US-EU operation deals blow to Isis propaganda machine

Takedown hits outlets including Amaq, used to broadcast attack claims and spread propaganda

The Guardian, UK/April 27, 2018

By Jon Henley

European and US law enforcement teams have disabled the key communications channels of the Islamic State group in a coordinated operation involving agencies in eight countries, Europol has said.

“With this groundbreaking operation, we have punched a big hole in the capability of [Isis] to spread propaganda online and radicalise young people in Europe,” said Rob Wainwright, executive director of the European police agency.

The two-day “simultaneous, multinational takedown” targeted major Isis-branded media outlets like Amaq, the news agency used by the group to broadcast claims of attacks and spread its message of jihadism, as well as lesser propaganda channels including Bayan radio, Halumu and Nashir news, Europol said.

The agency said in a statement that the operation, led by Belgian prosecutors and involving teams from Bulgaria, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Romania, the UK and the US, was aimed at severely disrupting the propaganda flow of Isis, hampering its ability to broadcast terrorist material for an undetermined period of time.

It said French, Romanian and Bulgarian police had quantities of digital evidence, while law enforcement officers in the Netherlands, US and Canada captured Isis servers and Britain’s counter-terrorism internet referral unit identified top-level domain registrars abused by Isis.

National police forces expect the data retrieved will help them identify the administrators behind Isis media outlets and potentially radicalised individuals on European soil and beyond, the agency said.

Amaq news agency was the main mouthpiece of Isis, the agency said, officially endorsed by the terror group in July 2017 and the primary source of information on its activities worldwide. 

It was used to claim responsibility for the attacks in Paris, Brussels, Barcelona and Berlin in 2016, as well as last month’s supermarket siege in Trèbes, France, in which a gunman killed four people, including a gendarme who took the place of a hostage.

But the agency said that at the end of last year, Isis propaganda was available in at least nine different languages via a wide range of online services, such as mailed newsletters and add-on extensions for the most common browsers.

This week’s takedown, coordinated from Europol’s headquarters in The Hague and backed by Eurojust, the EU’s judicial cooperation agency, was the third such strike against Isis’s “technically resilient” online infrastructure since 2016, when Amaq’s mobile app and web assets were first targeted.

A second operation in June 2017, led by Spain’s Guardia Civil, led to the seizure of servers that led to the identification of radicalised individuals in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Britain’s EU security commissioner, Julian King, said the operation showed that “by working together we can stamp out the poisonous propaganda ... used to fuel many of the recent terror attacks in Europe.”

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