Boko Haram Cyber Jihadists and New Face of Terror

Dr. Oludare Ogunlana, speaking at IAFIE Conference

On Monday, June 10, 2019, the Nigerian Army confirmed the killing of nine “social media personalities” of the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP). The news came as I was preparing to provide an insight into a new topic entitled: “Stopping Boko Haram/ISWAP Cyber jihadists with Cybersecurity Technologies” at the annual conference of International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE) held at prestigious St. John’s University,  New York.

Since a faction of Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014, the group has adopted the ISIS doctrine of information warfare. As noted by Chalie Winter in ICSR report, the ISIS group considered new media to be a powerful weapon, which, if leveraged correctly, has “far-reaching” power, which surpasses the most powerful bombs in the world. The purpose is to incites activism by venerating information warfare in a manner unmatched by any other Salafi-jihadist actor. As documented in the ISIS manual, propaganda production and dissemination is at a point considered to be more important than military jihad.

In April 2016, ISIS released a document via Secure Telegram channel entitled “Media Operative, You Are a Mujahid, Too.” The group appealed to its followers to participate based on ideology, theology, and emotion. Take a look at the extracts below from the manual:

“A gun can kill a heartbeat, but a camera can give life to thousands of hearts.”

“To every media operative brother in the Islamic State, you should know and be convinced of the following fact, [that] the media is a jihad in the way of Allah [and that] you, with your media work, are therefore a mujahid in the way of Allah.”

“Inciting others to join the jihad is tantamount to engaging in the jihad oneself, as is steering others towards it and opening their eyes to it. The one who incites is a mujahid in the way of Allah the Almighty.”

The 21st-century terrorists would be sophisticated with the capability to use media technologies to cause extreme damage.

Terrorist organizations, including Boko Haram/ISWAP, would always take advantage of the media to propagate their violent ideologies.

Meanwhile, Information and communication technologies have created a new avenue of terrorism; they also provide modes for defense. The technological approach complemented with other strategies is the future of the fight against the expansion of extremist ideology, mobilization, coordination, and terrorist influence in cyberspace.

We commend the effort of Nigerian Security/Military personnel at the frontline, defending and fighting tirelessly despite all the challenges. The tricky thing is that the security must win all the time while terrorists need a day of luck to cause havoc. Meanwhile, the government of Nigeria must understand who they are fighting to enable military/security planners rightly diagnose the problem. The Boko Haram/ISWAP is where it is today because of strategic, innovative thinking, not just technological advances. Hence, the government and its military must be equally as creative and strategic-minded in its approach towards counter-communications and use of cybersecurity technologies to stop the enemies in cyberspace. Several technological mitigation tools could be implemented, including content monitoring and the use of cyber surveillance technology. The use of Intelligence and cyber mitigation strategies with the application of technologies could be used to achieve the goals of prevention, deterrence, detection, and response.

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