July 8, 2019 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1522

Documenting Jihadi Use Of Encrypted Messaging App WhatsApp - Part II: October 2018-June 2020: Introduction

July 8, 2019
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1522


WhatsApp, the most widely used messaging app worldwide – with over two billion active users worldwide, as of this writing[1] – is also very popular among jihadi groups and individuals and their supporters, including the Islamic State (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, Hizbullah, the Taliban, and others. On a daily basis, the MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) is tracking jihadis who are communicating, planning, and fundraising on the platform. This report highlights in detail the wide range of ways in which they are using it. 

With its end-to-end encryption and ease of use on both smartphones and computers, WhatsApp is regularly used by these extremists not only for exchanging messages, but also for disseminating jihadi news and other publications, media productions, and photos, as well as recruitment and fundraising. In their communications, they also regularly use images denoting jihad and martyrdom. Jihad fighters on the front communicate via WhatsApp with sympathizers in other countries who are eager for news on the ground, interested in joining up, or supporting the organization or individual financially or in other ways at home. Jihadis are also closely monitoring WhatsApp as it rolls out new features and developments, and are quick to adopt and implement them.

On September 11, 2017, MEMRI published its major report Jihadi Use of Encrypted Messaging App WhatsApp,[2] which detailed how WhatsApp is being used in planning terror attacks, in terrorist recruiting and fundraising, and for group chats. Beginning with the earliest arrests in 2014 in cases involving WhatsApp use in years prior to the arrests and moving through expanding jihadi communications on WhatsApp in 2014, its use in the deadly November 2015 Paris and the March 2016 Brussels attacks and in the disrupted plans for attacks on the July 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, it concludes with recruitment on WhatsApp of Muslim teens to carry out the June 2017 London Bridge attack and the indictment in August 2017 of Jamaican pro-ISIS sheikh Abdullah Al-Faisal, on charges of recruiting would-be terrorists on the platform.

The following report, Part II, details the MEMRI JTTM team's findings from its monitoring of WhatsApp over the past two years – both content found on the platform and what jihadis are saying about using it – since the publication of the first MEMRI report on WhatsApp. It includes how jihadi groups and individuals are using the platform for various purposes, including:

  • Recruiting fighters, including specialists for anti-tank, anti-aircraft, armored vehicles, air surveillance, fortification digging, mortars, sniper, and explosives divisions as well as for medical professionals;

  • Sharing cybersecurity information, including instructions on how to open WhatsApp accounts using fake phone numbers;

  • Sharing warnings about alleged WhatsApp security issues

  • Announcing religious courses and courses and summer camps for children

  • Fundraising for equipping fighters and for supporting fighters' families.

The report also summarizes the company's statements on the subject of encryption, terrorism arrests for crimes in which WhatsApp was found to be used, and government pressure on the company over jihadi use of its services.

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