Targeting the High Value Terrorists is republished with permission of Stratfor.
The Islamic State Loses an Important Ideological Weapon
Last week, the Islamic State released the eighth edition of its Rumiyah monthly magazine. Its cover story: an article lionizing Rumiyah's former editor, Ahmad Abousamra, who was killed in January by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike near Tabqa, Syria.
Other experts have already done a commendable job of retracing Abousamra's steps as he transformed from a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Boston's computer science program to a propagandist of terrorism. (I encourage readers interested in his past to look at the profiles compiled by CNN's Paul Cruickshank and the Long War Journal's Thomas Joscelyn.) Rather than repeating their good work, I'd like to use Abousamra's case to look at the importance of propagandists to extremist groups such as the Islamic State — and the impact their removal from the battlefield can have in the fight against terrorism.
Spreading the Word
As I noted a few weeks ago, propagandists have always played a crucial role in terrorist groups' recruitment and radicalization efforts. In fact, early anarchists viewed terrorism itself as a form of propaganda, spread with the help of the media. Advances in the printing press and telegraph enabled anarchists to transmit their messages worldwide; decades later, jihadists became the early adopters of the internet. The Islamic State is no exception, and it has used social media to give its propaganda an unprecedented global reach.
But technology is a tool that is only as effective as the message it conveys. Many different actors have tried to use social media to promote their ideologies or sell their products, but very few have seen the success that the Islamic State has. Part of the group's appeal can be attributed to the apocalyptic nature of its beliefs and the excitement it has generated by telling followers they can help bring about the final battle between good and evil. Yet such claims are hardly unique: There are plenty of other cults with similar views, some of which have even tried to bring about the end of days. What set the Islamic State apart were its dramatic victories on the battlefield in 2014, which lent credibility to the group's promises to conquer the world. But even so, those wins were greatly amplified by the skill of the propaganda team the Islamic State had assembled under Abu Muhammed al-Furqan, the man in charge of the group's media diwan, or department...