Learning About ISIS Intentions Using Open Source Intelligence

How terrorists are exploiting technology for propaganda and radicalization

ISIS’ weekly newsletter al-Nabā’ published an editorial about the lessons to be learned from the attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (July 30, 2017), which it called “an action of high quality.”

In the editorial, attacking embassies and diplomatic staff is promoted as one of the most effective ways to put pressure on “infidel governments.”

The Islamic State considers attacks like this as very important and encourages Muslims in every country to attack embassies and either kill the staff or take them hostage. Indeed, the latest edition of “Rumiyah”, an ISIS magazine, featured hostage taking as a notable topic. The editorial is entitled “War on Embassies: The Greatest Cause of Fear and Pain for the Infidel Countries” (al-Nabā’, Issue 92, August 3, 2017)

Following its weakening across Iraq and Syria, ISIS is encouraging its operatives and supporters around the globe to carry out attacks in their own countries in support of the Islamic State.

The Islamic State considers embassies and those working in them as important targets. It encourages Muslims around the globe to strike embassies and either kill the staff or take them hostage. According to al- Nabā’, anyone who wants to wage jihad and cannot, for whatever reason, leave his own country, will not find it difficult to locate foreigners near where they are living and attack them.

In this instance, ISIS is focusing on embassies and diplomats to get publicity for its attacks (compared with stabbing and vehicular attacks, which ISIS has also encouraged its supporters to carry out). A recent example of such an attack was carried out a double suicide bombing attack at the Iraqi embassy by ISIS’s ‘Khorasan Province’, a group active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has claimed responsibility for the attack.


These types of threat feature a range of new methodologies that are being spread across social media groups and password protected web forums.

The impact of an attack against an embassy or diplomatic mission is a direct illustration of the response to an ‘open source’ request. Previously, Al Naba magazine has claimed this type of attack is preferable as it causes fewer damages to innocent civilians and maximises the exposure to their targets, diplomats, military personnel, government agents and law enforcement.

The online radicalization of individuals who are unknown to security services continues to grow, making it almost impossible for new recruits to be monitored. Social media platforms, including Twitter and WhatsApp, are often highlighted by government agencies, particularly where communications are encrypted, however, secret forums and chat rooms are hidden in the Dark Web are important places where illicit actors and Jihadists communicate.

Several of the messaging Apps being used by the online Jihadist community is totally encrypted, with login credentials being randomly generated beyond a local server, making it impossible to monitor the content of their communications. “Threema” and “Wickr” are two such secure communications apps popular with Jihadi groups and are used to groom recruits after first vetting their potential over “Telegram”.


There is a clear need to go beyond open source intelligence and to develop a new set of techniques to monitor threats concealed behind encrypted messaging apps and Dark Web forums.

Law enforcement agencies need new technology to get actionable Intelligence and live interception feed in real time if they are to reliably predict and prevent future terror attacks.


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