Preventing Violent Extremism


Authors: Camie Condon and Jeff Weyers,


Sometimes irony is the product of complacency. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that political leaders using their secure Blackberrys in plans to battle ISIS are just two clicks away from a steady stream of ISIS propaganda, recruitment and radicalization efforts. For several months iBRABO has been screening Blackberry’s little known social media platform called “Channels”. Unlike many social media platforms the only way to access Blackberry Channels is to be a Blackberry messenger user as it is not available via the web. With over 1 million channels the private platform offers the ability for individuals and corporations to create channels on any topic with dynamic content directed at their audience. Unless you join a channel you have limited access to the content and the users interacting with the channel. In much the same way as is done on other platforms users can like and comment on the content being posted by the Channel provider.

ISIS on Blackberry Channels

ISIS on Blackberry Channels

In examining Blackberry’s echo system we found over 6 channels (example above) specifically dedicated to providing ISIS content, some of which could be found with a simple search for the term “Islamic State”. In one particular post the group outlined the use of Blackberry Channels and several other platforms in its dissemination strategy. An analysis of the ISIS Channels revealed that several had been in operation since the start of 2015 coinciding with ISIS’s ongoing surge in social media implementation.

ISIS on BB Channels

Islamic State Blackberry Channel


Five of the sites linked to the ISIS media campaign on Blackberry targeted Indonesians specifically. Indonesia has recently heightened concerns around the groups attempts to get a foot hold there. The use of Blackberry devices in Indonesia is also very popular thus explaining why ISIS was using the platform to gain influence with users. Three of the sites directly linked to ISIS WordPress sites including Daulah Islam Baqiyyah (below), Daulah Khilafah Islamiyah, and Daulah Islam Baqiyyah (caution graphic content). WordPress too has been a favorite of ISIS in developing its online presence and has repeatedly been used by the group in multiple languages.

The ISIS Media Campaign in Indonesia

The ISIS Media Campaign in Indonesia

The Al-Hayat Media wing of ISIS was also found to be on Blackberry Channels. Al-Hayat has been cited as being a steady source of ISIS propaganda over the last year and a half and is the publisher of the infamous Dabiq magazine covering all aspects of the Islamic State’s rise to power. As with the channels highlighted above the Al-Hayat Channel was specifically targeting an Indonesian audience with their content (see below).

Al-Hayat Post on Blackberry Channels

Al-Hayat Post on Blackberry Channels


The last site found on the channels platform (targeting English speaking audiences) is known as Generation Awlaki. This ideological campaign has been previously identified as a recruiting tool to violent extremism. The content features lectures, images, quotes and newly created media representing the late Al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki. Despite his death at the hands of a US drone in 2011 his content continues to have a mass following and has played a crucial role in the ideological narrative of both Al-Qaeda and ISIS. A recent example of this can be seen in how al-Awlaki’s lectures were found to be an influencing factor for Chattanooga Shooter, Mohammad Abdulazeez. Generation Awlaki has been hosted on multiple social media sites including Google Play store, Facebook, and Twitter. Recently the Generation Awlaki channel on Blackberry was directly linked to it’s mirror site on Telegram. Generation Awlaki continues to have a following of thousands on its Facebook page which is regularly rebuilt each time Facebook takes it down. (Further Reading: The Ghost of Anwar Awlaki – The Virtual Martyr)


That ISIS found a way to utilize Blackberry Channels is really not surprising given their reputation as early adopters of social media and technology. Virtually every platform that has been explored by the group in one way or another. The days of creating a social media platform and not allocating resources towards terrorism prevention/disruption have long past us. Blackberry is not the first or the last company to experience this and in fact a long list of social media companies have been taken to task in their efforts (or lack thereof) against terror networks. In this regard there have been mixed results in their attempts to stem the tide of terrorist content. Less than a week after iBRABO notified Blackberry of ISIS channels on their network (and they removed the Islamic State site above), ISIS affiliates recreated three new channels to resume operations.

The debate around continually tearing down terrorist content essentially has two main opposing sides. On one side are the advocates that claim vulnerable individuals to recruitment will be negatively influenced by the propaganda and recruiting message of groups like ISIS. It is a scorched earth approach trying to eliminate every trace of violent extremist ideological from the internet. This approach has essentially received mixed results for many reasons not withstanding the immense media attention that terrorist groups like ISIS attract by their deeds. There are indications however that the progress of ISIS has been slowed and redirected by mass suspensions as in the case of Twitter according to J.M. Berger. The opposing side would argue that social networks allow an immense opportunity for BOTH intelligence gathering and prevention / interdiction applications. However the social media companies themselves are reluctant to take an offensive posture in this regard. They also do not want to appear to be handing over the private data of their customers for fear of hurting their bottom line.


Much like the war on terror the war on terrorist social media shows no clear evidence of slowing terrorist group efforts. We are losing, we are two steps behind, and absent of a clear strategy and new approach we will continue to be shocked by the progress that ISIS continues to make. Enter a new breed of academics, analysts, companies and tools that have become comfortable working in the grey area of terrorist social networks. By its sheer nature the “social” aspect of social media means that individuals are giving away information about themselves that can be collected and analyzed through open source intelligence techniques. Even in a secure social network such as Blackberry’s Channels, individuals using their personal phones, images and in some cases real names provides us with valuable information. It is the use of this information that has allowed for a new approach to examining terrorist social networks. An approach that focuses on exploring both prevention and interdiction with individuals. An approach that recognizes that the community will have the largest role in targeting both the extremist message and intervening with individuals at risk. It is time to rethink our next move with respect terror social networks, as there is little doubt ISIS has already planned theirs.


Dr Camie Condon is a post-doctoral researcher with the Tactical Decision Making Research Group at the University of Liverpool. She is also an Analyst with the Intelligence Research Group iBRABO.

Jeff Weyers is a Senior Analyst with the Intelligence Research Group iBRABO and is currently completing his PhD on the topic of Preventing Violent Extremism and Terrorist Use of Social Media.

iBRABO is a Intelligence Research Group based in Waterloo, Canada and Manchester, United Kingdom. Its core research capabilities include: conflict monitoring, terrorist use of social media, identifying persons vulnerable to violent extremism and open source intelligence research and analysis. Its researchers come from a diverse background in counter-terrorism, criminal intelligence analysis, police investigation, open source intelligence, CBRNE, and tactical decision making.




Canadian Foreign Fighter with ties to Jabhat al-Nusra Identified

Author: Jeff R. Weyers, iBRABO

From iBRABO material recently featured on Enquête | 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.

The Newest Advertising and Recruiting Mogul: ISIS

Authors: Jeff R. Weyers and Camie Condon, iBRABO
How many large corporations do you know of that advertise in virtually every language? Coca Cola, Microsoft, Apple… how about the terrorist group ISIS? Many people have speculated how ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham) has grown so spectacularly over the last year in its campaign to seize Syria and now a large portion of Iraq. It seems at least part of that answer lies in the extremist groups’ ability to advertise. Whether in English, French, Danish, Spanish, Dutch, German, or Arabic (to name a few), their global approach towards social media has been massive. While Facebook has gone head-to-head with ISIS trying to limit its exposure on the social media platform, ISIS has demonstrated persistence in its ability to regenerate pages and spawn new ones (at last count some ISIS pages have been re-spawned 70 plus times).

ISIS media in multiple languages

ISIS media in multiple languages

Recruiting and propaganda pages in virtually every language can be found on Facebook and Twitter in an extensive co-ordinated social media campaign by the extremist group. The fact that ISIS has now made significant gains in Iraq only seem to have emboldened its media strategy in its new push towards what ISIS is calling an “Islamic State” (@islamicstatee). It is exactly these successes that may also be driving external support from western jihadists who may have been hesitant to join lesser established groups.

Islamic State Page on Facebook and Twitter

“Islamic State” Page on Facebook and Twitter

So how successful has their approach been? Well while the true number will likely never be known, it is estimated that tens of thousands of individuals have travelled to fight along side ISIS already. In examining just their social media campaigns there are easily 10 times that many supporting the group online. From a prevention perspective this is where we are most likely to see potential recruits. This is also one of the best opportunities for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to intervene early on in interrupting that pathway.

Of greater concern are those individuals trained by ISIS who have an intention to return to their home countries. Having had para-military training in weapons and fighting, with extremist contacts and being indoctrinated with an extremist ideology it is these individuals who will pose the greatest risk. Thus the need to identify persons who have engaged with terrorist groups (like ISIS) will be paramount moving forward.