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International police crack down on Islamic State online platforms

Large numbers of IS accounts have been removed from their traditional havens, such as Telegram

Credit: Yuri Samoilov
First published as part of the Cabo Ligado Update:27 May-23 June 2024

The European Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (EUROPOL) announced on 14 June the dismantling of “critical online infrastructure” used by Islamic State (IS)  for “propaganda, recruitment, and radicalization.” This was through joint operations since 2022 conducted by EUROPOL itself, Spain’s Guardia Civil, and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. The operations are the likely cause of the greatly reduced number of IS Telegram channels in recent months, the most accessible way for people to access and share IS content related to the conflict in northern Mozambique and elsewhere. 

The operation conducted by the Guardia Civil, in cooperation with the FBI, targeted the IS-affiliated Ilham Foundation. This is the brand of a network of websites that acted as “a node and archive” to disseminate IS incident claims, newsletters, and videos through social media and messaging apps. They also had links through which contributions could be made to cryptocurrency accounts. Within Spain, the operation led to arrests in Andalucia, Catalonia, and the Canary Islands. The operation, dubbed Operation Almuasasa, targeted “dozens” of servers and web hosting providers in the Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Romania, Iceland, and the US. 

The operation has significant implications for ISM. The group has been able to demonstrate its affiliation to IS and, by implication, its access to financial and technical support by being featured in IS media channels. Perhaps more damagingly, the management of public communications by IS media operations has meant that perceptions of the conflict have been shaped by IS imperatives rather than those of its local leadership. Typically, the IS Telegram channels that have been removed had less than 10 members each. Popular dissemination depended on content being shared by others through open platforms such as X, formerly known as Twitter, or large Mozambican discussion groups hosted on apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram. In taking down the IS Telegram channels, the potential for mass distribution to a Mozambican audience has been greatly reduced. 

It is not yet clear that Telegram will continue to keep IS off its platform. The company is in talks with the European Union on whether or not it is covered by the bloc’s Digital Services Act of 2022. If Telegram submits to coverage under the act, IS activity will remain constrained. In the meantime, IS content remains available online through sites available on the Tor browser.