Iraq News
Terrorism

Iraq cracks down on 'digital terrorism'

By Khalid al-Taie

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Young Iraqis receive computer and Internet training in Baghdad. The Iraqi government is cracking down on online forums and websites that promote extremist ideology. [Photo courtesy of the Training and Employment Department at the Iraqi Ministry of Labour]

The Iraqi government is waging an unrelenting war on online forums and websites that promote extremist ideology and hate rhetoric, experts told Diyaruna.

Government institutions have shown "exceptional technical expertise" in cracking down on digital terrorism and thwarting terror activities, they said.

A special team from the communications and information technology department at the Ministry of Interior has recently shut down 88 social media accounts that incite extremism, the ministry said on December 24th.

These online accounts "promoted extremist ideology and the sale of arms on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram", the ministry said in a statement.

Closing these accounts down was a result of "constant surveillance and court approvals", it said.

'Key medium'

Iraqi journalist Ibrahim al-Siraji, who heads the Association for the Defence of Journalists’ Rights, told Diyaruna that government efforts to fight "digital terrorism" are intensifying.

"Violent and terrorist groups like the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' (ISIS) no longer have the freedom to promote their ideas online," he said.

The government is "serious and determined to uncover and intercept any online account that flagrantly incites killing, hatred and hostility", he added.

"There are dozens of [online] terrorist platforms that have been taken down," al-Siraji said.

The Ministry of Interior, in collaboration with the Ministry of Telecommunications, shut down more than 90% of ISIS's social media accounts that promote terrorism and spread rumours, the ministry said in a July 10th statement.

Al-Siraji, however, underscored the importance of following up on these efforts by "prosecuting" those who fund or frequent such websites.

"We have to seriously think about regulating internet usage without curbing personal freedom," he said, "in order to prevent terrorist groups from emerging and asserting their influence."

Combating extremism online is not the sole responsibility of the government but also falls on the community, he said.

"Individuals must do their part by reporting [on suspicious accounts] and being vigilant," he added.

"ISIS is facing a severe crackdown on its online activities," said al-Siraji, but this does not mean that the group will abandon the internet "as it is a key medium for recruiting fighters and spreading its ideology".

ISIS faces challenges

In a video circulated on extremist websites in early November, ISIS elements called on their supporters to increase their online presence and social media interactions, and to disseminate the group's extremist ideology online.

An ISIS element is heard in the video saying, "If they close your account, open another three accounts, and if they close the three accounts, create 300 others."

"ISIS is well aware of the importance of social media and how it is widely used, particularly among the youth," said Hashim Hassan, dean of Baghdad University's College of Journalism.

The group has lost its influence and territory "but is trying to hang on to its technological abilities so it does not also lose its virtual influence and existence", he told Diyaruna.

The Iraqi government is doubling down on digital security and closely monitoring online channels that incite terrorism, he said, praising the relevant government institutions for their "exceptional technical expertise" in that regard.

Hassan stressed the importance of adopting "national strategies that include awareness programmes to inoculate people against extremist ideology, especially via the internet".

"Iraq has maintained a good track record in targeting terrorist digital cells over the past several years," said Issam al-Fayli, who teaches political sciences at al-Mustansiriyah University.

"There are several Iraqi institutions that are working on this front, including the Ministry of Interior, the intelligence apparatus and national security," he told Diyaruna.

ISIS is facing significant challenges in spreading its ideology over the internet, he stressed.

"In spite of these efforts, the problem remains transboundary as there are extremist accounts being created and managed from outside the country," he said, calling for signing agreements of co-operation and information exchange with other countries to address this issue.

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There is a small group. They have taken down more than 100,000 ISIS accounts and YouTube accounts. Hahahahaha! What are those 88?

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