French 'Gatekeepers' Disseminate Islamic State (ISIS) Information On Social Media

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January 1, 2015

By: S. Benjamin*

The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

Young French jihadi sympathizers have, under various aliases, become "gatekeepers" for Islamic State (ISIS) information available in French on social media. Given the sheer amount of information to sort out, as well as the fact that a vast amount of information is published in Arabic, gatekeepers and distributors are critical to the success of spreading the ISIS message to the non-Arabic-speaking public, despite the growing amount of material published by official ISIS media groups originally in Western languages.

The following report will profile two of these gatekeepers and explain their role within the jihadi media apparatus. The individual behind the "Ibrahim Crush-our-enemies" account suspended his online activities for some time due to issues with law enforcement in France,[1] but is now active on Twitter. The jihadi using the alias "Ichigo Turn," who was absent for some time because he went to Syria, joined ISIS as a jihad fighter, and sustained a leg injury, has resumed his role as a key disseminator of ISIS propaganda to the Francophone jihadi network.


Screenshot of the ISIS video "Salil Al-Sawarim  4". [2] Ichigo Turn claims to be the man in the center with body armor.

 


Facebook profile picture of the individual behind the alias "Crush-our-enemies by stealth," August 2014.

 

Information disseminators, or gatekeepers, play a key role in the jihadi media strategy, especially among non-Arabic-speaking audience. They serve as an entry point into the online jihadi world by providing all the necessary links, translations, and information to online supporters, sympathizers, and new recruits to the jihadi cause.

The use of social media by official jihadi groups on the battlefield is a relatively recent development in the history of online jihadi material dissemination. The main channels of distribution for these groups were previously online forums and message boards, before they gradually transitioned to a widespread use of Twitter and Facebook as the principal means of distribution.[3] Most of the available material was once only in Arabic and the jihadi community was heavily reliant upon individual initiatives by bilingual supporters to translate and distribute this content into whatever language they could. Jihadi material originally produced in a Western language, such as the Al-Qaeda English-language magazine Inspire, was relatively rare, and prized by supporters.

Recent shifts in the ISIS media strategy have led to in-house publishing, translation, and distribution, such as has been observed with the Al-Hayat Media group, the official media branch of ISIS for Western audiences. This development has led to a decrease in the importance of the gatekeeper/translator role within the distribution channel. However, the role of the intermediary between the sources and the audience remains essential, due primarily to the sheer amount of data available from various sources, most of which are still in Arabic. Moreover, the official jihadi media channels are the main target of censorship efforts; therefore, the permanence of the social media presence relies heavily on the main information disseminators' capabilities as intermediaries and conduits. As such, gatekeepers hold a critical role in maintaining the flow of jihadi information from official and non-official sources to the public, and add a layer of filtering and control.

Ichigo Turn – A French Supporter-Turned-ISIS Fighter

The personal journey of Ichigo Turn offers insight into the path of young Western jihadi sympathizers who became fighters, and sheds light on the importance of social media activism as a means of recruiting individuals into the jihadi movement.

Ichigo Turn was a jihadi supporter from France who was active on forums and social media before deciding to leave and join the jihad in Syria himself. There is little personal information available about him; it is known that he is a 25-year-old French national with a good command of written and spoken Arabic, and that he traveled to Syria in March 2014 to join the jihad with ISIS. His use of French slang suggests that he is from a poor suburban area. His comments on his Facebook accounts also suggest he had been arrested in France for a terrorism-related offense. The nickname he chose, Ichigo, is a reference to a Japanese animation character, a sword-wielding god of death.[4]

Under aliases such as Abou Jihad or Jund Al-Fida, Ichigo Turn began his jihadi career online by distributing translated material from the principal jihadi forum Shumoukh Al-Islam[5] to the French jihadi forum Ansar Al-Haqq, at the time when forums were the principal means of online information distribution. He then shifted his activity to social media, using his Twitter and Facebook accounts to relay the material and offer insights, summaries, and translations, as well as French-language updates on developments from jihad arenas. Posting publicly in French to his several thousand friends on Facebook (over 2,000 at the time his most recent account was shut down by Facebook), Ichigo Turn was until January 2014 a key figure providing access to pro-ISIS jihadi information to non-Arabic-speaking French jihadi sympathizers on social media.

In January 2014, Ichigo Turn stopped publishing online; some followers believed he had been arrested by authorities. However, on March 15, 2014, fellow French national and jihad fighter Abou Shaheed announced Ichigo Turn's arrival in Syria.[6] This was later confirmed by other ISIS fighters. According to his own statements, Ichigo Turn joined an ISIS combat unit, was trained in weapons and explosives, and fought in Syria and Iraq. In May 2014, he sustained a bullet wound from machine gun fire in his right thigh and was taken to a hospital in the ISIS-controlled Al-Raqqa for treatment; he is currently recovering. He resumed his online presence immediately upon his arrival at the hospital, stating that he had been in a unit that was "forbidden to use the Internet," thus confirming to his followers that he had already been in Syria for several months.

His presence in Syria as a member of the ISIS, and his "war wound," have increased his credibility and standing among online jihadi supporters, as he continues to distribute ISIS material and information, and to offer his opinions and testimony on jihadi news. His online activity is presumed to be intensely monitored by Western intelligence and security services, and his multiple social media accounts have been shut down many times. The trust and support he has gained on the online Francophone jihadi community enable him to re-enter the network through secondary accounts and alternate names, and to continue his activities as a distributor of pro-ISIS jihadi news.

At the time of this writing, Ichigo Turn is maintaining an active Twitter account.[7] He is believed to be moderating the Ansar Al-Haqq French jihadi forum, and to have contributed to the putting in place of the forum's new and strictly enforced pro-ISIS policy.[8]


Screenshot of a Facebook comment to Ichigo Turn, June 2014: "I think yours is the account most [frequently] censored[by Facebook], praise  Allah, we can tell they don't want you to inform us, we love you for Allah's sake for what you do brother"

 

Ibrahim, aka "Crush-our-enemies by Stealth"

Ibrahim, aka "Crush-our-enemies by Stealth," is a prominent online ISIS supporter and Francophone information disseminator. From December 2013 to June 2014, his Facebook account was one of the most active French-language ISIS information disseminators. His online activity is similar to that of Ichigo Turn: publishing pro-ISIS documents, news, etc. Ibrahim is a French citizen of Moroccan descent, in his early 20s, living in Nimes. He is a university student, and spends his summers with family near Oujda, Morocco. He spends a lot of time at home and online due to his poor health. An early supporter of the Islamic State, he quickly became a key online distributor of information, sending dozens of daily posts relating to the latest news concerning ISIS to his thousands of followers. Such a position in the network made him an obvious target for security services and online censorship. He stopped his dissemination activity due to his arrest by the French police and to ensuing encounters with the French authorities. However, regardless of the risks involved with disseminating pro-ISIS material (incitement and praising terrorism is a criminal offense under French law), he has steadily maintained the flow of information. Ibrahim is currently on Twitter,[9] and is slowly resuming his dissemination activity.


The Facebook account of an ISIS gatekeeper: "Well, given the circumstances... Given that some accounts have been taken down... I will restart my service of information spreading...minus the throat-slitting scenes. By the way, here is the message by brothers on site [ISIS members in Syria and Iraq] that forbids the sharing of pictures or videos of throat-slitting under threat of prosecution..."

 

The Activity Of An Information Disseminator/Gatekeeper

The online activity of both these disseminators can be divided into different categories. The two principal activities are the monitoring and relaying of jihadi news, and the distribution of official jihadi material. The secondary activities include providing commentary and insight that convey ISIS's position on various issues, as well as offering or relating personal testimony and information directly from the front lines.

The following are examples of the different types of online postings. Any of the above activities often involve some translating from Arabic to French, and occasionally from English to French as well.

As the examples below demonstrate, the key role of the gatekeeper within the network of online ISIS supporters grants him access to information, individuals, and organizations which may be inaccessible to basic users. As such, the gatekeeper can also act as an intermediary between elements of the network, or between an individual and an official jihadi media organization. In this case, the gatekeeper can act as a filter and provide an extra level of security for operatives.


Screenshot of an exchange on Facebook between two distributors of ISIS media material Al-Dawla Islamiya Media' and Ichigo. The individual behind the Al-Dawla account wishes to make contact with the official ISIS media groups and turns to Ichigo, who was in Al-Raqqa, Syria at the time, to make the connection. Al-Dawla Islamiya Media: "Ichigo, do you know how I can make contact with the brothers of Al Furqan or Al-I'ttissam [two official ISIS media production groups]?"Ichigo:"You can't but I know them. What do you want? [...]"Al-Dawla Islamiya Media: "I would like to know some stuff about the editing [...]" Ichigo:"Tell me everything in detail in a private messages, I am out of battery."

 

Facebook messages published in May 2014, by "Crush-our-Enemies, "the Islamic State information disseminator. The top message illustrates disseminated news: "Latest news! The Islamic State just launched a surprise attack against the [Assad] regime forces in the city of Tel Blat [and Al-] Safirah [two small towns in the eastern suburbs of Aleppo], cut off all supply routes for the loyalist forces in Sheikh Najjar [town in north-east Aleppo]. Think of them in your prayers!" The bottom message is an example of the disseminator relaying and translating official ISIS information, in this particular case an official communiqué by the ISIS regional authority in Deir Al-Zour.

 


These are two June 2014screenshotsfromIchigo Turn's Facebook page showing posts in which he expressed his opinions to his audience beyond his role as information disseminator. The first message reads: "When Muhammad Merah [perpetrator of the 2012 Toulouse and Montauban shootings], May Allah accept him, killed those kikes, oh wow, I was so happy!" The second post sparked much debate on his Facebook page, when he effectively called the well-known Moroccan Salafi scholar Omar Haddouchi an apostate. ISIS attacked and threatened the Moroccan sheikh for having expressed criticism of ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi.[10]

 


Example of a June 13, 2014 post by Ichigo Turn: "The [Islamic] State killed 14 apostates and captured a 23 [likely a 23 mm Russian made anti-aircraft gun] and a 14.5 (heavy weapons) [likely a 14.5 mm Russian made heavy machine-gun] in Al-Bab [town in Aleppo province]." The reaction to the information is a good indication of the target audience of such posts: "Praise be to Allah who gave these weapons to His soldiers."

 


The Twitter accounts of Crush-our-enemies and Ichigo Turn, alias Jund Al-Fida.

 


Facebook profile of Crush-Our-Enemies By Stealth alias Aby Hussein Crush-Crush

 

Facebook profile of Ichigo Turn, here under the alias Abou jihad Al-Munafrid

 

*S. Benjamin is a research fellow at MEMRI.



[4] Ichigo Kurosaki is a character in the Japanese comic and animated series Bleach, which is popular in France.

[7] Twitter.com/turn_ichigo

[9] Twitter.com/CrushOurEnemies

[10] Lemag.ma, August 9, 2014.

 

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