Extremist Social Media

Analysis Reveals Australian and Canadian ISIS Members Died Fighting Together

By Jeff R. Weyers and Camie Condon

In June of this year Canadian authorities laid terrorism charges in absentia against Canadian extremist Ahmad Waseem. A native of Windsor Ontario, Waseem had travelled to Syria not once but twice only returning to Canada for treatment of injuries for a short period in 2014.

In September of 2014 and over 15000 kms away, Suhan Rahman, an extremist from Australia had departed on a similar path to join the Islamic state. Like Waseem, Rahman called for others to make the journey to join the Islamic State and was being investigated for his terror ties by Australian investigators. Both men were very overt in their social media presence and their affiliation with the Islamic State.

Fast forward to March of this year and simultaneously reports of Rahman and Waseem’s deaths emerged on social media. From ISIS controlled territory friends of Waseem and Rahman (including Rahman’s own ISIS bride) publicly acknowledged their deaths separately.

In a follow up examination by iBRABO looking at images released by the YPG and notifications of each fighters death it turns out that both of these foreign fighters met their end on the same battlefield in Tal Hamis, Syria. In the image below both Waseem and Rahman are photographed having been killed together by the YPG offensive.

So why should we believe that Waseem and Rahman are dead?
– Both Rahman’s wife and other foreign fighters have openly claimed the deaths of both individuals. While there have been some examples of ISIS fighters faking their deaths generally there has never been a third party confirming it with photographs.

– Case in point, the YPG have been particularly good at documenting war dead in their battles and in this case the faces of both Rahman and Waseem appear intact for identification. The full photos (GRAPHIC CONTENT) can be seen here.

– The newly examined YPG photo (below) would indicate that both individuals were fighting together. It is common for ISIS units to be formed and operate in a common language (Arabic, English, German) for the purpose of communication in the field. Thus it would make sense that Waseem and Rahman (and likely other English speaking members) were in the same unit attacking the YPG.

– Drawing on the separate reports in each country we see that notifications of Waseem and Rahman’s deaths came out at the same time as the YPG documentation of ISIS war dead in Tal Hamis.

– Finally examining the YPG photos against the social media photos of Waseem and Rahman it would appear incontrovertible (see below) that they are in fact the deceased parties.

YPG of Waseem and Rahman killed in Tal Hamis.

YPG Photos of Waseem and Rahman killed in Tal Hamis.

Without the ability to put investigators on the ground in Syria and Iraq, Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) will remain critical for investigators tracking foreign fighters and trying to come to some kind of conclusion on their cases. To date OSINT has been used to geotrack fighters, document their involvement in fighting and provide clues to their associations within ISIS. All of which are valuable in proving terrorism charges against individuals seeking to join ISIS and other designated terror groups. No doubt in this case there will be a need to examine the links between Waseem and Rahman and their associated links to Canada and Australia. The secondary benefit of this data however is that it will potentially allow both the police and the public to put to rest the notion that Waseem and Rahman could ever return to commit further terrorist acts at home.

Radicalization: There’s an App for That!

Authors: Jeff R. Weyers and Camie Condon, iBRABO

In the wake of the most recent attacks in Australia, Canada and the United States the questions surrounding sources of the radicalization is often a topic of concern. With most self starters a good portion of that radicalization is more and more being attributed to material consumed on the internet. As the world watches Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) flood social media with content one thing is very clear about the online battle with the group, we are losing!

The War on Social Media

For corporations that are being used in the proxy online war it will require a shift in how they do business. For Google, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter they simply cannot afford to have their brands associated with the extremist messages that ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra (JN) and Al Qaeda (AQ) foster. They will need to increase their ability to deal with extremist content in a much more effective method. The notion that “we rely on our users to notify us of inappropriate content” is not going to cut it moving forward. Extremist groups are deploying content to social media at a faster and faster pace, one only needs to look at the number of ISIS videos currently on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to see that. For the vast amounts of money that each company takes in in any given year they will need to consider hiring extremism experts to proactively monitor content. ISIS, AQ and JN actively use branding in their online videos and pictures, and these companies will need to use those branding symbols to more readily identify terrorist content as they have done with child pornography and copy right infringement. From an ethical and social/corporate responsibility perspective these companies will need to do better.

Bilad al Shaam's 100th Facebook Page

Bilad al Shaam’s 100th Facebook Page

This is not to say that some companies like Facebook haven’t been trying to keep up. Perhaps one of the largest battles between Facebook and ISIS has been in their attempts to crush the “Bilad al Shaam Media” pages that have had a continual presence since before the announcement of the Islamic State. The day after the Australia hostage siege Facebook removed the 100th iteration of the popular ISIS page with well over 3000 users (above) . In the same breath ISIS launched three new Bilad al Shaam sites to continue their operations on Facebook. This is a battle of persistence that will require vigilance and continuous monitoring to start to push the groups away from the larger social media companies. To some extent we have already seen this happening with groups like ISIS moving to platforms like justpaste.it and manbar.me (the Arabic version of Justpaste.it). Both sites are anonymous media hosting sites that terrorist groups have been using to host and direct users to content. Another curious trend noticed by several experts is the return to webpage based sites and chat forums like ISIS’s webpage http://www.alplatformmedia.com (below).

As has been realized by Al-Shabaab (www.al-qimmah.net) and the Taliban (www.shahamat-english.com) , if you can persist through Denial of Service (DNS) attacks by hackers and governments the worst that will happen is they will have to move servers from time to time. In fact while Canadian troops were in the process of preparing to pull out of Afghanistan in late 2012, the Taliban’s webmaster Adil Watanmal had moved all seven of the Talibans websites to a server in Vancouver, Canada (below). The site which primarily is used for propaganda was also engaged in fund raising activities, thus creating a situation where the Taliban were using Canadian servers to assist in fighting against Canadian troops. These types of blatant abuses have resulted in greater calls for internet service providers (ISP) to track and be aware of the content that is being put up on their servers.

Taliban Websites on Canadian Server in 2012 - iBRABO

Taliban Websites on Canadian Server in 2012

 

Apps in the New Age of Terror

The creation of apps for radicalization is not new. J.M. Berger has previously pointed out how ISIS used the Dawn of Glad Tidings app on Google Play to build the fire storm of twitter support for ISIS. In his forthcoming book, ISIS: The State of Terror he outlines in detail the sophisticated social media strategy of the terror group. Other groups like the Sikh extremist group Babbar Khalsa,  have also used the Google play store in the past with their launch of Babbar Khalsa Radio on Google play.

When we speak about radicalizing potential a group that seems to have gone untouched by Facebook, Twitter and Google Play with a string of social media pages and apps are those under the banner “Generation Awlaki”. Anwar al-Awlaki a highly influential al-Qaeda propagandist and recruiter who was most notoriously linked to the Fort Hood attack was killed in a US drone attack in 2011. His radical preachings however persist as both AQ and ISIS groups have sourced Awlaki in their justification for terror attacks and recruitment to violent jihad. More concerning is that his preachings have reached a cult status amongst extremists and terrorists the world over, having more followers in death than he ever did in life due to the continued growth of social media. In our analysis we were able to locate several instance of the “Generation Awlaki” brand being used on FacebookTwitter and Google play.

Generation Awlaki on Google play

Generation Awlaki on Google play

 

Generation Awlaki on Twitter

Generation Awlaki on Twitter

 

Generation Awlaki Facebook

Generation Awlaki on Facebook

Examining the users of this content you see a spectrum of individuals along all parts of the path to violent extremism, from the casually interested to the hardcore foreign fighters and terrorist members. The concern of course with these apps and sites is they put recruiters and propagandists in touch with individuals that may be vulnerable to recruitment to the group or adopting the ideological cause. This is one explanation behind the meteoric rise in foreign fighters that has been seen with ISIS coinciding with their unprecedented social media campaign.

Prevention: A Role for Everyone

Radicalization and prevention is a community issue that will more and more involve social media and the need for users and responsible corporate partners to do their part. As we are seeing the police simply do not have the resources to do it all. If we had endless budgets and resources we could follow and monitor individuals around the clock but that isn’t realistic nor sustainable. If we tackle the issue from a medical model it will mean delivering prevention techniques to those individuals at risk earlier in order to prevent the scenes that we saw recently in Ottawa and Sydney. Everyone has a role in prevention and governments at all levels will need to do more to empower the community, religious organizations and parents to recognize what radicalization looks like and methods for preventing it. At a corporate level, with respect to terrorist’s use of social media, with corporations boasting record profits and share prices the argument that they are ill equipped to deal with the problem seems like a weak one to me. It’s time they start engaging with the experts and thinking out of the box on tackling the issues and doing their part.

Canadian Foreign Fighter with ties to Jabhat al-Nusra Identified

Author: Jeff R. Weyers, iBRABO

From iBRABO material recently featured on Enquête | Radio-Canada.ca and The Fifth Estate

It started with a question posed to iBRABO by CBC; are there Canadians from the Montreal area fighting in Syria? Using the Identifying Vulnerable Persons Guidance in our examination of terrorist social media sites we came across several extremist individuals from Canada. One person in particular, Sami Elabi (AKA El Sami, AKA Abu Safwan AlKanadi) from Montreal quickly was identified as an individual who appeared to be fighting with the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. His post and photographs (below) demonstrated that Elabi had been pulled down the same extremist path that so many Canadians have recently also followed. This in fact appears to have been the impetus behind the latest attacks by Canadian radicals on our Canadian military personnel and Parliament building.

Sami Elabi Posing with other Fighters

Sami Elabi Posing with other Fighters

Sami Elabi Firing Rifle

Sami Elabi Firing Rifle

 

Lone wolves like Martin Coutour-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau involved in Canada’s most recent attacks have definitely demonstrated the capacity to carry out the calls of ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra to attack the west. In fact, in the months and weeks leading up the recent attacks in Canada, ISIS had demonstrated a particular interest in Canada on Social media. In their Dabiq Magazine (ISIS’s equivalent of Al Qaeda’s Inspire Magazine) they posted a full page feature on Andre Poulin who died fighting along side ISIS (below). Poulin was later also featured in a well produced five minute recruiting video.

Dabiq Issue 2 Andre Poulin

Andre Poulin Featured in Dabiq

Perhaps of equal concern to western law enforcement agencies is the potential for well trained and battle hardened foreign fighters to return home and use those skills. By all accounts numerous researchers have put the number of foreign fighters fighting for groups like ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra at between 12000-15000. Elabi is just one example of a steady stream of fighters with whom Canada has attempted to intervene. In videos posted by Elabi on his own extremist Facebook page he is actively seen burning and shooting his Canadian passport.

Sami Elabi Burning and Shooting Passport

Sami Elabi Burning and Shooting Passport

In a second video he records fighters blowing up a structure with explosives at an undisclosed location.

Sami Elabi with Fighters Blowing up Structure

Sami Elabi with Fighters Blowing up Structure

While it is unknown if Elabi will ever try to return to Canada he definitely represents the kind of threat Western nations are facing when it comes to citizens engaging with terrorist groups. As has been discussed by many experts this past week it will require the community to assist law enforcement in preventing violent extremism. It will necessitate discussions around early identification of persons on the path to violent extremism and the need to re-examine laws in a thoughtful way without changing the fabric of what it is to be Canadian.

On behalf of iBRABO, our thoughts are with the families of our brave fallen soldiers.