Author: Jeff R. Weyers and Camie Condon, iBRABO
A SHINY NEW PHONE WITH NO WHERE TO GO
It’s a rookie social media mistake and one that intelligence and law enforcement agencies pray for when tracking criminals. This week one of New Zealand’s well known jihadists, Mark Taylor (Twitter aka: Kiwi Jihadi or @M_Taylor_Kiwi), removed 45 tweets after he discovered that he was broadcasting his twitter location to every intelligence agency (and others) keeping tabs on him. Unfortunately for him we captured all of them prior to him removing the tweets and will discuss the value of the intelligence they contained. Taylor isn’t the first jihadist to broadcast his whereabouts via social media and in fact looking at the battlefield in Syria we see fighters from Canada, France, and other western countries making the same mistake. The benefit of material like this when examining foreign fighters is it allows investigators to establish the extent to which an individual is tied to a terrorist group like Daesh (ISIS). In this manner they can better justify potential criminal charges against the individual and at the very least build grounds for their detention and investigation upon their return.
TRACKING FOREIGN FIGHTERS VIA THEIR OWN SOCIAL MEDIA
Twitter isn’t the only social media provider that can allow for geotag tracking. Facebook, Instagram and Flickr all offer the ability to add this feature and in many cases track geotagged related material regardless of whether you turn on the GPS encoding or not. Pictures also quite often can contain geotag information and have been used to establish the movements of groups and their activities. Examining Taylor’s overall twitter broadcast activities (above) we see that in October of this year he was fighting with ISIS in Kafar Roma, an area which the Syrian Army confirmed had been occupied by pockets of foreign fighters from ISIS. From his broadcasts during the first two weeks in October (below) we know that his tweets ceased about the same time the Syrian army made a strong push into the area.
After leaving Kafar Roma and according to Taylor’s own tweets he goes off the grid for several months fighting in the desert before finally retreating to the ISIS strong hold of Al Tabqah, Syria in early December. ISIS’s grip on this part of central Syria is supported by numerous ISIS fighters and supporters that regularly tweet from Al Tabqah and Ar Raqqah. From our own analysis most twitter activity is centered around larger population areas indicating that cellular service is sporadic at best outside of these areas. Examining the numerous tweets that Taylor put out during his time in Al Tabqah we were able to identify one specific house that Taylor predominantly used from the 3rd to the 10th of December 2014 in the south west part of the city (illustrated below).
There is no doubt that Taylor is fully aware of his social media failures now given his recent removals from his Twitter account and his most recent tweet claiming he was staying in the Islamic State for good. Examining his photo update on twitter it would also appear that he is on the move with other foreign fighters (luggage in the background). No doubt this is a better alternative than being targeted by a drone strike or any group with the operational capabilities to target his short lived home in Al Tabqah.
FAILURE, AFTER FAILURE, AFTER FAILURE…
Taylor eager for the fame of being a violent jihadist took to twitter to get attention for his exploits. His statements and twitter missteps have solidified his involvement with ISIS and will provide the evidence should he ever try to return to New Zealand. His ignorance and the ignorance of others has been an advantage to intelligence agencies around the world looking to protect their nations and track the progress of ISIS. Even examining his most recent twitter photo update, Taylor shows again his lack of understanding of technology and intelligence as he broadcast out the facial image of another fighter captured in the background of his photo (below).
Taylor’s numerous failures demonstrate the opportunities that can be gained through monitoring and tracking extremists via social media and telecommunications. Given his need for attention I’m sure this will not be the last we hear from Kiwi Jihadi. With luck he will fail to read the manual on his next shiny new phone!