After Learning About Russian, Chinese, And Iranian Disinformation Efforts, Are Jihadis Following Suit By Attempting To Hijack Black Lives Matter?

August 31, 2020 | By Steven Stalinsky

Jihadis have proven to be adept and web savvy and learn quickly from what other criminal groups and movements are doing online. Highlighting this is the U.S. authorities' recent bust of an ISIS facilitator's COVID-19 related fraud involving cryptocurrency and the sale of counterfeit personal protection equipment via a website, FaceMaskCenter.com – including to hospitals, nursing homes, and fire departments. Officials said the mask-selling scheme aimed to generate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.


FaceMaskCenter.com. Source: Department of Justice website

As the MEMRI Cyber Jihad Lab (CJL) has documented, groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and their followers around the world and in cyberspace, are daily monitoring news about how Russians, Chinese, and Iranians spread disinformation in order to disrupt other domestic matters, including elections, in the U.S., and their success in stirring up internal divisions amongst Americans.

The most recent proof of this is that immediately following the outbreak of protests across the U.S. in response to the May 25 killing of George Floyd, jihadi groups around the world, including supporters in the U.S., quietly threw their support behind and attempted to infiltrate the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Their efforts to hijack and meddle in the BLM movement reflect what they have learned, discussed amongst themselves, honed, and experimented with online, related to other nefarious activities which can even lead to actions on the ground.

Jihadis Encouraging Violence – "A Tremendous Opportunity"

First, jihadis took to their favorite social media platforms to express solidarity with the protesters and support for the looting and destruction of property. From the start, they encouraged protestors' further escalation of violence, calling it "a tremendous opportunity." It's "beautiful" to see "the madness unfold[ing] in Minnesota," wrote one Facebook user. Another added, "We all encourage you the American people to kill each other as much as you can..."

The daily unrest was closely monitored by the official publications of groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda on the encrypted messaging platforms Telegram, Rocket.chat, and Riot.im. They saw it as adding to the already heavy blow of the coronavirus in the U.S., and as further fueling their efforts to invigorate global jihad after their loss of territory and dearth of recent major attacks.

These outlets have put tremendous effort into directly trying to support the protests in articles like the one in the pro-Al-Qaeda women's magazine Daughter of Islam, in its July 12 issue, which was headlined "The Killing of George Floyd is an Episode in the Series of Deep American Racism."

The article stated that racism is deeply rooted in the U.S. and would not be ended by the protests or by legislation. Downplaying the American civil rights movement, it listed well-known cases of black men killed by white police officers and concluded with a quote attributed to Malcolm X stating that racism in the U.S. can be cured only with adherence to the teachings of Islam.


Source: Daughter of Islam magazine, July 12, 2020

An article in the June 8 issue of the English-language Al-Qaeda One Ummah magazine listed "corona, internal divisions, racism, an economy in shambles, and attacks by the Mujahideen" as the "five corners of America's pentagonal coffin." It concluded: "Civil war appears to be in the offing." The image accompanying the issue's foreword showed heroic black men at a protest burning American flags juxtaposed against a photo of Presidents Trump and Obama smiling and laughing, with the text "America Burns."


Source: Al-Qaeda's central media wing Al-Sahab Media, June 8, 2020

Al-Qaeda's general leadership released a June 29 letter addressed to all Americans on its online platforms. Expressing support for the protests "against racists and the arrogant White House," the "bloodsucking bank owners," and the racist "giant corporations," the letter urged Americans to revolt against their "unjust rulers" and stressed that that the organization's own fight against the U.S. is part of a larger war against injustice.

ISIS And ISIS Supporters Criticize Al-Qaeda's Phony Show Of Support For Protests, Produce Video Showing Assassination Of Black People

However, Al-Qaeda's pretense at showing sympathy with Black Lives Matter was attacked by ISIS and other jihadis. They called out Al-Qaeda for pandering to protestors, and mocked its stated concern for Floyd, whom they disparaged in multiple publications as an "adulterer and porn star."


"Adulterer and porn star" George Floyd. Source: Abu Nusaybah, Telegram, June 30, 2020

This summer, jihadi groups put out their own video games with depictions of the Black Lives Matter protests – also in an attempt to connect with gamers. This included a July 7 video created by an ISIS supporter in the multiplayer online game Grand Theft Auto V. The video, titled "Black lives matter kuffar [unbelievers] dead," showed a shooter executing black characters as photos of the actual individuals they were based on flashed onscreen. Some of these individuals are unidentified, but one is known to be Alton Edmond, the former assistant public defender of Brevart County, Florida who in 2017 was fired for wearing a Black Lives Matter tie and for posting reactions to it on Facebook.


Individuals gunned down in video game; Alton Edmond is at top right.

To view the video, click here or below:

One segment of this video game, titled "May God punish George Floyd for his disobediance [sic] against god the merciful," depicted a man's execution by a lineup of masked men.


In video, a man is executed by masked men

Jihadis Hope Protests Will Lead Americans To "Eradicate Each Other"

During the protests, jihadi groups were inciting Americans against each other, while at the same time attempting to get supporters to join their cause. A pro-ISIS Telegram channel stated on June 3: "We pray to Allah" for the "segment that supports Trump" and the "segment that opposes [him]" to "eradicate each other... The busier they are with themselves, the smaller their … armies will become."

ISIS is supporting the protests' efforts because it hopes they will eventually lead to the destruction of the U.S. The editorial of the June 4 ISIS Al-Naba weekly noted with satisfaction that the U.S. will be exhausted and distracted, enabling ISIS fighters to "strengthen themselves, attack their enemies, and achieve the goals of their jihad."


The Al-Naba editorial, June 4, 2020

Jihadis Incite Americans To Tear Down Statues

Another example of jihadi groups pretending to care about black lives and social justice, and of their incitement is their encouragement of vandalizing and removing statues depicting individuals deemed racist. As is often the case, they are attempting to enrage their audiences to carry out activity on the ground.

As MEMRI’s JTTM has documented, they've also offered suggestions and provocations against targets, such as a July 13 poll tweeted by an American jihadi, a convert to Islam, asking what would be "more satisfying": destroying the Lincoln Memorial with explosives or with sledgehammers. To a comment asking whether "the race-homosexuality liberal coalition" wanted the monument removed, he replied: "Destroying that idol... would enrage both of those factions."

Jihadis Hijacking Protest Hashtags

In their focus on impacting what’s happening on the ground, jihadis are leveraging cyberspace for their efforts. They are hijacking hashtags and inserting themselves into the online conversations of protest planners and supporters. These hashtags have included #MuslimLivesMatter, #AmericaBurning, #TheEventsInAmerica, #Wecantbreath, and #Nation_of_liberty. Pro-ISIS accounts added these hashtags in posts about "the anarchy," "the destruction of America," and "the American civil war."


#MuslimLivesMatter; #WeCan'tBreath Source: Telegram, June 6, 2020.


"If you scream #BlackLivesMatter yet don't scream #MuslimLivesMatter – know you have betrayed the ummah [Muslim community]" Source: Telegram, June 6, 2020.

Successfully Inciting Attacks On Police

Predictably, jihadis are inciting attacks on police in connection with the protests. They've been pleased to see police targeted and neutralized; law enforcement has long been one of their targets. As Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri specifically stated, it is "permissible" to kill police, and they should be confronted everywhere "with all means."


"Pigs! You will soon pay for your crimes!" Source: Pro-ISIS channel on Telegram, August 19, 2019.

A pro-ISIS Telegram channel called "Majriyyat Ahdath 2020 [the events of 2020]," that follows world news, posted a collection of videos of policemen being beaten and wrote: "Police being chased in the streets of America, pelted with stones and attacked. Oh Allah, add destruction atop of their destruction."

"Police being chased in the streets of America, pelted with stones and attacked. Oh Allah, add destruction atop of their destruction!" Source: Telegram, June 4, 2020

Last year, the New York Police Department was targeted, and an ISIS-affiliated hacking group published multiple police "kill lists" against it and other police departments. This year, jihadis online are involved with inciting young Americans to go after the police.


"We invite you to Islam" Source: Facebook, June 1, 2020.

One ISIS supporter created and shared a segment of a video game on the ISIS Rocket.chat on July 7 depicting ISIS fighters using various weapons in shooting sprees, including killing U.S. police.


ISIS fighters shoot at police in video game

To view the video, click here or below:

Some young people in the U.S. are responding. A 16-year-old black convert to Islam who lives "in Maryland near Baltimore" wrote on his Instagram page: "One day there will come a time in America where cops will be hunted down like the pigs that they are" and "it's time that we get more violent, and start hunting the racist police and racist people down who are responsible like prey."


"Cops will be hunted down like the pigs that they are..." Source: Instagram, May 30, 2020.

Additionally, just this week, on August 26, it was reported that the man who on June 3 had stabbed a New York City policeman in the neck and shot two others had repeatedly yelled "Allahu Akbar" during the attack and was an ISIS supporter (view NYPD video of the attack here).


Still image from the NYPD video of the June 3 attack


Still image from the NYPD video of the June 3 attack


Still image from the NYPD video of the June 3 attack

Counterterrorism Officials Need To Be Focused On Jihadi Disinformation

Should jihadis experience success with efforts at engaging with protestors in the U.S., they will certainly be emboldened to use the same tactics to further interfere with and disrupt important U.S. events. Social media companies – and the counterterrorism community – should be forward-thinking and on the alert in this matter.

 

*Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

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