Media Jihad

Bernat Aragó

European Institute of the Mediterranean

The Daesh media campaign has a distinctive element from other propaganda campaigns in history: it possesses the very powerful weapon of the internet and the social networks, which increase the speed and efficacy of spreading its contents. Moreover, the receivers of the messages can disseminate them and add others. When studying the Daesh media campaign we see that it has evolved in recent years and has gradually changed its strategies. The analysis of a series of audiovisual materials (videos and magazines) of the Al Hayat Center, the Daesh media arm, enables us to identify a set of features common to this material with a clear objective: recruitment of new combatants to fight the coalition against the Islamic State. Although in recent years combatants were called to move to the “caliphate”, the campaign has made a recent shift to urge its supporters to fight in enemy territories (the Nice or Berlin attacks in 2016 use a methodology that follows Daesh recommendations). This shift is for three main reasons: the internalisation of the conflict, the change in the military objective of the “caliphate” and, finally, the difficulties of reaching the territories under Daesh rule.  

Introduction: Propaganda, from Power to Subversion and Vice Versa

Throughout contemporary history, the world in which we live has witnessed a large number of media campaigns. The formats have changed as technologies have evolved: films, posters, television, pamphlets and even computer hackers. However, all these campaigns have two points in common. First, they follow specific communication strategies; they are conceived, studied, thought out, coordinated and led by someone. Nothing is casual or random. Second, these campaigns seek to achieve certain results and, therefore, all propaganda material conceals specific objectives. Ignacio Ramonet argues that the objective of any propaganda is “to maximise power by furtively subordinating the groups and individuals”[1] while Antonio Gramsci places propaganda within the organic link between the press and political activism whose function is to stir up the masses. In any case, sometimes the objective of a campaign is merely the dissemination of certain ideas and, in other cases, it seeks an active and concrete reaction from the receiver, for instance in a recruitment campaign.

The most outstanding episodes in history had their own dissemination apparatus. We have all kinds of examples: Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, the Republican poster artists during the Spanish Civil War, the revolutionary film industry of the Russian Soviets or the legendary image of Uncle Sam during the Vietnam War chanting the “I want you for US army.” Today we are also surrounded by propaganda, and we are not only referring to advertising because, according to Noam Chomsky’s theory, the media apply up to five filters to reality to sell us their conception of the world, which is often the conception of those holding power.

Daesh’s recent media campaign has an element radically different from the others: the internet and the social networks. The scope of this new channel in the 21st century multiplies ad infinitum the expectations that any other propaganda campaign may have had in the past. François Caron asserts that “the internet is the third industrial revolution.”[2] It not only manages to disseminate the message globally and instantaneously but also has the tool of interactivity. Within social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, each sympathetic user can forward the message to the whole of his or her environment and then on successively, achieving a very rapid global dissemination. Ramonet refers to what is already known as the multiplier effect: all this propaganda material disseminated by Daesh is not only issued by the Jihadist organisation itself but the sympathetic users also forward the contents through the social networks and add others in circulation. In other words, the receiver also becomes the transmitter.

This article is based on the main conclusions of research carried out in the framework of work undertaken for the Faculty of Communication at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, supervised by Antoni Castel and entitled Qualitative Analysis of the Islamic State Media’s Media Campaign: Al Hayat Media Center. The study was published in June 2015 although it has been updated and complemented to prepare this article.

It is a multidisciplinary work and, therefore, to carry out this research it has been necessary to develop and build a solid theoretical foundation to comfortably establish the conclusions. This foundation comprises three cross-cutting approaches: 1) Critical discourse analysis based on authors such as Ruth Wodak, Teun A. van Dijk, Michael Meyer and Siegfried Jäger. 2) Semiotics of the audiovisual with theories by Ansa Goicoechea, Jacques Aumont, Demetrio E. Brisset or the classic How to Analyse a Film by Francesco Casetti; 3) Political sciences, through authors who deal with subjects such as political Islam and the Arab world, including François Burgat, Edward Saïd, Tariq Ali and Makram Abbès.

Daesh’s media campaign has evolved over the last few years and has changed its strategies. In the study we focus on all the audiovisual and editorial propaganda material published on the social networks by the group Al Hayat Media Center (Al Hayat M.C.). This a specific sample of a very wide subject of study, given that, since its beginnings, every week there have been new videos and publications on the internet. However, because of the obvious complications that analysing such distinct material and with different transmitters and strategies would involve, in this study we focus only on Daesh’s “official” message: Al Hayat Media Center.

This propaganda material disseminated by Daesh is not only issued by the Jihadist organisation itself but the sympathetic users also forward the contents through the social networks and add others in circulation. In other words, the receiver also becomes the transmitter

Recruitment and Propaganda: Media Jihad

Hundreds of videos have filled the news bulletins and online multimedia platforms such as YouTube. The social networks have been inundated with messages and tweets supporting the Jihadist cause. Searching the net we can find everything, including audiovisual pieces recorded and released in high definition, magazines professionally designed or audio tracks with speeches by ideological leaders of the movement, especially by the “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This campaign has sounded alarms in the West, as it is not only aimed at promoting and justifying their actions but also directly addresses citizens of the West – be they Muslims, immigrants or otherwise –, sometimes to persuade them to join their cause. In short, it is also a recruitment campaign.

If we focus on the recruitment campaign, we must examine some antecedents. There have always been calls to foreigners to fight for a common cause. In the past, thousands of men and women from different origins went to fight in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigades to combat fascism. In the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, the Taliban militias called on the yihad to attract Muslim combatants from the whole Arabian Peninsula and Middle East. The Bosnian War in the 1990s was also another example of recruitment of foreigners to the Muslim side. Despite various cases throughout history, it is significant that many of the calls have come from the Muslim factions. Stéphane Lacroix studies the sectors of the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, that they have successively supported logistically and sent volunteer soldiers to Bosnia (between 1992 and 1995) and Chechnya and to join the Talibans of Afghanistan.[3] The question is that Muslim people, and more specifically the Arab identity, exist and some periods of history such as the Palestinian nakba[4]have particularly united them, despite the fact that there are many sectors that currently criticise a lack of union of the Arab people.

Beyond the Arab context, in the framework of the century there is a very clear similar example, not so much related to the religious question but rather to ideology and identity: this is the case of the Ukraine, where the conflict between the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian militias who defend the sovereignty of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk has attracted hundreds of foreign communists, socialists and anti-fascists from many places.[5]

In the case of Daesh, several newspapers update on a daily basis the information about the foreign soldiers fighting in its ranks and their countries of origin. As claimed by the international press, an unpublished UN report from 2015 would estimate at 25,000 the number of foreigner combatants who have emigrated to Syria and Iraq to join Daesh. However, another UN report from November 2014 claims that the number of foreign combatants fighting with Daesh and the Al-Nusra battalion (al-Qaeda) is 15,000. This same report describes Daesh’s recruitment in two possible ways. The first especially comprises people from Iraq and to a lesser extent Syria. They would be soldiers that had previously had some relationship with al-Qaeda. This would also include people from other Middle Eastern countries. The second group is formed by combatants from 80 different countries, who began to arrive in Syria in 2011, often accompanied by their families. Their origin can be the Maghreb, Middle East, Europe or Central Asia.[6]

But how do these combatants from all over the world contact Daesh? How do they get there? The UN points to three possible methods. The first involves the internet platforms, the second is personal contact and the third is persuasion and forced recruitment.[7] The nerve centre is Turkey, as noted by International Business Time. The online publication points out that interested parties contact different Jihadist networks and organisations operational in the different countries of origin via the internet. These organisations are responsible for putting them in contact with Daesh and for arranging their journey to Turkey, whether by air, land or sea. Once in Turkey, notes the journalist Alessandria Massi, they accommodate them in a safe house where they wait to cross the border with Syria. On the other side of the border, a member of Daesh is waiting for them.[8] Although the profile of the potential combatant to emigrate to fight in Syria and Iraq from the West is not absolutely precise, many authors and journalists describe some common features such as addiction to drugs or videogames, coming from a broken home, poverty, precariousness, isolation and marginalisation in their respective societies, and so on.

However, we must bear in mind that Daesh not only recruits soldiers but also needs experts, technicians, engineers and different specialists who are not recruited through this campaign but join the organisation in exchange for large amounts of money.

Portrait of the Transmitter

Al Hayat Media Center is one of the most important keys to the dissemination of Daesh ideology. It is a media group that, through the net, has promoted many of the propaganda contents of the organisation. However, it is worth noting that Al Hayat M.C. (which in Arabic means “life”) has nothing to do with another communication group of the same name based in Lebanon.

The transmitter we refer to is – according to the ISIS Study Group (ISG) – a “formidable media giant” that spreads contents in favour of Daesh through social networks and online platforms containing high quality multimedia propaganda.[9] According to ISG, one of the figures that could be behind this channel of dissemination would be Ahmad Abousamra, who appears on the list of most wanted fugitive terrorists on the FBI website.[10]

Al Hayat M.C. has been able to collapse social networks such as Twitter, YouTube or Diaspora thanks to a team who work full time. This group – notes ISG – would have been testing and carrying out reception studies aimed at western society from within the organisation that controls part of Syria and Iraq. The messages would be aimed at Muslim believers, but would especially focus efforts on recent converts to Islam. The ISG adds that they are also aimed at those who have been Muslim for some time but “have not yet found their path in Islam.” The objective of the propaganda used to bombard these three targets is to persuade them, at first, to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight in their yihad and later for other reasons such as ideological radicalisation or to promote terrorism with the modus operandiof the high profile “lone wolf”. Another objective of the media campaign, reports the ISG, is to “intimidate the citizens of the closest allies of the United States.” A paradoxical case is that, on some occasions, they warn of coming attacks.[11] According to the El Mundo journalist Martín Rodríguez Yebra, they carry out “professional work light years ahead of the home recordings al-Qaeda used to frighten the planet”: multi-camera shoots, high quality sound, special effects and filming techniques “inspired by Hollywood.” The United States government estimates that Daesh’s media arm can publish up to 90,000 comments on the social networks. Rodríguez Yebra also points out the existence of a radio station in Mosul and the announcement of the opening of a 24 hour television channel called Khilafalive. Several media outlets talk about this TV station but the web directory is blocked. However, they manage a blog:

Among the material published (most temporarily available on social networks and portals of online multimedia contents such as many videos stand out (even some serialised in episodes); a monthly written publication called Dabiq, which becomes a news bulletin on the day to day events of Daesh, that includes reports, news, interviews, etc.; and other publications and magazines, such as Al Hayat IS Report or Al Hayat IS News. We also find audio contents, mostly speeches by their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Moreover, all these multimedia contents are translated (or subtitled in the case of videos) into several languages, mainly English, French, German or Russian. Several blogs – apart from ISG – focus on investigating Al Hayat Media Center and on sharing the propaganda material in order to publicise it. Among others, stands out.

As I mentioned, the study focuses on analysis of the audiovisual and editorial material of the three main magazines: Dabiq, Al Hayat IS Report and Al Hayat IS News.

Description of the Material Analysed

Audiovisual Material

We have selected 15 videos as audiovisual material. These include eight videos with a set of common features and that belong to a series of videos called mujatweets.

It is worth pointing out that the videos have highly diverse characteristics, beginning with the running time. The average running time is from around eight to 10 minutes but while some of them do not reach one minute others exceed 10. However, they share aspects that we explore next. In the first place, it is essential to differentiate the content of the different videos: the format. Among them, we find several films that have a documentary or report format, some simply record the reading of a manifesto but others range from executions to a music video or even a film trailer.

Editorial Material

Al Hayat Media Center publishes three magazines: Islamic State Reports, which basically has reports on Daesh; Islamic State News, where the most recent news about the organisation is reported; and, finally, Dabiq, a generalist magazine about the world surrounding the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The latter has become one of the pillars of its media campaign and, at the same time, is the editorial publication on which we have focused the research. The first two publications mentioned are designed so that the pictures occupy more than 50% of the pages, which makes the text rather secondary.

In the first place, it should be stressed that the sample analysed consists of the first seven issues of Dabiq that existed when the study was conducted. This magazine has different sections, some of which are repeated in the different editions and others only appear in a small part of the sample analysed. The sections repeated in all the editions are: editorial, reports on the Islamic State, religious articles and the section called “In the Words of the Enemy”. In this latter serialised section we find articles, texts or speeches by western journalists, politicians or entrepreneurs about Daesh. Other sections in some of the magazines are the so-called “studies”, which tend to be religious texts applied to the present (they appear in four of the publications analysed). We also find the “Short News about the Islamic State” (in two editions) and articles by John Cantlie (in four editions), an American journalist kidnapped by Daesh in 2012 who, instead of being executed or rescued in exchange for money like most journalists caught by Daesh, writes in the magazine and appears in some videos. His latest appearance in the propaganda material of Al Hayat M.C. was in early December 2016.

The magazines analysed have 54 pages on average (varying between 40 and 85 pages). The two main thematic blocks in Dabiq are on religion and news. The magazine’s editors allocate up to 20 pages to the first block and 25 to the second.

From Macro to Micro: a Specific Analysis of Jihadist Propaganda

Image Processing

In the case of the audiovisual material it is worth differentiating one of the videos from the rest. It is a music video, an elaborate photographic montage with many effects applied in postproduction. Most of the other videos are shot in impeccable quality and with a tripod or steadicam. We find a wide range of shots and some special effects. All the videos are preceded by a brief animation with the logo of Al Hayat Media Center. In contrast to the remaining videos, mujatweets are very simple, quickly edited without effects and mostly handheld shot. There is also no added music or multi-camera shots. The videos are divided up by a blue background along with a sound effect and the letters “m” and “t”, forming the logotype of the mujatweets. It appears several times in the video and has the function of arranging and dividing it in thematic parts or blocks.

Editorially, the role of pictures in Dabiq is very interesting. Almost all the pages have pictures and on some occasions they occupy 50% of the page. Moreover, many pages feature a picture as background. Another remarkable aspect of the use of pictures is the value of photoreports, especially in the first four editions. In some cases we also find quite sophisticated computer graphics and, in others, photomontages. The main functions of these pictures are: narrative, especially in the case of reports and even more so in photoreports; the decorative and complementary function, which merely accompanies and helps us understand the text better; and, finally, the metaphorical function, in which the picture represents specific symbolism that the text is unable to define so precisely. For instance, in one of the articles where religious leaders reflect on the concept imamah (authority), the picture that occupies over half a page is a flock of sheep and a dog guiding them. The metaphor is clear.

Sound Processing

All the videos analysed, except the mujatweets, have background music. The different types of music have very similar characteristics. They are songs sung a cappella, that is without instrumental accompaniment, with many voice effects (such as reverberations and echoes) and recall the style of traditional Arab music and something of the melodies of Koranic verses. More than half of the audiovisual pieces analysed have some sound effects, in some cases, such as the video Join the Ranks or A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross,less importantly, but in others such as the trailer for Flames of War they are essential. In most videos, the background sound and the voices are captured with the same microphone incorporated into the cameras, indicated by the sound of the wind and air. Only on one occasion we can see a lavalier microphone: on the presenter of the report called The End of Sykes-Picot, which explains the fall of the crossing between Syria and Iraq as a result of the pact between France and Great Britain after the First World War.

Linguistic Style

First at all, it is necessary to note that the analysis has been based on the English and French translation of the magazine Dabiq, and that we cannot be sure of the original language of the text. The writers adopt a formal but light linguistic register, without using overly technical vocabulary. Moreover, they show great command of several languages. Sometimes we can detect mistakes but, generally, the texts are well written and revised. As for the register, it has a formal character although, on some occasions, the writer departs from the more journalistic style and appeals directly to the reader. This, apart from being a journalistic or formal mistake, is a technique to persuade the receiver. In this respect, it is worth adding that in the French edition they do not only address the reader but they use the informal “tu” (you), which is quite shocking in French. Without overlooking this last question, we can argue that the journalistic style prevails in most of the sections of the magazine, although value judgements are always added.

Who is the Target of this Propaganda?

To try to specify the target of the Daesh campaign we have taken into account several elements, including the issues addressed in each video or article to the languages used, the type of text, the video format or the body or spoken languages. Of course, the different materials analysed do not have the same specific target and, therefore, depending on the type of the propaganda material, it varies.

Both audiovisual and written material is available in several languages. Most videos are in Arabic or in English. However, all the original videos in Arabic include English subtitles and in all the videos in English it is easy to find Arabic subtitles. With reference to the target, there are several variations depending on the theme of the audiovisual piece. Most seek to reach a specific type of receiver: a Muslim (whether born or recently converted to Islam) planning to travel to Syria or Iraq to join the ranks of Daesh combatants. All the videos analysed share the same receiver profile, with the exception of the trailer entitled Flames of War. At present it is not possible to deduce whether it is really the title of a future film. In this case, the objective of the video could be defined as provoking the West, and more particularly the United States, because it is directly aimed at the then President Obama and shows images of the White House and the American army. Nevertheless, the remaining videos fit into the target previously defined. Of course, each video has its own variants with respect to the receiver: in some cases the profile is that of a father with siblings in his care; in others it is aimed at youths isolated from society and addicted to videogames…

In relation to the theme covered, we can establish some common points. The religious theme appears more frequently. However, war and moral reasons, states of mind and recruitment are quite often repeated in the different audiovisual pieces.

Muslim people, and more specifically the Arab identity, exist and some periods of history such as the Palestinian nakba have particularly united them, despite the fact that there are many sectors that currently criticise a lack of union of the Arab people

The editorial material is aimed at more cultured receivers. They are long texts addressing religious issues that are difficult to understand if you are unfamiliar with the Islamic faith and the Koranic texts. This leads us to the conclusion that the target will be a segment of the population of an older age than for the videos and with a higher socio-cultural level. Within each sector different issues are addressed. The four most common aspects in the magazines are: combats, military actions and warmongering in general, approached both religiously and as a piece of news or report; the religious issue within which we find sub-issues such as classical Islam, prophecies, absolute truth, slavery, the Last Judgement or the tribal question; Daesh management, mainly reports; and morality and justice.

In short, we could divide the target of the campaign into four different profiles: first, young male Muslims (especially those who have just converted to Islam) with low purchasing power and, if possible, fans of videogames and inclined to action and violence; second, Muslim fathers who have not yet found their spiritual path in the faith and are considering travelling to its “caliphate” (and have doubts about what to do with their family); third, either of the two previous options (men between 18 and 40) but with the requisite that they live in the West; finally, a profile highly opposed to the previous one: western citizens who are outraged when they see certain violent images and feel threatened. It is worth pointing out that the last target described is the receiver of the most violent and brutal contents (threats and executions).


These serialised videos share highly similar characteristics. They are very short pieces (one to two minutes in length). Their name is a combination of two words: the first, mujahidin, which means “Allah’s warrior” in Islamic terminology; and the second tweet, from the social network Twitter. Therefore, mujatweets have been created to be spread through the social networks such as Twitter (given its short simple form) and the central focus of their subjects is recruitment. The main objective of this series of videos is to convince the viewer to join Daesh. This viewer is hard to define. The targetof these videos is undoubtedly the potential future foreign combatants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. We also find videos aimed more towards a youth sector, others at fathers with women and children in their care, and others that are more focused towards the West than the East. For this reason, they are in many languages (Arabic, English, French, German, and even Bosnian). This suggests that with each of these videos they seek to reach different groups of Muslims all over the world. There are also videos that do not have a voice or language and are simply everyday images of children or markets full of food. The latter seek to reassure the receiver willing to join the ranks of Daesh but fears hunger and insecurity for their family.

The image provided by these audiovisual micro-capsules of the organisation of Daesh is one of the elements that has most helped to define the target. The mujatweets give us a very welcoming and anything but hostile image of Daesh. They do not hide their hostility to their enemies but neither do they use violence when talking about themselves. In one of the videos they simply talk of “frightening” enemies. They define themselves affably and friendlily, describing life in the “caliphate” as “living in obedience, full of honour and satisfaction.” In another mujatweet a restaurant owner from Raqqa explains that “the situation is excellent”, “things are going well” and the people “are happy”. They often also assume a religious role and always appear to have absolutely everything under control. Through the videos, the transmitter describes a society with a good level of well-being. They give us the day to day life of the population through images of people walking in the street, going shopping, eating, smiling, and so on.

Objectives of the Campaign

The messages of the different propaganda materials conceal three kinds of objectives. The first and fundamental, as it is present in most propaganda messages, is to instil in the recipient an ideology and/or specific image of its organisation. In this case, we do not know how effective it is as it does not involve a direct reaction. However, after watching a video a few times, the receiver can consider that some arguments set out are easy to understand and justified. Next, it is worth noting one of the most important objectives of the campaign until 2015: recruitment. Many of the messages (especially religious articles and the series of mujatweet videos) are clearly and directly aimed at persuading the receiver to emigrate to the “caliphate” controlled by Daesh. Finally, the third aim of the campaign is to threaten and frighten part of the world population, which Daesh considers as “enemies”. In this way they seek to polarise western societies so that one part, out of fear, develops racist and xenophobic attitudes towards Muslim communities, so that they are marginalised from their society and feel closer to the extremist discourse of Daesh.

Function of the Messages

Any media campaign aims to persuade. The persuasion is developed on different levels, the clearest of which is to try to instil into the receiver a set of values, points of view or a given ideology so that he changes his attitude and empathy towards someone or something. Another different type of persuasion is the one that tries to convince someone to join the ranks of Daesh combatants.

In the case of Dabiq, the messages can have several functions, as there can be an immense plurality of objectives behind a publication of so many pages and so many subjects. We also find a great deal of emphasis on the informative function (news about Daesh). The persuasive function is always more indirect than most of the audiovisual content of the campaign: it seeks to instil in the reader a set of values and an image of Daesh rather than inducing a specific and direct reaction.

In contrast, in the mujatweets the function is shamelessly clear. In fact, the protagonists themselves call for hijrah (the word used to refer to emigration to the “Islamic State”) looking at the camera and appealing directly to the viewer: “Abandon your countries of tawaghit andjoin the Islamic State, because this is an obligation today.”

Argumentation Used

We are presented with different arguments, given that the objective and the targetare not the same in each of the messages. Some appeal more to religion, others refer to revenge, others talk of morality, and some even of happiness. However, we can observe a set of arguments repeated throughout the documents analysed. The most repeated argumentation and present in almost all the sample is religious. With Islamic justification they urge the receiver to a fundamentalist dualism of choosing between “good and evil” and the polarisation of positions, embodied in the sophist phrase “Either with me, or without me.” Through quotations from the Koran or speeches by leaders and imams, they build an ideology based completely on faith. Militarism is also one of the elements most recurrent in the subjects of the audiovisual capsules. In almost all of them we find images of combats, bodies or threats. The video that most abuses this aspect is called A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross, in which they execute 21 Christian prisoners in cold blood in front of the cameras. In terms of happiness, it is a concept to which most protagonists of the propaganda analysed refer as an argument to convince the receiver to emigrate to their “caliphate”. Happiness provides the most moralistic and essential arguments and philosophical advice given to the viewer. Finally, it is important to highlight the heroic role that the transmitter gives to all the combatants who fight in the ranks of Daesh.

Anti-imperialism is also one of the arguments most used by Al Hayat M.C. to convince the receiver of the cruelty of some against the goodness of others. But in general the main argument – and most repeated in the sample of the campaign analysed – is the attainment of a united umma (Muslim people), without frontiers, countries or nationalisms, under the same state where Sharia, the law of Allah, is applied. In other words, the religious version of frustrated Pan-Arabism. This idea seeks to break with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and although they have currently left behind the ambition to “recover” the whole territory from Arab expansion, their objective is to gain a specific territory through the chaos in Syria and Iraq.

Image of Daesh

In terms of the insight that this propaganda provides about Daesh, we can highlight some clear aspects. In the first place, the image of Daeshprovided by the pieces clearly shows the violent and aggressive side of the armed organisation. At all times you can see weapons, explosions, combat scenes, bodies and even live executions in some videos. In the case of Dabiq and the other magazines, we can see crude images like those of the execution by incineration of a pilot of the Jordanian army taken in 2015, preceded by an interview with him. This hostility – which for reasons of persuasion is not shown in mujatweets – is complemented with an impression of absolute control of the situation transmitted to the receiver. In the second place, the other face shown of Daesh is that of Islam, faith and religion. They give a highly religious image of themselves, with which they seek to argue and justify all the actions they carry out, beginning with their very existence.

Although the profile of the potential combatant to emigrate to fight in Syria and Iraq from the West is not absolutely precise, many authors and journalists describe some common features such as addiction to drugs or videogames, coming from a broken home, poverty, precariousness, isolation and marginalisation in their respective societies, and so on

Also notable is the welcoming attitude they show towards the neediest and the recently arrived combatants, as well as the stance of victimisation and benevolence they take in the letters of those kidnapped that appear in the magazine Dabiq. Although it does not form a section, this type of content is repeated in recent issues. The reason for the kidnapping and the presentation of the hostage appears first. Next is a letter by the hostage, of doubtful authenticity, as it conveys a benevolent image of Daesh with sentences such as “my kidnappers did as much as possible to avoid the tragic end that awaits me.” In the missives, the victim blame the United States and the West for their own deaths, and even refer to Daesh as “the supposed terrorist group.”

Image of Society, the West and the World

Implicitly, both the videos and the articles in the magazine Dabiq convey an image based on their point of view, even sometimes unconscious, by attributing values to the different aspects addressed. The image they show of the West is very different to that of Daesh as an organisation or as a place to live.

It is also very interesting to consider the figure of women in the perception of the society of the transmitter. Women are conspicuous by their absolute absence in all the propaganda material. Women appear in none of the videos analysed, except for a couple of pieces where we can see two small girls, who appear by accident in a corner away from the rest. When they are referred to they always adopt a passive role and dependent on the man. Dabiq also attaches almost no relevance to the female gender. The only woman mentioned in the seven magazines analysed is in the context of a religious-mythological sermon, and this figure presents symptoms of madness. The most usual is the invisibility of women. It is surprising that in a report on the conflict between Daesh and the Kurds of Rojava, there is no reference to the female Kurdish militias of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPJ), when in the rest of the world the image of the combative Kurdish woman has become the media face of the conflict. They could criticise women taking up arms, but whether out of fear or for other reasons, they do not and prefer to omit it as if it had never existed.

They do not speak much of the other Arab Muslim countries. They imagine their “ideal East” as a welcoming land, the land of Islam, and describe Easterners as people oppressed by their own tawaghit (tyrant) governments.

They attribute the West with values such as hypocrisy and decadence, and criticise the police surveillance and ill-treatment of Muslims in the West as “capitalist voracity”. They call Westerners “crusaders”, thereby comparing the Middle Ages crusades with the post-colonial operations that the West carries out in the Middle East. By boasting the most puritan interpretation of Islam, which rejects the Darwinist theory of evolution, in the words of the song of a music video analysed Westerners are called the “grandchildren of monkeys”.

Al Hayat M.C. has been able to collapse social networks such as Twitter, YouTube or Diaspora thanks to a team who work full time. This group would have been testing and carrying out reception studies aimed at western society from within the organisation that controls part of Syria and Iraq

Throughout the different videos, the protagonists make comments and threats towards different states, countries, ethnicities, religions and nations. They envisage international relations full of enemies and with few allies. The allies they mention are never countries or states, but organisations similar to theirs (although smaller) that operate in different parts of the world. An example is the Islamic State of Libya, similar to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Boko Haram in Nigeria or some groups similar to theirs that operate in the Sinai Peninsula. In the case of Dabiq, numerous pages refer to various countries and cultures they present as enemies. Generally, the most negative role is always given to the United States, which forms a kind of triangle of relations with Russia and Israel and the three countries form, according to the writers of the publication, the “black hand” that controls the West and”is driven by the interests of the Jews.”

2015, New Strategy: From Recruitment to Attack

The attacks on the headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on 7 January 2015 were a turning point both in the geostrategic and neighbourhood policies of the European Union countries and in the Daesh media campaign. For the first time, the “Islamic State” was a real danger for the West. The conflict called at the heart of Europe. The attack was so harsh that it meant a change in the strategy of the Jihadist organisation.

The leaders of Daesh, aware of the effectiveness of an attack with so little cost, along with the stagnation of the continuous expansion that the armed organisation was experiencing at that time in Syria and Iraq, decided to take up this new approach, far more high profile, effective and economical.

The role of pictures in Dabiq is very interesting. Almost all the pages have pictures and on some occasions they occupy 50% of the page. Moreover, many pages feature a picture as background

From then on the media campaign turned to new objectives. There is no longer a need for so many combatants in the field; in fact, many are returning to Europe. Thus, the messages that began to be disseminated from that moment, although targeted at the same aforementioned profile, will have other objectives: to encourage the receiver living in the West to move to action without the need to travel to the Middle East. The famous “lone wolves” began to emerge as a result of this shift of strategy and this is reflected in the propaganda material. A clear example can be found in the fact that the new Daesh magazine entitled Rumiyah – which is the new version of the former Dabiq – encouraged potential terrorists to use large trucks and vehicles to carry out attacks in Europe. In this respect, the persuasive objective of the new media campaign does elicit a clear reaction from the receivers: both the Nice attack in the midst of the celebration of the French national festivity of the 14 July 2016, and in the Christmas fairs in Berlin in December the same year, the methodology used was the one recommended by Daesh.

The new videos that appear on the social networks no longer try to convince the Mujahideen to enrol in the army in their “caliphate”. Now they issue a call to “murder ‘crusaders’, whether they are dressed in uniform or as civilians, by all possible means,” through a message in a communication read by its spokesman Abu Mohamed al Adnani: “If you can kill an unfaithful American or European, especially the vengeful and dirty French, or an Australian, a Canadian or any unfaithful who promotes the infidel war, including the citizens who have joined the coalition against the Islamic State, trust Allah again and kill them in any way possible but do it.”

We can summarise the causes of this shift in the Daesh media campaign in three points. In the first place, the internationalisation of the conflict; as a consequence of the first attacks in Europe, countries such as France or the United States intensified the bombings in the areas controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The second cause, as previously mentioned, is the stagnation of the supposed “caliphate”. This is due to a change in its military objectives: while at first its fixation was on expanding territorially, the military opposition of the neighbouring and western states and the recovery of the territory by their previous national states have forced Daesh to prioritise the fight for some specific borders. Finally, the last cause of this strategic change is due to the increase of the complications that hinder the path of the hijrah. The intensification of access and security controls in airports and border crossings have had an effect.

In short, the new direction that the new media campaign of Daesh has taken has been just a response to the reactions of the different national states. Perhaps the non-resolution of the conflict in Syria and Iraq will influence the campaign and its objective again in another shift. Unfortunately, the most feasible scenario in a near future is not only that this very strategy of terrorist actions in western countries to foster hatred will be maintained but probably that the campaigns will increase and get worse.


[1] Ramonet, I., Propagandas silenciosas. Masas, televisión y cine op. cit., Cuba, Fondo Cultural del Alba, 2006, p. 26.

[2] Ramonet, I., op. cit., p. 21.

[3] Lacroix, S., Les islamistes saoudiens. Une insurrection manquée, Presses de Sciences Po (P.F.N.S.P.), online, 2010, pp. 173-178.

[4] Nakba: in Arabic “disaster”. Referring to the creation of the State of Israel in Palestinian land in 1948.

[5] Jackson, P., “Ukraine war pulls in foreign fighters”, BBC News, 1 September 2014.

[6] UN Security Council, The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and the Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant: report and recommendations submitted pursuant to resolution 2170, 2014.

[7] UN Security Council,The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and the Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant: report and recommendations submitted pursuant to resolution 2170, 2014.

[8] Masi, A. and H. Sender, “How Foreign Fighters Joining ISIS Travel To The Islamic State Group’s ‘Caliphate'”,International Business Times, 3 March 2015.

[9] The ISIS Study Group, 2014. Available at Last accessed: 15 May 2015.

[10] FBI BOSTON, Wanted Fugitive Ahmad Abousamra Added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List, 2013.

[11] The ISIS Study Group, The Counter Jihad Report. Available at Last accessed: 30 May 2015.1] Ramonet, I., Propagandas silenciosas. Masas, televisión y cine, Cuba, Fondo Cultural del Alba, 2006, p.26.