·       2007: Zarqawi killed by US drone strike. Abuu Ayub-al-Masri takes the position. In October ISI was formed.

·       2010: After the death of Omar al Baghdadi and Masri in a drone attack[3], Abu Bakar al Baghdadi takes command.

·       2013: ISIL was formed.

·       2014: Abu Bakr declares the creation of the Caliphate and changes the name to ISIS. [4]

Group’s origins can be traced to two distinct and dissimilar groups.

1.     Former Baathist party of Saddam Hussain (Especially those army members who were part of Saddam’s party but After Maliki came into power were thrown out of the army) [5]

2.     Former Members of al Qaeda.[6]

The traces of ISIS go back to Musab al Zarqawi, who went on to spend his 5 years in jail in Jordan for the kind of illegal activities he was conducting. After their release, Musab visited Afghanistan where he met top officials of Al Qaeda and tried to impress the leadership including Osama Bin Laden.

Zarqawi established Jamaat al tawhid as jihad in the Kurdish area, but it failed during the US invasion of Iraq.[7] In 2004 Zarqawi announced its allegiance and the group’s allegiance with Al Qaeda, then a group named as al Qaeda in Iraq or AQI. Although differences in strategies and tactics were there both groups remained united. In 2006, Zarqawi was killed in a US strike. After Zarqawi Abu Ayub al Masri took the command, he appointed Omar al Baghdadi to be the leader and joined the group with some other extremist and terrorist groups and created ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq. Group activities within the timespan 2007-2010 remained weak, but in 2010 after the death of Masri and Omar, a man named Abu Bakar al Baghdadi who served 5 years in a US jail in southern Iraq took the command.

Critical regulations of ISIL incorporate its conviction that it speaks to the rebuilding of the caliphate of early Islam, and that all Muslims are required to vow devotion to it caliphate; that a “debased” Islam must be cleansed of abandonment, frequently with ridiculous partisan killings,[8] that the last Day of Judgment by God is close and will pursue the annihilation of the military of “Rome” by ISIL; that strict adherence to following the statutes “set up by the Prophet Muhammad and his soonest devotees” is essential, outperforming even that of other Salafi Groups.

Institutionalized Operational Strategy of ISIS

Institutionalized Operational strategy is a strategy that has been made and practiced effectively under the umbrella of highly professional and institutional domains.  What ISIS did, was the outclass combination of the institutional making of strategy and its practical implication.[9]

Financial Structure:

ISIS applied its power over a wide scope of mechanical, industrial, commercial, and business exercises, normal assets, and crude materials, from oil to rural items, including minerals. While the misuse of these regular stores comprises one of its essential wellsprings of financing, the larger part of its finances originated from far-reaching coercion from the populace under its control, basically as expenses, reallocations, and charges. These assets were utilized to finance military activities, the organization of the gathering’s domains, and its extension abroad, especially in Libya.

Its regional possessions along these lines furnish ISIS with a self-supporting and expanded financial framework. Its capacity to anchor its inward assets without reliance upon outer assets clarifies the gathering’s money-related influence and sums to an exceptional political test as to fighting the financing of fear-based oppression.

Because of its military misfortunes, ISIS has lost control of around 25% of its domain since January 2015, and now in 2018, it has almost lost its control over territory due to the effective counterstrategy by Iraq and Syria with the help of foreign allies, with a consistent decrease in its entrance to assets. Further, the alliance has struck its creation and transport foundations, and the UN Security Council has embraced a few goals gone for debilitating the gathering. Nonetheless, in 2015 there was no critical decrease in either ISIS’s income or its capacity to direct exchanges. ISIS’s authoritative structure, sometimes bureaucratic, has demonstrated adequately adaptable and broadened to empower the gathering to adjust to cuts in a portion of its assets. What’s more, ISIS has possessed the capacity to remunerate the loss of income from its common assets by expanding its income from criminal exercises. Be that as it may, this dimension of income won’t be kept up in 2016: the expansion in military difficulties endured since the harvest time of 2015 and the subsequent regional misfortunes are denying ISIS a portion of its primary wellsprings of financing. At the end of 2015, ISIS stands for a $2-billion-dollar account.

Revenue Sources that made ISIS one of the wealthiest Organizations:

Ø  Hold on to Oil Reserves in Iraq and Syria

The most important factor was financial support, as Iraq and Syria are important countries for Oil. ISIS played effectively to get their hold over these wells. The end of 2015 witnessed almost 15 oil fields in the hand of IS in Iraq and Syria. They exported this oil to Turkey, and Turkey does not accept the fact.

Ø Grip over Cement Industries

They had hold of almost 5 cement industries in Syria and Iraq and they exported that to other neighboring states. They also used Cement for their commercial and domestic purpose.

Ø Control of Phosphate Wells

They seized mines of Phosphate in Anbar province, and revenues accounted for almost 230 Million $.

Ø Natural gas Reserves

They controlled almost seven gas fields in Syria and Iraq, which accounted for almost 400 Million dollars.

Ø Revenue from Agriculture

Iraq and Syria are fertile lands; ISIS controlled one of the most fertile provinces of Iraq i.e. Nineveh and Saladin. [10] Agricultural revenue consists of part of the income from production on the land seized by ISIS as well as income from the numerous agricultural taxes levied at various points of the value chain (on the fields themselves, whether irrigated or not, on production, on wheat processing machinery and cotton ginners, and on agricultural transportation vehicles).

Ø Revenue from Ransoms, Kidnapping, and Extortions.

Ransoms had been one of the primary income sources for ISIS members, just in 2015 it accounted for 33% of the total GDP of ISIS. These include taxes, Fines imposed on the public, fees, and many other things. Taxes on agriculture and commercial, the industry was also imposed, [11] Kidnapping within and outside the caliphate was again one of the important sources of income. Even outside of the Middle East, they accounted for 100 million from kidnapping.

Ø  Revenue from antiquities Trafficking

This had been a famous and interesting source of money looting, even the media highlighted the fact very broadly. ISIS had almost access to 2500 sites that were in their control. They looted many of them and sold many antique things to international black market borrowers. [12]

Ø International Donors and State Sponsors.

International donors were quite important in the fact; especially individual donors helped ISIS in financial terms. Saudi Arabia was also blamed by the UN that he is giving aid to ISIS to fight against Syrian Dictator al-Assad. Income from Donations in 2015 accounted for almost 50 million Dollars, especially since the source was a businessman and religious institution from the Gulf States. [13]

Effective social media:

Isis has used traditional and social media in a very Professionalized way. They used every media thing to get attention and viewer eye, they used magazines for the literati public and social media for Youth.

How they have used Social Media?

·       Recruitment through Twitter

·       Picture Sharing Through Instagram

·       Information through Facebook

·       YouTube for Video sharing

Online networking has turned into a ground-breaking, worldwide substance. It is a device that can be used by any individual who has web get to (access to the internet). It is difficult to square (ban) totally, so the most ideal approach to battle it is to certainly check, and triple-check, everything without exception. Get the two sides of the contention and gauge them against one another. As more associations, fanatics, or something else, figure out how to control web-based social networking, basic reasoning will turn out to be more critical than at any other time in recent memory. The best way to battle radicalism in internet-based life is to show an elective sentiment, to fight with data. In the event that watchers are permitted to shape and create talks around fear-based oppressors’ utilization of internet-based life, trust and duty are given to the group of onlookers. At the point when data from the two sides are accessible, genuine correspondence about the issues can happen. Their informing inside web-based life articulations have turned out to be vital to advancing individual demonstrations of dread and prevailing upon sympathizers. Each activity is shown as a positive for the caliphate. Each success is asserted as one bit nearer, and each misfortune is clarified away in wording that just produces further help. This gives a dream that they are continually pushing ahead, notwithstanding when key figures or regions are lost.

They additionally use experience-driven proclamations to urge sympathizers to act. Not exclusively would a psychologically militant act submitted in their name be valuable for them, but it would energize, and an individual to endeavor to advance greater and better beliefs. It would be an opportunity to substantiate you, move toward becoming something, and be recalled and respected.

The gathering adroitly uses online networking as an instrument to spread dread far and wide notwithstanding universal enrollment endeavors. The Islamic State is broadly known for its posting of aggravating substances, for example, decapitating recordings on the web. The Islamic State makes its own online substance, for example, recordings, magazines, and flyers. This purposeful publicity is scattered through sites and numerous internet-based life stages, for example, Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, and YouTube. By using online networking, the association has earned a solid after and effectively selected a large number of adherents. Moreover, the association has enlisted individuals from Western nations including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The gathering has been associated with lethal shootings, for example, the Paris assault and the Pulse Nightclub Shooting.

Because of the worldwide ascent of the gathering, numerous sites and web-based life stages have prohibited records and expelled content advancing the Islamic State from their stages.

ISIS focuses on a wide range of gatherings both in the Middle East and Western Countries. There is a wide assortment of thought processes in why contenders might be incited to join ISIS. Quantum specialists refer to nine qualities normal for a contender hoping to join ISIS: status chasing, character chasing, vindication, recovery, excitement, belief system, equity, and demise.

The standard ISIS enrollment, both from the Middle East and Western nations is generally youthful. The normal period of ISIS contenders is around 25-26 years of age, with 80-86% of enlisted people being male. Center Eastern enlisted people originate from monetarily impeded foundations in Northern Iraq. Late pulverization in the Iraq War and Syrian Civil War has made contempt of Western Powers in the locale.

Western enlisted people are frequently second or third-era migrants. PC researchers Zeeshan ul-Hassan Usmani likewise discovered that most of the Western enlisted people do not feel “at home” in their nation of origin. Thus, these warriors frequently want to travel to another country and break conditions in their nation of origin.

Notwithstanding enrollment, ISIS’s web-based life nearness is likewise intended to scare and spread dreads the world over. ISIS’s posting of decapitating and other execution recordings fundamentally focuses on the Western world.

From 2014 onwards, the association fundamentally utilized standard stages, for example, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. In 2014, these expansive online life stages evacuated ISIS content. From that point forward, ISIS has used online life stages that either ensure their substance or take into account substance to rapidly be reposted. These stages of decision are Telegram, Justpaste.it, and Sure spot.

ISIS additionally actualizes showcasing activities like “Jihadist Follow Friday,” which urges clients to pursue new ISIS-related records every Friday. This explicit hashtag reflects usually utilized hashtags, for example, #motivation Monday or #throwbackthursday. To increase their online nearness and prominence, the association urges their adherents to utilize plenty of Arabic hashtags, which means #theFridayofSupportingISIS,[14] and #CalamityWillBefalltheUS. This enables them to pick up supporters every week while advancing their locale and message on a week-after-week premise.

Propaganda tools:

Terrorism is about Propaganda formulation and ISIS tried and somehow perfectly presented the propaganda and was quite successful. Their strategy was quite new as compared to other terrorist organizations in the Muslim World like Al-Qaeda and Boko haram. Online terrorist propaganda has been explicitly practiced by ISIS, which cannot be better done by other Muslim fundamentalist organizations. They have killed almost 1000 prisoners of war in 2014-2015.

To get international attention they did:

·       Persecution of Religious Minorities

ISIS persecuted many of the minority groups, especially Yazidis that lived in Northern Iraq. Death threats were given to them; some were forced to leave their homes. According to an Amnesty International report ISIS 2014, systematically wiped out the non-Arab and non-Sunni populations from northern Iraq.

·       Persecution of Civilians

They were raiding and killing civilians as much as they wanted, they wanted to kill as many as to perpetuate as much propaganda. More deaths and More Propaganda were in their Mind.

·       Children in the Army

They recruited many children in the army, some local reports show that they forced their families to recruit. It was something that got attention in the international media. It is the worst war crime in the world.

·       Sexual Violence and Slavery

ISIS violated many emotions, and raped many girls, especially in the rural areas of Iraq. They had violated as much as they were willing to. After the rape, they turned the victim into lifelong slavery. Those girls that are now out of ISIS captivity face psychological issues.

·       Beheadings and Mass executions

Several Iraqis, several Lebanese, Kurds, 2 American journalists, Egyptians, ethnic workers, 1 American aid worker, 1 British man, and Jordanians were being beheaded and filmed. It was something new in the terrorist organization in the Muslim world. ISIS executed 600 Shia just in one day. They invented new techniques of killing, even forcing victims to dig their own graves before killing. Tim Foley beheading video got the media attention; these kinds of acts were quite successful for the propaganda generation of ISIS.

·       Destruction of Cultural and Religious Heritage

They destroyed one of the most important sites in Iraq, what UNESCO termed as Heritage cleansing. ISIS followers believe in pure Islam, they do not accept any tomb, so they attacked many prophets’ toms. The Temple of Bel in Palmyra was also destroyed by ISIS in 2015.

·       Uses of Chemical Weapons

Kurds in Northern Iraq were reportedly attacked by the chemical weapons used by ISIS. They used and it was later confirmed that they have used Mustard and chlorine gases against the Kurds.

The success of ISIS and Failure of other Terrorist Muslim Organizations:

We will try to compare the institutional operational strategy determinants that we have already discussed with other Muslim terrorist organizations.


Al Qaeda does have strong financial support from individual donors, but it lacks the structure, In ISIS Caliph was directly linked to 2 of his representatives that used to collect financial backing from the system. Al Qaeda does not have any hold on Oil fields, Gas fields, or Phosphate wells. Al Qaeda depends on individual donors, extortion, taxes, etc. In ISIS’s case, geography was too much important.[15] Mosul had 3 countries bordering the area, so they easily exported that oil outside. One of the reasons can be traced to the decentralized structure of Al Qaeda.

AL Qaeda couldn’t use its social media strategy effectively; it relied on traditional media. Time has changed and ISIS realized the change and so followed accordingly. Although Al Qaeda does manage some of the social media accounts, they don’t have the expertise which ISIS had.

Al Qaeda did not manage to spread propaganda when we compare it to ISIS, ISIS was quite a deadly organization, and still many people around the world have still fear of that. Al Qaeda does not believe in these kinds of terror acts against Muslims. Al Qaeda had never been associated with chemical weapons, Slavery, rapes, etc. There are some doctrinal differences that are contributing to the success of ISIS in propaganda making.

Boko Haram:

Boko Haram in 2014 was the organization that had the most killing rate but could not manage to make that space which ISIS could. First, their financial structure was totally based on Ransoms, Kidnappings, and extortion. They don’t have any resources like Oil fields, gas fields, or antiques as ISIS had. Although Boko Haram in 2014 alleged to Baghdadi, we are analyzing the factors that contributed to its failure of Boko Haram.

Boko Haram felt the need for an effective media strategy, they highlighted the Kidnapping of Girls through social media which sparked a debate in international media Bring back our girls, but what they lacked? They lacked expertise and command in presenting social media as a weapon.[16] They could not manage to recruit people through social media.

I would agree with the fact, that Boko Haram despite geographical unimportance managed to create propaganda as I have already discussed the Chibouk girl’s kidnapping.


Al Shabab is a Somalian-based Salafi terror group alleged to be Al-Qaeda. Al Shabab also neglected many of the aspects that limited their access to Somalia; many of the reasons are natural.[17]

Financial structure is weak; again, they do not have any hold on the state resources. In ISIS caliph had been directly linked to the financial building through his 2 appointed represented ministers. Al Shabab lacks that. Social Media is again very weak in this discussion. As Shabab could not manage to generate propaganda as they wanted to.


Institutionalized operational strategy with an important and strategic location made ISIS one of the most successful terrorist organizations in the world. Their ability to maneuver, better use of available resources, and especially the effective propaganda tools most importantly social media. Although ISIS has failed and lost its territory still the fear their social media had created is in our minds creating fear.


1.      Nicolo Oakley, What does Daesh mean? ISIS ‘threatens to cut out the tongues’ of anyone using this word, Mirror.co.uk  https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/what-daesh-mean-isis-threatens-6841468

2.      Amanda Meny, Daesh? ISIS? Islamic State? Why what we call the Paris attackers matters. Washington Post.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/11/25/daesh-isis-islamic-state-why-what-we-call-the-paris-attackers-matters/?utm_term=.6347a42c0d99

3.      Anjarini, Suhaib. “The Evolution of ISIS.” Al-Monitor. November 1, 2013. Accessed July 22, 2015.

4.      Profile: Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27801676

5.      Malcom W nance, ISIS FORCES THAT NOW CONTROL RAMADI ARE EX-BAATHIST SADDAM LOYALISTS, June 3, 2015, The Intercept.  https://theintercept.com/2015/06/03/isis-forces-exbaathist-saddam-loyalists/

6.      Jonah Goldberg, Al-Qaeda’s Out, ISIS Is In! June 12, 2015, National Review.

7.      Erzsebet Galgoczi, The Rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, june 2017, Research gate.

8.      Anne Speckhard: End Times Brewing: An Apocalyptic View on al-Baghdadi’s Declaration of a Caliphate in Iraq and the Flow of Foreign Fighters Coming from the West, Blog posted on Huffington Post, UK. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/anne-speckhard/isis-iraq_b_5541693.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_cs=nCkLuYLnERGi3ilshB5Ilw

9.      Kabir Taneja, Understanding ISIS from conceptions to Operations.  Observer Research Foundation.

10.   C. E. Humud, R. Pirog and L. Rosen, “Islamic State Financing and U.S. Policy Approaches”, Congressional Research Service, 10 April 2015. 

11.   ISIS received 850,000 dollars for the release of 200 Yezidis in January 2015, according to the UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General…”, op. cit.  

12.   B. Fraysse, “La vérité sur le trafic d’antiquités de l’Etat islamique” [‘The truth Abut antiquities trafficking by Islamic State’], Challenges, February 22, 2016. 

13.   These donations may also come, to a lesser extent, from voluntary contributions by certain foreign fighters or from funds raised via the Internet, according to the UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General…”, op. cit

14.   [1] Berger, Morgan (2015-03-05). “Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter”. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved 2016-05-22

15.   Daniel L Byan, Comparing AL Qaeda with ISIS, , Brookings Institute USA, 2016

16.   Simon Stefwell, Jihadism Transformed, Al Qaeda and Islamic states global Battle of ideas, 2015, Oxford Publishers.

17.   Viktor MARSAI: Scramble for the Horn of Africa-Al-Shabaab vs. Islamic State, Research gate, 2017

18.   Data for these fact sheets has been collected from CNN, BBC, Guardian, Andrew Heywood book: Global Politics, Accessed in 2018 December.

[1] What does Daesh Mean? Why threats then? Mirror.Uk.com.pk

[2] ISIS Vs Daesh, “Washington Post”

[3] Suhaib Anjarini, The Evolution of ISIS, AL Monitor. July 2015

[4] Profile, Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi, BBC, Accessed 2015 December

[5] Malcom nance, ISIS forces that now control Ramadi are ex sadam Baathist loyalist. The Intercept, June 2015

[6] Jonah Goldberg, IS in AQ Out. The National Review 2015, July.

[7] Erzsebet Galgoczi, Hungarian expert on ISIS have similar timeline for the establishment of ISIS.

[8] EndTimes Brewing Huffington Post article by Anne speckhard.

[9] Kabir Taneja, Understanding ISIS from conceptions to Operations.  Observer Research Foundation.

[10] C. E. Humud, R. Pirog and L. Rosen, “Islamic State Financing and U.S. Policy Approaches”, Congressional Research Service, 10 April 2015. 

[11] ISIS received 850,000 dollars for the release of 200 Yezidis in January 2015, according to the UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General…”, op. cit.  

[12] B. Fraysse, “La vérité sur le trafic d’antiquités de l’Etat islamique” [‘The truth Abut antiquities trafficking by Islamic State’], Challenges, February 22, 2016. 

[13] These donations may also come, to a lesser extent, from voluntary contributions by certain foreign fighters or from funds raised via the Internet, according to the UN Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General…”, op. cit. 

[14] Berger, Morgan (2015-03-05). “Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter”. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved 2016-05-22

[15] Comparing AL Qaeda with ISIS, Daniel L Byan, Brookings Institute USA

[16] Jihadism Transformed, Al Qaeda and Islamic states global Battle of ideas, Simon stefwell, Oxford Publishers.

[17] Viktor MARSAI: Scramble for the Horn of Africa-Al-Shabaab vs. Islamic State, Research gate


Muhammad Shahzad Akram is a Research Officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) AJK. He holds an MPhil degree in International Relations from Quaid I Azam University, Islamabad.

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