Wednesday, July 02, 2014

I watched all the terrorist beheadings for the U.S. government, and here’s what I learned

By Aki Peritz, WashPost, July 2 at 6:01 AM

Aki Peritz is a former CIA counterterrorism analyst and coauthor of "Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda."

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is, among other things, a social media powerhouse. The group skillfully exploits platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, among others, to promulgate many gut-churning images and videos of its war against Shiites and the Iraqi government broadly. These include one where the group claimed to have executed some 1,700 captured soldiers. Another video shows ISIS fighters beheading a police chief, then merrily tweeting: “This is our ball. It’s made of skin #WorldCup.”

As appalling as these examples are, ISIS is merely following a decade-old playbook. I should know, since one of my responsibilities during the Iraq war was to track al-Qaeda in Iraq’s media output for the CIA. Here’s what I learned:

They’ll exploit whatever tactic gains the most media attention. Osama bin Laden’s then-deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, famously told al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2005 that “we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.” But Zarqawi — whose group would eventually become ISIS — already knew that, because his brutal exploits had been earning free media for years, which the group used to gain recruits, advance its message and terrify its enemies.

(More here.)

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