Another London attack exposes terrorist’s social media recruiting

There continues to be a large network of terrorists alive and well on social media, despite calls for Google and Facebook to assist in shutting off their Internet-based communications.


WASHINGTON, September 15, 2017  – Calling the Parson Green subway attack “cowardly” Prime Minister Teresa May is face the fifth terrorist attack in London this year. May said after an emergency cabinet meeting that the nation’s threat level is at “severe.” The public should remain vigilant, she said.

This latest attack sent 22 people to the hospital after a homemade bucket-bomb explosion Friday morning.

ABC News reported that eyewitness said the blast happened as the train pulled into the station in the affluent, mainly residential area of West London.

“There were no casualties at all on the train. Everybody appeared to get off,” said Martin Adams, an eyewitness. “There was nobody laying on the platform floor. I assessed that there were no serious casualties at that time.”

“I heard a loud bang and as I looked to my right, there was a flame, a fireball came through the carriage … As the doors opened, people then began leaving the train straight away.”

“I saw some flames coming from what I thought was a blue bag.”

Another person who was at the station said that after the blast she saw a number of people with what appeared to be facial burns and singed hair.

“I saw a couple people with burns. One lady had her hair badly singed by the fire,” said Sally Faulding, who witnessed the panic on the subway platform. “I also saw people injured obviously from having been stampeded on the platform because we were all running. People were falling over.”

Police said the improvised explosive device used did not fully explode.

“This is a live investigation,” Assistant Commissioner for London’s Metropolitan Police Service, Mark Rowley, said outside Scotland Yard, the police force’s headquarters, shortly after the explosion occurred at the Parsons Green tube station just after 8 a.m. local time.

A British government official said the incident is being treated as a terror attack, but say it is an “isolated incident”. But is it? Despite the fact that this might be a “lone wolf” they are hardly alone.

There continues to be a large network of terrorism alive and well on social media, despite calls for Google and Facebook to assist in shutting off their Internet-based communications.

President Trump tweeted out after the attacks:

While ISIS is losing some territory and the flow of foreign fighters has fallen in recent months online recruiting continues.

ISIS Google Plus page had been ongoing for months without getting banned by Google according to Jordanian news site Al Bawaba. The official Google Plus account for the Amaq News Agency, the main ISIS news outlet, was removed by Google after the Independent Journal Review requested comment from the media giant Thursday morning.

“The content posted is often graphic: uncensored and gory execution videos including everything from beheading to crucifixion, front-line battle footage, and menacing threats of violence targeted at the West,” the Jordanian news outlet observes.

The U.S. State Department acknowledged to Fox News that its propaganda and messaging methods have shifted rather than ceased.

“ISIS continues to try to use social media platforms to spread its message, but has been increasingly challenged by the proactive measures industry is taking to disrupt its use of these technologies,” the spokesperson said. “ISIS has shifted the focus of its messaging to its self-proclaimed efficacy in the use of violence against coalition forces, as opposed to their approach to messaging during the peak of its strength in 2014 and 2015, which was specific to governance and their ability to stand up a state.”

ISIS has been using Google Plus for months without getting banned, according to Jordanian news site Al Bawaba.

A Google spokesperson told the Independent Journal Review that

“[Google Plus] rejects terrorism and has a strong track record of taking swift action against terrorist content,” Google’s communications person told IJR after Google was asked why Amaq’s page was still running.

“We have clear policies prohibiting terrorist recruitment and content intending to incite violence and we quickly remove content violating these policies when flagged by our users. We also terminate accounts run by terrorist organizations or those that repeatedly violate our policies.”

According to Al Bawaba, ISIS members have been posting to Google Plus since July. Amaq’s page displayed at least 253 public posts at the time Google removed it.

“The content posted is often graphic: uncensored and gory execution videos including everything from beheading to crucifixion, front-line battle footage, and menacing threats of violence targeted at the West,” the Jordanian news outlet observes.

Another popular page promoting ISIS propaganda displays 810 public posts and boasts approximately 500 followers.

ISIS Google+ page screenshot

The International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence says ISIS published 892 propaganda pieces across its digital platform in February 2015.

In February 2016 the groups’ output dropped 36 percent to 570 propaganda pieces, the result of law enforcement working over the past year to ensure that the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google know how to detect and delete extremist content. Between February 2015 and 2016, more than 125,000 accounts were shut down according to the International Center.

Even as ISIS is losing some social media threads, including thousands of Twitter accounts, they are moving from more popular platforms, like Twitter, and moving to Telegram that describes itself as:

Telegram is a cloud-based mobile and desktop messaging app with a focus on security and speed.Another no-cost, end-to-end encrypted messenger app WhatsApp is widely used in both the Middle East and the West.”

According to their website, WhatsApp offers “Simple. Secure. Reliable messaging. With WhatsApp, you’ll get fast, simple, secure messaging and calling for free*, available on phones all over the world.

WhatsApp works across Android, iPhone, and Mac / PC desktops as well as Windows phone.

Khalid Masood, who killed four people in London and wounded 50 on Westminster Bridge last month, used the Facebook owned WhatsApp to send a message to an unknown person shortly before his attack. U.K.

Counterterrorism police have said his communications are the main line of inquiry in the investigation, however, the apps secretive software makes it impossible for authorities to access those messages.

Masood is hardly the only terrorist to have taken his talk to the technological dark side.

Elizabeth Bodine-Baron, Director of Applied Network Analysis and System Science for public policy research firm RAND says that the ISIS strategy has shifted to encrypted apps, although they have not entirely abandoned Twitter.

“They are still trying to actively recruit. They are still spreading their propaganda, though a little less openly than before,” Khorshied Samad, Senior Media Relations Officer at RAND, said.

“The basic recruiting process is the same as before – propaganda spread and initial contacts vis a public platform like Twitter and then, once a potential recruit is identified, movement to a secure platform for more tactical discussions.”

Fox News report thta ISIS-associated Twitter accounts are still in existence, with names written in Arabic that translate to “Sniper Caliphate # 9 remain” and “Abu stubbornness Salafi.”

The dark side of Islam has moved to the Dark Web, described by Wikipedia as

“…a collection of websites that exist on an encrypted network and cannot be found by using traditional search engines or visited by using traditional browsers. Almost all sites on the so-called Dark Web hide their identity using the Tor encryption tool.”

Using these Dark Web and the newer messaging apps creates a type of “jihadi cool” that target teens on messenger app with the message that one is never too young to be a warrior for God. They also tap into conventional teenage concerns, including a false sense of unconditional acceptance for vulnerable, disaffected teens.

The online encrypted groups also target girls. They call for global “female empowerment” and prompt them to “shame their male counterparts” by taking up the call to violence.

In this viral video fueled social media world the “ISIS department of media” is creating aerial drone images to create slick videos of suicide bombings – complete with post-production red laser dots that follow along until the climactic explosion.

One suspected jihadist, using the Twitter name “AbuAid” had numerous Twitter account where he claimed to have traveled to Syria from the U.K. for the “greater good” in helping his people. AbuAid would tweet and retweet rap lyrics chastising then President Obama and playing into the “bad boy/gangster” persona.

These productions circulate to the group’s “fans” via messenger. “Virtual training” in religious doctrine and military methods are also said be conducted through the secretive software.

Harkening back to 2014 ISIS’ use of social media has been unprecedented. The group learned to rapidly disseminate its message and bolster its solider count, elevating itself to the top of social news feeds with tactics such as “twitters bombs.”

They are also known to capitalize on trending Twitter topics such as #BLM when casting its terrorist net.

A spokesperson for the Facebook-owned app assured Fox News that they are “cooperating with law enforcement as they continue their investigations,” but defended the importance of protecting users from external eyes.”

“Every day we see stories about sensitive records being improperly accessed or stolen. And if nothing is done, more of people’s digital information and communication will be vulnerable to attack in the years to come. Fortunately, end-to-end encryption protects us from these vulnerabilities,” the spokesperson continued. “While we recognize the important work of law enforcement in keeping people safe, efforts to weaken encryption risk exposing people’s information to abuse from cybercriminals, hackers, and rogue states.”

New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill assured New Yorker’s that there are no known threats to the city’s subway system, reminding that passengers should remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings.

As always, if you see something, say something.

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