Are you there ISIS, it’s me, ISIS.eu
Bottom Line Up Front
- European ISIS terrorists, in the middle of a massive manhunt and unprecedented surveillance, were able to send long messages to Syria
- Europe’s flailing counterterrorism efforts are seemingly missing a high bandwidth comms channel
- Telegram, or other secure mobile messenger apps, seem an unlikely channel for sending hundreds of words of non-operational text
The Dream Sequence Drop
This is an interesting analysis of the recent obituaries run in Dabiq, which cover the militants involved in the Brussels attack. As usual, they provide some biographical information and try to fit the “martyrs” into the broader jihadi narrative.
One interesting aspect of the obituary for Khalid El Bakraoui is the inclusion of three dreams as key parts of his broader jihad journey. Critically, two of these dreams occur after the November 15 Paris attacks last year (2015).
Read the analysis here:
I asked the author whether he believes that the inclusion of these dream sequences indicates contact between Khalid and ISIS.
— thaddeus e. grugq (@thegrugq) April 16, 2016
— Thomas Hegghammer (@Hegghammer) April 16, 2016
If this is true, in the middle of the most intense counter terrorism effort in years, that these dreams sequences were actually sent back from Belgium to Syria, there are staggering implications for the European counter terrorism efforts. Despite having all eyes on Belgium, and the terrorists’ huge sprawling network of militants and supporters, top suspects were able to send at least one lengthy message back to Syria.
The Belgian terrorists were able to safely pass messages to Syria over some communications channel. This channel must have so much bandwidth that they were able to transmit non operational content. However central to the jihadi mythology dreams may be, clearly sending a few hundred word long description of a dream is not mission critical. Yet, despite the massive counterterrorism hunt, including a massive surveillance effort, Khalid still felt (justifiably) safe sending a lengthy pre-operational missive back to ISIS.
Too Long For Thumb Typing
The length of the dream sequence (several hundred words, at least) exceeds what is comfortable to send with a mobile messaging app. Typing hundreds of words into a chat app to write a coherent narrative is difficult, the limited screen space and the cramped keyboard are prohibitive. This sort of long form text is better created on a full size keyboard with a large screen. We know that ISIS has used a channel that would allow for this sort of long form comms — the file sharing dead drop. Perhaps they still have working dead drops in place?
Someone Was Chatty
The comms channel may have been messages passed to sympathizers who then passed them on to ISIS Central, or it may have been more direct contact. Whatever it was, it was capable of safely and reliably carrying a lot of information. There is no set of circumstances in which this doesn’t reflect poorly European counterterrorism efforts.