November 4, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: The Extremists’ War on Words

• Extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are widening their attacks on freedom of expression by murdering not just journalists, but now bloggers, publishers, and authors

• The Islamic State extended its reach into Turkey last week to murder two activists from the anti-Islamic State group ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’

• On November 3, 1,000 writers and academics marched in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in protest of this weekend’s murder of a well-known publisher, claimed by the local al-Qaeda affiliate

• Just as extremist groups depend on social media to proliferate messages of hatred, they also fear its ability to document their atrocities and disseminate counter-narratives.


There are few things as terrifying for social media-savvy extremist groups than the people they seek to terrorize turning the power of social media against them. As mobile technology and social media platforms have empowered countless people to document their lives, it has also made some of them targets of extremist groups. These groups, particularly the so-called Islamic State, seek to control the narrative by killing all rival narrators. In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has effectively created journalist-free zones, by relentlessly targeting anyone who tries to report on the reality of life under the group’s dominion outside of its approved propaganda narrative.

‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,’ a Syrian activist group, is one of the few non-Islamic State outlets reporting on what is happening in the capital of the self-proclaimed caliphate. Its members do so at huge personal risk and are constantly targeted in Syria. On October 30, the Islamic State struck against the group in Turkey. Ibrahim Abdel Qader, a co-founder of the group, and Fares Hammadi, a former member who was still engaged in human rights activism, were murdered by Islamic State killers; Qader was also beheaded. The attack was in the southern Turkish town of Sanliurfa, and the Islamic State released a video showing the bodies of the two men and a warning to those who oppose it that they 'will never be safe from the blade of the Islamic State.' This was the first beheading by the group outside of Iraq and Syria, and the first documented time it has killed activists outside of the lands it controls.

Bangladesh is currently witnessing a spasm of violence targeting those who dare to criticize extremism or publish words out of line with bin Ladinism. The Islamic State has been making inroads into the increasingly tense Bangladeshi society, but is far from the only group to do so; both al-Qaeda and the local Ansarullah Bangla Team are threatening media and other facets of society to submit to their warped ideology. However, it is the recently formed al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, that has taken the lead in murdering Bangladeshis who speak out against violent extremism.

On October 31, Faisal Arefin Dipan, a publisher and blogger of works deemed inappropriate by al-Qaeda, was murdered in an attack later claimed by al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent via social media. The killing of Dipan follows the assassination of four bloggers and writers this year in Bangladesh; all four had spoken out against the very extremism that drove their murderers. Al-Qaeda has claimed credit for these attacks as well.

It is likely these attacks will increase in frequency—not just in Turkey or Bangladesh, but across the globe. As more societies struggle with the insidious rot of bin Ladinism, and more people speak out against the atrocities it spawns, more will pay the price for activism. The Internet has become the front line for those regular people who bravely defy extremism and try to counter its insidious narrative. The murder of anyone is a tragedy; the murder of people trying to speak out against terrorism and extremism is a devastating blow to the counterterrorism strategy that depends on those who speak out. Every time someone who has courageously raised his or her voice against extremism is killed, countless more will not do so, and it will be much more than Raqqa that is slaughtered silently.


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