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Afghan IS Commander Hits 11 of His Own Fighters

IS accuses Taliban militants of being apostates because they have established connections with foreign countries through their office in Qatar

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Map Of Archin Image Source: VOA

An Islamic State (IS) commander in Afghanistan killed 11 of his fellow fighters in the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province, Afghan provincial authorities said.

The Nangarhar governor’s spokesperson, Attaullah Khogyani, told reporters on Friday about the unusual killings carried out by IS commander, Zameen Jan — also known as Abubakar — but provided few details about why the commander would target his own men. Khogyani said that after the killings, the commander was wounded by Taliban fighters who were now holding him.

Local residents and a posting by the Taliban on its Facebook page claimed that Jan took revenge on his fighters after his brother, a member of the Taliban, was killed by IS fighters this week in a gunbattle. IS has not commented on the report.

IS active in Achin

The Islamic State group has established a footprint in a number of Nangarhar districts, including Achin.  Its fighters have launched multiple attacks on government security checkpoints. The group has also engaged in fierce clashes with rival Taliban militants in the province.

Afghan and NATO forces recently launched cleanup operations, and some areas have been cleared of IS fighters. But despite the claims by Afghan authorities to have weakened the group, IS fighters remain active in the province.

Islamic State fighters arrested by Afghan security personal stand outside the Afghan police headquarters in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, May 9, 2016 Image Source: VOA

Their influence remains so strong that thousands of students in parts of Nangarhar have been unable to attend schools because IS forbade them from opening.  The group also recently restarted its propaganda radio broadcasts in Nangarhar after being knocked off the air by government airstrikes earlier this year.

The Taliban and IS have become enemies as the Taliban view IS as an outside force, according to Kabul-based security analyst Wahid Muzhda. IS accuses Taliban militants of being apostates because they have established connections with foreign countries through their office in Qatar, he said.

Nevertheless, he said that the group’s struggles appear to be weakening its appeal in Afghanistan.

“IS has lost its attraction,” he said, adding that IS “is faced with internal divisions, and many commanders have already abandoned the group.”

Muzhda said that overall, IS is struggling to hold on to conquered territory while under pressure from both the Taliban and the government. (Source: VOA)

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English-speaking ISIS Supporters Exploit Messaging App

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up

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English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
The Telegram logo is seen on a screen of a smartphone in this illustration, April 13, 2018. VOA

English-speaking Islamic State supporters are refusing to give up on the terror group’s ability to remain a force in Syria and Iraq, according to a new study that examined their behavior on the Telegram instant messaging service.

The report, “Encrypted Extremism: Inside the English-Speaking Islamic State Ecosystem on Telegram,” released Thursday by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, looked at 636 pro-Islamic State channels and groups in the 16 months from June 2017 through October 2018.

It found that even as the terror group was losing ground in Syria and Iraq to U.S.-backed forces, and even as IS leadership was encouraging followers to start looking to progress in IS provinces elsewhere, English-speaking supporters turned to Telegram to reinforce their faith in the caliphate.

“These are supporters that like to fight uphill battles,” report co-author Bennet Clifford told VOA. “What supporters are trying to do when they’re engaging with this conversation is attempt to shift the narrative away from loss and provide justifications for it.”

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – An Islamic State flag is seen in this photo illustration. VOA

At the same time, these English-speaking supporters sought to amplify their beliefs, supplementing official IS propaganda with user-generated content while also increasing the distribution of instructional material on how to carry out attacks.

“I think it’s part of an attempt in some cases to spin the narrative their way,” Clifford added.

Attraction of Telegram

IS supporters first started flocking to Telegram, an instant messaging service that promises speed and encryption for private communications, in 2015 as social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook began a crackdown aimed at Islamic State’s often violent and gory propaganda.

Since then, IS has been hooked by Telegram’s promise that it will not disclose user data to government officials and by the service’s ability to let supporters organize and share large files, including video.

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“No other platforms appear to have developed the same balance of features, user-friendliness, and basic security that could warrant a new switch,” the report said.

That ease of use has long worried counterterrorism officials, who have watched as IS has used the online ecosystem to help plan and carry out the November 2015 attacks in Paris, attacks on a Christmas market in Berlin in December 2016 and the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul just weeks later.

English-speaking facilitators

In those cases, the attackers appear to have been given instructions from IS officials in Syria and Iraq. But Telegram has given rise to several key English-speaking facilitators who have been operating on the periphery.

English, ISIS, Supporters, Messaging
FILE – Karen Aizha Hamidon, who allegedly worked to encourage several Indian militants last year to join the Islamic State group in the Middle East, is surrounded by reporters after attending a hearing at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 3, 2017. VOA

One of them, according to Clifford and co-author Helen Powell, was 36-year-old Karen Aizha Hamidon, who helped mobilize sympathizers from the United States to Singapore to join the terror group or its affiliates.

Hamidon, who was arrested by Philippine authorities in October 2017, has also been linked to efforts to establish an IS province in India.

Another key player, 34-year-old Ashraf al-Safoo, took a different approach before being arrested last October by the FBI in Chicago.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, al-Safoo was a key member of the Khattab Media Foundation, which used hacked social media accounts on platforms like Twitter to disseminate IS propaganda.

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“Much of the propaganda created and distributed by Khattab promotes violent jihad on behalf of ISIS and ISIS’s media office,” the Justice Department said in a statement using a different acronym for the militant group.

While both Hamidon and al-Safoo are now in custody, showing the ability of law enforcement to penetrate their Telegram operations, others are likely to replace them because of the ongoing need of Islamic State’s English-speaking supporters to communicate and find larger audiences.

“While there are a number of disadvantages for Islamic State supporters in the use of Telegram from a security perspective they’ll continue to do it because their balance of outreach and operational security,” Clifford said. “There’s not another alternative at this point in time.” (VOA)