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memri
December 23, 2016 No.
1291

Germany-Based Encrypted Messaging App Telegram Emerges As Jihadis' Preferred Communications Platform – Part V Of MEMRI Series: Encryption Technology Embraced By ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Other Jihadis – September 2015-September 2016

Table of Contents

1: Telegram Emerges As Jihadis' Preferred Encryption Communications Platform

  • Introduction

  • How Jihadis Are Using Telegram: Recruiting, Encouraging Lone Wolf Attacks, Releasing Official Content
    About Jihadis' Use Of Telegram And Its Ramifications

    • About Telegram

    • U.S., European Officials Reach Out To Durov, Sound Alarm About Telegram

    • Telegram Timeline September 2015-September 2016

    • 2016 Arrests Of Jihadis Worldwide Using Telegram

    • Telegram CEO Durov On Jihadi Use Of His Platform: Denials And Excuses

    • MEMRI Recommendations For Removing Jihadi Content On Telegram

2: MEMRI Research Documents Jihadi Use Of Telegram

  • Jihadis Shift To Using Telegram's Private Channels

  • Jihadis Use Private Groups On Telegram

  • Top French ISIS Recruiter And Executioner Rachid Kassim On Telegram: Promoting, Coordinating, And Encouraging Attacks Via Text, Images, Audio, Video

  • Islamic State (ISIS): Official Releases; Sheikhs, Writers And Operatives; ISIS And Pro-ISIS Channels; Encouraging Lone-Wolf Attacks In The West; Technical Tips For Fighters And Sympathizers; Hacking Groups, Including Release Of "Kill Lists"

  • Al-Qaeda: Al-Qaeda Central; Al-Qaeda Media Organizations; Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); Al-Qaeda In The Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen

  • Jabhat Al-Nusra/Jaysh Fath Al-Sham: U.S.-Designated Terrorist Cleric Mustafa Muhammad, Media Groups, Foreign Fighters

  • Hizbullah: Al-Manar TV Launches Telegram Channel

  • Taliban: News Updates, English-Language Channels, Official Statements

  • Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP): Urging Xinjiang Muslims To Join Jihad, Multiple Channels, News Of TIP Fighters In Aleppo Battles; Jihadi Music Videos

  • Hamas And Gaza: Al-Qassam Martyrs Brigade Promotes Jihad And Martyrdom, Manuals For Stabbing Attacks, Bomb-making; Fundraising For Weapons To Target Jews

  • Other Jihadi Activity On Telegram – Internet Archive, Nasheeds, Well-Known Jihadi Figures

Introduction

The following is Part V in MEMRI's series on jihadis' use of encryption technology.[1] Since the publication of Part IV of this series, on June 16, 2015,[2] the Germany-based encrypted messaging app Telegram has emerged as jihadis' preferred app for encrypted communications. Not since jihadis began joining Twitter en masse has there been such a development.

During the past year, Telegram has been revealed as the channel of communication in numerous terrorist attacks, including the November 2015 Paris attacks, and jihadis planning attacks using it have been arrested worldwide. Telegram's emergence has complicated efforts by the FBI, European security forums, and other agencies to monitor the growing amount of jihadi content online and offers an alternative to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and others that are more aggressive in monitoring and removing such content.[3] This situation is another step towards the future scenario described by FBI Director James Comey in October 2014 as law enforcement agencies "going dark" because of expanding encryption capabilities.[4] 

A year ago, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other jihadi groups and individuals favored Surespot, Kik, and Wickr for encrypted and private communications. WhatsApp was also very popular, even before it offered end-to-end encryption, which came only in April 2016.

Now, Telegram has become the app of choice for many ISIS, pro-ISIS, and other jihadi and terrorist elements; launched in 2013, it was not widely used by jihadis at first. It did not feature prominently in Part IV of the MEMRI series on encryption, and was barely mentioned in Part III, published February 4, 2015;[5] it has now emerged as a major factor in jihadi communications. Often, jihadi groups and individuals on Telegram disseminate the same content on other platforms such as Twitter, and constantly refer and link users to these parallel accounts.

Since jihadis began using it last fall, Telegram gained in popularity with its November 2015 release of a desktop version, which made it more like Twitter. Also contributing to the surge in Telegram's use by jihadis is the fact that they have become more adept at it, utilizing its encryption and privacy options once they are established on the platform. The ease of using Telegram was underlined in an article recently posted on a jihadi Telegram channel, which pointed out that on Telegram, in contrast to Twitter, "[there are] fewer suspensions, [material is] easier to publish, and reporting [of channels] is limited."[6]

One of Telegram's features, the secret chat, was used recently by ISIS supporters to draw up plans to target U.S. and British nationals, as well as actual collaboration in a plan to target the "U.S. embassy in the U.K."[7]

MEMRI has repeatedly noted that in order to solve the problem of jihadi and terrorist content online, including on social media platforms such as Telegram, there is a need for an industry standard set by all social media companies coming together and agreeing to tackle it. Until this happens, jihadi groups and individuals will continue to migrate from platform to platform as measures are taken against them. This includes new platforms, which, when created and when jihadis discover them and begin using them, do not know yet how to deal with this phenomenon. This is what happened, for example, with Twitter – when jihadis first began using it, no action was taken, and it soon developed into a major tool for terrorists, both individuals and groups. The same is happening with Telegram today – and since nothing has been done during this entire time, it is growing into a major challenge for counterterrorism officials in the West.

Telegram And Its Refusal To Take Action Against ISIS And Other Jihadi Accounts

A January 8, 2016 MEMRI report, 'Supporters Of The Islamic State' – Anatomy Of A Private Jihadi Group On The Encrypted 'Telegram' App, Offering Secret Chats And Private Encryption Keys, focused on Telegram and its refusal to take action against ISIS and other jihadi accounts. The November 13, 2015 Paris attacks relaunched the debate about Islamic State (ISIS) and other jihadi use of encryption technology and apps, with particular attention, and unprecedentedly negative media coverage, directed at Telegram, which these groups and individuals now heavily favor. Much of this negative reporting about Telegram came as a result of a previous MEMRI report, Jihadis Shift To Using Secure Communication App Telegram's Channels Service, released two weeks earlier and heavily cited in the media.

Telegram developer Pavel Durov, who previously had consistently refused to remove ISIS and other jihadi groups and channels from the platform, grudgingly posted on November 18, "This week we blocked 78 ISIS-related channels across 12 languages."  

In another tweet, Telegram stated: "We could identify and block these public channels thanks to reports you sent to abuse @ telegram.org. Thank you!" and linked to its FAQ page.

Jihadi accounts shared news of the blocks (see also MEMRI report ):

On November 19, 2015, Durov tweeted, including to the MEMRI Twitter account, that "groups are not channels. And we've been against ISIS public content since forever (see our FAQ)."

The same day, MEMRI refuted Durov's statements with a series of tweets to him highlighting how ISIS and Al-Qaeda have embraced Telegram:

   
MEMRI's tweets to Durov showing ISIS and Al-Qaeda content on Telegram

In an interview following Durov's announcement that Telegram was shutting down groups, MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky explained to The Washington Times how ISIS was using Telegram and predicted that even if ISIS-connected groups were removed, they would not be gone for long and would very quickly be back. This turned out to be exactly what happened – ISIS and Al-Qaeda groups and accounts, notably Nashir, Fursan Al-Raf, CyberCaliphate, Al-Battar, and Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) – announced shortly thereafter that they had returned to Telegram. Stalinsky said: "We are sure there are lots of private encrypted discussions happening that are just not public but continue... It's positive he [Durov] removed the accounts, but he did it as a temporary thing so as not to get bad press and pressure."

Durov's claim that Telegram "has been against ISIS public content since forever" does not reflect the reality of how the group continues to use the service freely.[8]

The examples of jihadis' use of Telegram in this report constitute only a small part of the research being carried out by the MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) and Cyber Jihad Lab (CJL) research teams. These teams are following these and other, similar accounts 24/7, due to the sheer number of jihadi Telegram accounts and the volume of content that they are disseminating.

How Jihadis Are Using Telegram: Recruiting, Encouraging Lone Wolf Attacks, Releasing Official Content

Highlighting the popularity of Telegram among jihadis, ISIS released the 30-minute audio recording of the most recent speech by leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi via the platform (see MEMRI JTTM report ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi Responds To Military Campaign To Retake Mosul, Urges ISIS Soldiers To Remain Strong, Calls For Attacks On ISIS's Enemies, November 2, 2016). Jihadis today are using Telegram for recruitment, outreach, posting announcements, distributing content including guides and advice for lone-wolf attacks and manuals for bomb-making and other terror activity, disseminating the findings of hacking attacks including "kill lists," planning attacks and identifying possible targets, issuing threats, claiming responsibility for attacks, posting pledges of allegiance to jihadi groups, fundraising, and more – including posting videos and photos of executions, crucifixions, and beheadings.

Some examples of jihadi recruitment on Telegram include outreach to engineers and scientists to collaborate, also via the platform, on military projects for ISIS, and recruitment of women. Al-Qaeda's main media wing Al-Sahab recently joined many other jihadi groups on Telegram by launching an official channel, and the content posted on it has included videos of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, such as his message marking the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It has even been used by groups, such as Muslims Safety Tips, to warn users not to trust other apps – for example, in April 2016 jihadis circulated warnings on Telegram about WhatsApp's newly launched encryption, claiming that it was easily hacked and also was untrustworthy.[9] In late August, ISIS announced on Telegram the death of its spokesman and strategist Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani.

Pro-ISIS groups have also recently shared guides and instructions for lone-wolf attackers; one group distributed a "scorecard" of stabbing, bombing, and vehicular attacks checked off and shooting, poisoning, and beating still unchecked.


Pro-ISIS Caliphate Cyber Army hacking group updates its "lone wolf scorecard" marking stabbing, bombing, vehicular attacks – with shooting, poisoning, and beatings not yet checked off.

"Kill lists" distributed this past summer by ISIS and pro-ISIS groups on Telegram have included names, addresses, and other personal details, obtained through hacking, of hundreds of: U.S. State Department personnel, U.S. Air Force and Army personnel,[10] police officers in New York and New Jersey, employees of major U.S. companies such as Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and ExxonMobil, Canadian citizens, people labeled "Crusaders and Jews," Americans in Texas and New York, and many  more. In addition to "kill lists," other hacking posts on Telegram have included threats of a hack of a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system, hinting at London's power grid; an announcement of a hack of 5,000 Twitter accounts in response to Twitter's crackdown on jihadi content on its platform; and boasts and claims of hacks of a Saudi government portal and government database, and of Facebook and Twitter accounts.


"Kill list" released by a group called Islamic State Hacking Division. See MEMRI JTTM report ISIS Supporters Publish Hit List Of 100 US Military Personnel, With Pictures And Addresses, March 22, 2015.

ISIS operatives in two attacks in France this summer – one against two police officers and the other in a church in Normandy, during which they slit the throat of a Catholic priest – had communicated with each other on Telegram, and Telegram was used in two other thwarted cases in France, one involving a 16-year-old girl.[11]  The Normandy attackers also disseminated an oath of loyalty to ISIS via Telegram, as did a Brazilian jihadi group.[12] Threats of attacks circulated this summer on Telegram have included a pro-ISIS media outlet's threats against gay pride parades and the posting of satellite images of U.S. military bases for possible targeting.

Among the claims of responsibility for attacks was ISIS's claim of the July 18 axe attack aboard a train in Germany, and its claim that it downed a Russian helicopter in Syria. In early September, ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks in Copenhagen on Telegram.

There are numerous indications that Telegram is continuing to surge in popularity among jihadis. It hosts jihadi accounts in Arabic, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Russian, Farsi, and Asian languages, and new languages are being added all the time. Prominent jihadis and leading sheikhs once on Twitter are now on Telegram, either in addition to or instead of Twitter. For example, in February 2016, top ISIS propagandist "Turjiman Al-Asawirti," who operates his own pro-ISIS "media production company," launched a channel on Telegram.[13]


Turjiman Al-Asawirti's Telegram channel

Thousands of new jihadi accounts belonging to groups and individuals are being created weekly, adding to the jihadi groups already operating on the platform – ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Jabhat Al-Nusra/Jabhat Fath Al-Sham, Taliban, Hamas, Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), and more.  

Some jihadis, such as ISIS's top Southeast Asian propagandist Bahrun Naim, rely on Telegram features such as its private channels and "bot" function, which allows mass dissemination of messages and other types of content. According to counterterrorism experts, Naim is the chief propagandist for Katibah Nusantara – a brigade of Malay and Indonesian fighters in Syria and Iraq. One Telegram bot that features Naim's image on its profile greets new followers with an automated message in Indonesian: "The writer's name is Bahrun Naim but he is commonly known as BN. His full name is Muhammad Bahrunnaim Anggih Tantomo. He was born on September 6, 1983." The bot's automated messages include step-by-step instructions on the production of ammonium nitrate, which is used in explosives, using household materials. Another message includes instructions on producing RDX, the main element in C4 explosives, as well as detonators. The bot also sends out propaganda messages and videos, including of interviews with militants and combat footage.

In November 2015, Reuters contacted a man claiming to be Naim on Telegram, who said that he was "just waiting for the right trigger" to "carry out an action" in Indonesia. Two months later, in January 2016, Jakarta was hit by a gun and bomb attack that authorities say was remotely orchestrated by Naim. The attack killed eight, including four of the perpetrators.[14]

About Jihadis' Use Of Telegram And Its Ramifications

About Telegram

Telegram, which describes itself as "a cloud-based mobile and desktop messaging app with a focus on security and speed,"[15] can run on Android, iOS, OS X, Windows, and other operating systems. It provides optional end-to-end encrypted messaging with self-destruct timers, and also allows users to edit messages already sent.[16] A Telegram user must have a phone number, and the number must be verified before the platform can be used; however, experts have noted that it is easier to use a fake telephone number on Telegram than on other messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.[17] It was created by the Russian-born Pavel Durov, known as the "Mark Zuckerberg of Russia,"[18] founder of the popular Facebook-like Russian social network website Vkontakte – which has also been used by jihadis;[19] Durov left Russia in 2014.[20] According to its website, the app is available in English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, German, Korean, and Brazilian Portuguese.

Telegram is so confident that its encryption cannot be breached that has announced contests with large cash prizes for anyone who could crack its encryption; to date, however, no one has managed to claim the prize. The most recent contest offered $300,000, and ended February 4, 2015 with no winner.[21] Experts have stated that it is using "military-grade" encryption.[22]

Telegram states on its website that in order to fulfill its mission "to provide a secure means of communication that work everywhere on the planet," and to continue "to do that in the places where it is most needed (and to continue distributing Telegram through the App Store and Google Play)," it must "process legitimate requests to take down illegal public content" but stressed that this "does not apply to local restrictions on freedom of speech." The website continues: "For example, if criticizing the government is illegal in some country, Telegram won't be a part of such politically motivated censorship. This goes against our founders' principles." It also states: "While we do block terrorist (e.g. ISIS-related) bots and channels, we will not block anybody who peacefully expresses alternative opinions."[23] However, it does not state clearly how to do so.

Nevertheless, there are many jihadi and terrorist channels on Telegram that have followers or members numbering in the tens of thousands – from 10,000 to over 80,000.

Some U.S. government officials who are aware of jihadis' use of Telegram, for example, Sen. Angus King (Independent-ME), say that since the platform is Germany-based, there is little that they can do about it. On September 13, 2016, Sen. King noted at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Encryption and Cyber Matters: "[W]e can't stop this. The idea of somehow being able to control encryption is just not realistic... [W]e can deal with Apple or with Microsoft or with Cisco or whoever, but if you've got a cloud-based app that's – the headquarters is in Berlin, and who knows where the data is... there are places our power doesn't reach. We can't regulate something that's over in Berlin or Swaziland."[24]

However, Telegram can be downloaded from the Google Play Store, iTunes App Store, and its website, Telegram.org. It is available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Web, MacOS, and PC/Mac/Linux. All of these indirectly share responsibility for the content on the platform.


Downloading Telegram on a variety of platforms

Reasons Jihadis Are Switching To Telegram

  • It offers "secret chats"[25] with end-to-end "military-grade"[26] encryption.
  • Secret chats are device specific and are not stored anywhere else – not even Telegram can access them.[27]
  • It allows users to "lock" their app with an additional passcode.[28]
  • It is user friendly – since ISIS and others began using it about a year ago, Telegram itself has upgraded its platform to be more user friendly, and more like Twitter in many ways, including, in November 2015, introducing a desktop version.
  • Users can time their Secret Chat messages to self-destruct after being viewed.
  • Anyone can create an account, but it is easier to use a fake telephone number on Telegram than on other messaging platforms.[29]
  • Users can send messages, photos, videos and files of any type (doc, zip, mp3, etc)
  • Users can create groups for up to 5,000 people, or channels for broadcasting to unlimited audiences, and can make these private, encrypted, and invitation-only. Some of these jihadi groups and channels have tens of thousands of followers/members – up to 82,000.
  • Users can reach out to all their phone contacts and also search for other uses by usernames.
  • There is less monitoring and suspension of accounts on Telegram than on other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

U.S., European Officials Reach Out To Durov, Sound Alarm About Telegram

In Letter To Durov That Includes Research Exclusively Provided By MEMRI, House Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman And Ranking Member Underline "Grave Concerns About... Foreign Terrorist Organizations" On Platform And Exhort Him: "Do All In Your Power To Prevent Terrorists From Exploiting" Telegram "To Advance Their Lethal Cause"

In a December 16, 2016 Congressional letter to Durov, Rep. Ted Poe, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, and Rep. Brad Sherman, the Committee’s Ranking Member – with whom MEMRI has worked for years on the issue of removing jihadi content from social media platforms, including, most recently, specifically Telegram – called out Durov. The letter underlined their "grave concerns about reports regarding the recent migration of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOS) and their supporters from other social media platforms to Telegram... using Telegram's encrypted service to disseminate propaganda, drive fundraising, recruit new members, and coordinate attacks." The letter continued: "[N]o private company should allow its services to be used to promote terrorism and plan out attacks that spill innocent blood" and called Telegram's "removal of 78 ISIS-related channels" so far "just a start." After enumerating that "[h]undreds of channels affiliated with ISIS and other terrorist organizations still find refuge in Telegram's encrypted service," it enumerated several examples of this content, and concluded: "We respectfully request that you do all in your power to prevent terrorists from exploiting Telegram to advance [their] lethal cause."

Also on December 16, Rep. Poe tweeted the letter directly to Durov, stating: "Sent this letter over to @ telegram and @ durov. I look forward to receiving a response soon."

U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Criticizes Telegram

Telegram has previously come under harsh criticism by government officials, both in the U.S. and internationally, for allowing ISIS and other jihadis to operate on it. Following the November 2015 Paris attacks, Rep. Michael McCaul, House Homeland Security Committee Chair, said: "When we saw the encrypted apps on the Paris attackers' iPhone – it was Telegram. When eight attackers and numerous co-conspirators, foreign fighters from Syria, can do something like that and it's completely under the radar screen. We know why it went undetected. It went undetected because they were communicating in the dark space. In a space where we can't shine a light on to see these communications even if we have a court order."[30]

France, Germany Push For Europe-Wide Rules For Apps To Help Governments Monitor Jihadi Communications

On August 23, 2016, it was reported that France and Germany were pushing for Europe-wide rules requiring the makers of encrypted messaging apps, including Telegram, to help governments monitor communications among suspected extremists. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that French authorities had detained three people with "clear attack plans," but that police needed better tools to monitor encrypted text conversations using powers used to wiretap phones. At a news conference with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, Cazeneuve said that French investigators, armed with a court order, had been unable to even contact "an interlocutor" at Telegram; Durov wrote, in response to a question submitted via his platform about Cazeneuve's statement, "We haven't received any such request and have no idea what the French officials are after. In any case, Telegram Secret Chats and information on them are not logged on our servers."[31]

Also at the news conference, Cazeneuve and de Maiziere insisted that they wanted to work with companies offering encrypted services to ensure that they can't be abused by militants and that they will provide investigators with access to encrypted messages when needed. Cazeneuve noted that Telegram had been used by the killers of the French priest in Normandy in July 2016.[32] Earlier, in March 2016, Paris head prosecutor Francois Molins told 60 Minutes that investigations had "very often" run into a brick wall with Telegram: "We can't penetrate it, we can't get into it."[33] Additionally, Mounir Mahjoubi, president of the National Digital Council, an independent advisory group in France established by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy that focuses on privacy issues, said: "There is an issue with Telegram. They ha[ve] done everything to make it a technological nightmare to find where their server is."[34]

Dutch Intelligence Agency Director Calls For Limitations On Apps' Encryption

In September 2016, the director of the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), Rob Bertholee, told the Dutch daily Volkskrant that he would like to see limitations on the encryption of apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp, saying that "the threat has not been so great in years." In this, according to the article, the agency is at odds with the Dutch government's position."[35] 

Timeline Of Jihadis' Use Of Telegram September 2015-September 2016

The following are details of jihadis' use of Telegram and of Durov's statements about it:

  • September 2015: Telegram launches its channels service
  • September 2015: Durov acknowledges that he is well aware that ISIS uses Telegram.[36] Asked  "Does that concern you?" he answers, "That's a very good question but I think that privacy, ultimately, and our right for privacy is more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism."[37]
  • September 2015: Durov says Telegram has over 60 million monthly annual users who sent 12 billion messages every day.[38]
  • October 2015: MEMRI publishes widely cited report on jihadis' shift to Telegram's channel service.[39]
  • October 28, 2015: The Arab news website Al-Bawaba, reported that 150 terror activists had been arrested by the Egyptian military, after it tracked their coordination using Telegram.[40]
  • November 13-14, 2015: Just hours after Paris attacks, ISIS uses Telegram to take credit for the attacks.[41]
  • November 18, 2015: Following ISIS Paris attacks, Telegram announces that it has shut down 78 public channels, in 12 languages, used by ISIS militants or supporters.[42] 
  • December 2015: Officials announce that they believe ISIS Paris attackers had used Telegram to plan, coordinate attacks.[43]
  • November 2015: Telegram expanded for use on desktops.
  • March 2016, Paris head prosecutor Francois Molins tells 60 Minutes that investigations had "very often" run into a brick wall with Telegram: "We can't penetrate it, we can't get into it."[44]
  • March 2016: Durov, in an extensive interview to CBS's 60 Minutes (see below), claims to be "horrified" by terrorist use of his platform but that for him, preserving privacy trumps shutting down terrorism.[45]
  • July 2016: Al-Qaeda's media wing Al-Sahab begins using Telegram.
  • September 2016: French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says, at a news conference with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere about the terrorist threat, that French investigators were not able to contact anyone at Telegram.

2016 Arrests Of Jihadis Worldwide Using Telegram

One of the first arrests linked to jihadi use of Telegram came in December 2014, when alleged ISIS sympathizer Muange Amina Mwaiz, a Kenyan arrested in Hyderabad, India, acknowledged conducting jihadi communications via a Telegram channel.[46] Since then, the number of such arrests has gradually increased. The following are some of the arrests in 2016 of individuals who have used Telegram for jihadi activity:

  • January 13, 2016: Australian police raided the home of Sameh Bayda hours after he used an encrypted messaging app, Telegram, on his mobile phone; he was arrested 12 days later after three documents were allegedly found on his phone.[47]
  • January 16, 2016: Three Malaysians were arrested by Turkish police after attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS; according to reports, they had been recruited by Malaysian national Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi via Facebook and Telegram.[48]
  • January 22, 2016: 18 ISIS members were arrested in Bengalu, Hyderabad, India; they were found with explosives and other bomb-making materials. They were found to have formed an organization, Junood-ul-Khilafa – Fil-Hind, aiming to establish a caliphate in India loyal to ISIS, to recruit Muslims to the group and carry out terror attacks in India, at the behest of a Syria-based ISIS operative using social media, including Telegram.[49]
  • July 1, 2016: Five suspected ISIS members planning a terror attack in India were arrested; they were in contact via Telegram with the above Syria-based ISIS operative.[50]
  • July 23, 2016: 14 people suspected of links to ISIS were arrested in Malaysia; one confessed to sharing information on making IEDs and receiving orders for an attack on Malaysian police via Telegram.[51]
  • July 19, 2016: In advance of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, it was reported that a Brazilian jihadi group, Ansar Al-Khilafah, had used the app to pledge its allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). It was also reported that ISIS channels on Telegram were available translated into Spanish and Portuguese.[52]
  • August 1, 2016: It was reported that Adel Kermiche, one of the killers of the French priest in the July 26 attack in a Normandy church, had met the other killer, Abdel Malik Petitjean, via Telegram on July 22.[53]
  • August 10, 2016: A 16-year-old French girl running a pro-ISIS group on Telegram was arrested and accused of planning a terror attack via the platform.[54]
  • August 11, 2016: It was announced that a Filipina had been arrested in Kuwait on suspicion of connection to ISIS; Kuwait authorities said that she had been in touch via Telegram with her Somali husband in Libya, who is alleged to have ISIS connections, and that she had been planning a suicide bombing in Kuwait.[55]

Telegram CEO Durov On Jihadi Use Of His Platform: Denials And Excuses

The following are statements by Telegram CEO Pavel Durov on jihadi use of his platform:

  • "I propose banning words. There's evidence [to suggest] that they're being used by terrorists to communicate" – responding to Russian Communication Minister Nikolai Nikiforov's proposal to ban encryption, November 16, 2015.[56]
  • "I never mocked the idea of blocking ISIS channels; I mocked the proposal to ban encrypted private messaging due to terrorism" – responding to criticism of Telegram, November 18, 2015.[57]
  • "I think the French government is as responsible as ISIS for this [the November Paris attacks], because it is their policies and carelessness which eventually led to the tragedy. They take money away from hardworking people of France with outrageously high taxes and spend them on waging useless wars in the Middle East and on creating parasitic social paradise for North African immigrants." Post on Facebook, November 19, 2015.[58]
  • "Since we announced the news, we received dozens of more reports and are blocking confirmed ISIS public channels in real time" – addressing concerns that Telegram is not adequately prepared to address the ISIS presence on it, November 19, 2015.[59]
  • "Ultimately... the right for privacy is more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism. If you look at ISIS – yes, there's a war going on in the Middle East. It's a series of tragic events. But ultimately, ISIS will always find a way to communicate within themselves. And if any means of communication turns out to be not secure for them, they'll just switch to another one. So I don't think we are actually taking part in these activities" – in response to a question of whether he "sleeps well at night knowing terrorists use" Telegram, November 20, 2015.[60]
  • "Technically it is impossible to deny safe communication only [to] terrorists [and] not jeopardize the personal correspondence of all law-abiding citizens" – explaining Telegram's importance after Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell called it "malicious and totally unbreakable," March 2, 2016.[61]
  • "There's always a risk that your iPhone can be stolen, and the people who stole it can use the data, your private photos, etc, to blackmail you" – explaining why he opposes allowing the FBI to access Apple's database, February 23, 2016.[62]
  • "They were probably using other messaging services as well. It's misleading to say that we were responsible – or any tech company is responsible – for that" – explaining why it is not Telegram's fault that it is used by ISIS, February 23, 2016.[63]
  • "Never in history have authorities had so much information on their hands as they do today, and they still complain about groups 'going dark'" – dismissing intelligence agencies' concerns about Telegram and other encrypted communications, February 23, 2016.[64]
  • "Society in each country has to decide whether they want to make this trade-off, between privacy and what is perceived as high security and lower risk of terrorism" – explaining his support for Apple CEO Tim Cook's decision not to allow the FBI to access the iPhone of San Bernardino attacker, February 23, 2016.[65]
  • "Our right for private communication and privacy is more important than the marginal threats that some politicians would like to make us afraid of. If you get rid of emotion for a minute and think about the threat of terrorism statistically, it's not even there. The probability that you will slip on a wet floor in your bathroom and die is a thousand times higher than the probability of you dying as a result of terrorism" – dismissing the threat of terrorism and reiterating his support for private communications, July 4, 2015.[66]
  • "You cannot make it safe against criminals and open for governments. It's either secure or not secure. If such a measure [i.e. a backdoor] is implemented, most of our correspondence, our business secrets, our private data would be put at risk. Because if there's a back door, not only a government official could use it, but theoretically criminals including terrorists [could too]"[67]CNN, February 23, 2016.
  • In response to statements by French investigators that they had been unable to contact anyone at Telegram, Durov says "We haven't received any such request and have no idea what the French officials are after." He adds: "In any case, Telegram Secret Chats and information on them are not logged on our servers."[68]The New York Times, September 5, 2016.


Durov Gives Extensive 60 Minutes Interview On His Views About ISIS On Telegram 

In an in-depth March 13, 2016 interview with Leslie Stahl on CBS's 60 Minutes, Durov discussed jihadi use of Telegram at length, stating that he is "horrified" by terrorist use of his platform, that if asked by law enforcement he would claim that Telegram cannot unlock any private messages, and that preserving privacy trumps shutting down terrorism. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Stahl: "[Telegram is] also used by terrorists now. Is this a concern for you?"

Durov: "Oh definitely. And in our 100 million users, probably this illegal activity we're discussing are only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the potential usage. And still we're trying to, you know, prevent it."

[...]

Stahl: "This was something that you created to allow democracy to flourish, to allow dissidents in Russia and in other countries to communicate with each other. And then all of a sudden you find out that this terrorist group uses your site for completely different reasons."

Durov: "Yeah, we were horrified...

[...]

"But you know there's little you can do because if you allow this tool to be used for good, there will always be some people who would misuse it."

[...]

Stahl: "Is there anything in your mind that says, "Gee, we have to have – to allow law enforcement to get in because what's going on is just unacceptable."


Stahl and Durov, 60 Minutes, March 13, 2016.

Durov: "You know the interesting thing about encryption is that it cannot be secure just for some people.

[...]

"... [T]his is the world of technology and it's impossible to stop them at this point. ISIS could come up with their own messaging solution within a month or so, if they wanted to..."

Narrator: "Since Paris, Durov has been purging ISIS propaganda from Telegram but says, if asked to unlock any private messages, he would tell the authorities that the encryption code makes it mathematically impossible, using a similar argument as Apple."

Stahl: "So you're basically saying that even if you wanted to, your hands are tied... You can't do it."

[...]

Durov: "We cannot."

Stahl: "So this is one of the great debates of our time. Which is more important? Is it more important to shut down this kind of terrorism or preserve privacy?"

Durov: "I'm personally for the privacy side. But one thing that should be clear is that you cannot make just one exception for law enforcement without endangering private communications of hundreds of millions of people because encryption is either secure or not."

[...]

October 2016: Telegram Claims To Have Department For Processing Complaints About ISIS Usage

In late October 2016, Telegram spokesman Markus Ra said that the company has a dedicated department processing complaints about ISIS usage and that "ISIS channels usually go down within less than 24 hours."[69] However, it is not easy to find out how exactly a user may report such content on the platform. Although Telegram stated in the tweet in which it noted how it had blocked public ISIS channels, "We could identify and block these public channels thanks to reports you sent to abuse @ telegram.org. Thank you!" and linked to a section of its FAQ page,[70] there are no clear instructions at that link, or anywhere else on the page, to do this.[71]  

MEMRI RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REMOVING JIHADI CONTENT ON TELEGRAM

Congress: In Washington, at meetings with government officials and on Capitol Hill over the past year, MEMRI has continually reiterated the need for them to call on Germany's Ambassador to the U.S. to testify and answer questions about Telegram. There is also a need to invite founder Pavel Durov to testify as well – and if he refuses, to seek ways to penalize any investments he or his company have in the U.S.

 

German government: The increase in ISIS threats and attacks should be an impetus for Germany, where Telegram is based, to take action and impose monetary penalties against it and against Durov, and to pressure them to act more responsibly – as U.S. companies, led by Facebook, have recently been doing. MEMRI has also noted that if any jihadi organization was posting kill lists of German government officials, military personnel, and ordinary German citizens, as is happening with Americans, the German government would act immediately.[72]

Google and Apple: Since Google's Play Store and Apple's iTunes App Store are the only outlets for downloading the Telegram app on Android phones and iPhones/iPads, respectively, both Google and Apple are in a unique position to apply leverage to Telegram to remove jihadi content. Furthermore, if safeguards against jihadis using Telegram are not added, then Apple and Android should be asked to remove the app from their stores.

Telegram servers and presence in the U.S.: While not much is known about Telegram's actual presence in the U.S., on October 13, 2016, Telegram tweeted an announcement stating: "Issues in North and Latin America: cooling system died in one data center, massive overheating. Data safe, working with DC staff to fix." Additionally, Telegram states on its page that its servers are "spread worldwide for security and speed." The U.S. government therefore has means at its disposal to penalize it if it does not remove jihadi content, such as fining it or shutting it down here.


According to an October 13, 2016 Telegram tweet, the company has "DC staff" and its servers are "spread worldwide."
 

*Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI; R. Sosnow is Head Editor at MEMRI.

 

 

[1] See also MEMRI CJL report Encryption Technology Embraced By ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Other Jihadis Reaches New Level With Increased Dependence On Apps, Software – Kik, Surespot, Telegram, Wickr, Detekt, TOR: Part IV – February-June 2015, June 16, 2015; Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1143, Al-Qaeda's Embrace Of Encryption Technology Part III – July 2014-January 2015: Islamic State (ISIS) And Other Jihadis Continue To Develop Their Cyber And Encryption Capabilities; Post-Snowden Fears Lead Them To Test New, More Secure Technologies And Social Media, February 4, 2015; Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1086 Al-Qaeda's Embrace Of Encryption Technology – Part II: 2011-2014, And The Impact Of Edward Snowden, April 25, 2014; and Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 704 Al-Qaeda's Embrace of Encryption Technology – Part I: 2007-2011, July 12, 2011.

[3] Washington Post, October 29, 2015.

[4] Washington Post, October 16, 2014.

[10] Washington Times, August 2, 2016.

[11] Cnn.com, August 1, 2016; Bbc.com, August 10, 2016; New York Times, September 5, 2016.

[12] The Washington Post, July 19, 2016.

[14] Scmp.com, October 29, 2016.

[15] Desktop.telegram.org, accessed August 23, 2016.

[16] Mirror.co.uk, May 17, 2016.

[17] Businessinsider.com, November 21, 2015.

[18] Money.cnn.com, December 17, 2015.

[19] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series report No. 1118 Wives Of Foreign Jihad Fighters In Syria – Active Members Of The Jihad Community, September 18, 2014; Inquiry & Analysis Series report No. 1100 Russian Jihadis Use Social Media To Raise Funds For Jihad In Syria, June 23, 2014; MEMRI Daily Brief - No. 100, History Will Judge Tech Philanthropists In Fight Vs. Cyber Jihad, August 22, 2016;  MEMRI JTTM report Message On Russian Social Network: Muslim Shishani's Jihad Group Has Been Attacked With Chemical Weapons, March 13, 2014.

[20] Money.cnn.com, December 17, 2015:

[21] Telegram.org/blog/cryptocontest-ends

[22] Businessinsider.com, November 21, 2015.

[23] Telegram.org/faq, accessed August 24, 2016.

[24] Armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/16-09-13-encryption-and-cyber-matters.

[25] Telegram.org/faq, accessed August 23, 2016.

[26] Businessinsider.com, November 21, 2015.

[27] Telegram.org/faq, accessed August 24, 2016.

[28] Telegram.org/faq, accessed August 23, 2016.

[29] Businessinsider.com, November 21, 2015.

[30] C-span.org, December 7, 2015.

[31] New York Times, September 5, 2016.

[32] Cnn.com, August 1, 2016.

[33] Cbsnews.com, March 13, 2016.

[34] New York Times, September 5, 2016.

[35] Volkskrant.nl, September 17, 2016.

[36] Youtube.com/watch?v=kVZN9QbtFgs, September 23, 2015.

[37] Techchrunch.com, September 21, 2015.

[38]  Techcrunch.com, September 21, 2015.

[40] See MEMRI CJL report Arab News Site Claims 150 Terrorists Arrested Through Telegram, November 6, 2015. It should be noted that the MEMRI JTTM team identifies numerous issues with this story – first, it refers to the terrorist activists as belonging to Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, a name that the group no longer uses since it became ISIS Sinai after swearing fealty to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Second, the story says that the group itself announced the arrest, although MEMRI can find no record of this. Third, the story refers to the group's leader as Abu Sayyaf Al-Masry, even though this name is not known in connection with the group.

[41] Cbsnews.com, March 13, 2016.

[42] Nytimes.com, November 18, 2015; See MEMRI CJL report Telegram Blocks Dozens Of ISIS-Related Channels For The First Time, November 18, 2015..

[43] Cnn.com, December 17, 2015.

[44] Cbsnews.com, March 13, 2016.

[45] Cbsnews.com, March 13, 2016.

[46] Timesofindia.com, July 25, 2016.

[47] Wsws.org, February 1, 2016.

[48] Wsj.com, January 16, 2016.

[49] Freepressjournal.in, July 21, 2016.

[50] Thehindu.com, July 1, 2016.

[51] Wsj.com, July 23, 2016.

[52] The Washington Post, July 19, 2016.

[53] Cnn.com, August 1, 2016.

[54] Bbc.com, August 10, 2016; New York Times, September 5, 2016.

[55] Filipinotimes.ae, August 11, 2016.

[56] Themoscowtimes.com, November 16, 2015.

[57] Nytimes.com, November 18, 2015.

[58] Venturebeat.com, November 19, 2015.

[59] Dailydot.com, November 19, 2015.

[60] Independent.co.uk, November 20, 2015.

[61] Telegramgeeks.com, March 2, 2016.

[62] Yahoo.com, February 23, 2016.

[63] Cnn.com, February 23, 2016.

[64] Fortune.com, February 23, 2016.

[65] Theverge.com, February 23, 2016.

[66] Ft.com, July 3, 2015.

[67] Cnn.com, February 23, 2016.

[68] New York Times, September 5, 2016.

[69] Scmp.com, October 29, 2016.

[70] Telegram.org/faq#q-there-39s-illegal-content-on-telegram-how-do-i-take-it-down

[71] At that link, under the heading "Q. There's illegal content on Telegram. How do I take it down?" it stresses that "All Telegram chats and group chats are private amongst their participants. We do not process any requests related to them" and then goes on to discuss "legitimate requests to take down illegal public content" [emphasis in original] without stating how to submit them. Nor under a subsequent heading, "Q. Wait! Do you process take-down requests from third parties?" does it provide clear instructions for submitting requests, although it says: "Whenever we receive a complaint at [email protected] telegram.org or [email protected] telegram.org regarding the legality of public content, we perform the necessary legal checks and take it down when deemed appropriate." Then, as mentioned previously in this report, it stresses that this "does not [emphasis in original] apply to local restrictions on freedom of speech" such as criticism of a government where it is illegal "because this "goes against our founders' principles," it adds that "[w]hile we do block terrorist (e.g. ISIS-related) bots and channels, we will not block anybody who peacefully expresses alternative opinions."

[72] Washingtontimes.com, August 2, 2016.