The Islamic State’s Media Blitz against its Enemies: Issues & Character

Gilad Shiloach analyzes the propaganda effort of the Islamic State through social media and other channels.

The Anti-Israel campaign of ISIS
The anti-Israel viral campaign of ISIS


Last December, the Islamic State launched a media campaign of unprecedented magnitude against the Saudi royal family. It was initiated in response to the declaration by Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi Minister of Defense and Deputy Crown Prince, that an Islamic military coalition had been established which would focus on operations against terrorist organizations, particularly the Islamic State.[1] The campaign included fifteen different videos that were distributed by several provinces (wilayah) of the Islamic State over a period of a few days. All of the videos transmitted the same message delegitimizing the Saudi royal family, showing its ties with the West, and calling upon Muslims living in Saudi Arabia to join the war effort in Syria, Iraq and other provinces, or to harm the royal family within the kingdom. The campaign was conducted in a focused and aggressive manner on social networking sites (SNS), just as with many other media blitzes that the Islamic State has launched against its perceived enemies.

Of the campaigns waged by the Islamic State last year, the one launched after the deadly terrorist attacks in France on 13 November 2015 was the most significant and successful for the organization’s struggle against the West. The campaign distributed twelve videos against France in only nine days.[2] Some celebrated the results of the attack, others threatened France and other Western countries with additional attacks, and still others mocked France’s failed response to attacks. Another campaign was launched in October 2015 to recruit Somalis into the Islamic State’s forces, with an emphasis on members of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, as part of the organization’s effort to expand in east Africa. This campaign distributed six videos in just three days.[3] An aggressive campaign was also waged in the Israeli arena. In response to the wave of Palestinian terrorism that began in September 2015, the ‎Islamic State distributed at least fourteen videos in only five days last October. These included messages stressing the importance of the al-Aqsa mosque, promises to liberate the holy places from the Jews and encouraging individual Palestinians to continue their attacks.[4] The campaign’s peak was recorded on October 23 when the ‎Islamic State’s province in Damascus distributed a video in which one of the its fighters seemingly speaks fluent Hebrew and threatens Israel that “the real war has not yet begun” and “soon there will not be a single Jew anywhere in the country.”[5]

The campaigns launched by the ‎Islamic State are similar in their presentation of the selected content, and their form of production and distribution. In many videos, the Islamic State presents archival segments or historical illustrations that support its case. For example, most of the videos in the campaign against Saudi Arabia open with scenes showing members of the Saudi royal family with the presidents of the United States, or historical passages explaining the importance of the Arabian Peninsula. The campaign against France stressed the amount of attention the attack received on international news channels, while videos in the anti-Israel campaign video presented the religious significance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jewish domination over Palestine. All of them show at least one activist of the Islamic State delivering the message fluently, while facing the camera, armed and dressed in uniform. The speakers in the videos typically introduce the general idea of the campaign or clip at the beginning of their speech. Towards the end, the videos make direct threats against their enemies. The campaigns are intensively distributed on SNS with specific hashtags, for a limited period of time. In the campaign against Saudi Arabia, supporters of the Islamic State posted requests to share the videos with the hashtag #يا_بلاد_الوحي_صبرا ا (“Oh land of revelation, be patient”), which became the campaign’s slogan.[6] The leading hashtag used when distributing anti-Isarel videos was #نحر_اليهود (“slaughter the Jews”),and the chosen hashtag for campaign addressing al-Shabaab was #أيها_المجاهد_في_الصومال (“Oh warrior of jihad in Somalia”).

The Islamic State runs the campaigns in a centralized and directed manner. They begin with the organization’s top leadership, who direct the central Propaganda Bureau, which then transmits guidelines to the Propaganda Offices of each province. The headquarters’ ability to engage the provinces in the effort to raise consciousness – even the more remote and peripheral ones, like Hadhramaut in Yemen and Barqa in Libya – has proven very effective in transmitting focused messages. It furthermore contributes to the aura surrounding the Islamic State, helping to create the illusion that it crosses territorial boundaries, and is present and active in large areas of the Middle East and Africa. Given the production quality evident in the videos, which requires time for preparation, production and editing, it appears that provinces play only a minor role in their production. It seems the central propaganda headquarters is actually responsible for production, and the provinces for the active distribution.

The scope of the Islamic State’s media activity over the past year illustrates the magnitude of the organization’s investment in its propaganda machine, both print and broadcast. A summary of the organization’s media activities, which appeared in its official weekly magazine, Al-Naba (distributed virtually on SNS and physically in provinces of the Islamic State), claimed that within one year provinces of the Islamic State had published no fewer than 710 videos, and 14,523 pictures, including 1,787 stills. It was also noted that the provincial Media Offices are responsible for covering local events in their area, and despite being separate entities, they operate “under the direct supervision of the (Central) Bureau of Communications,”[7] which is none other than the Propaganda Bureau.

The similarity in the way content is presented, the production style and the means of distribution again proves that the propaganda machine of the Islamic State operates in a centralized, uniform and organized manner. This conclusion reinforces the assessment that the other parts of the organization are also characterized by centralized control,[8] in contrast to assessments that claimed, until recently, that the organization is fairly decentralized, in both its communications and operational activities. From the video campaigns, we can learn what the Islamic State’s top priorities are and which messages it wants to implement. It has been quick to make significant use of SNS to distribute many videos to thousands of users with a single hashtag.



[1] Noah Browning and John Irish, “Saudi Arabia announces 34-state Islamic military alliance against terrorism”, Reuters, December 15, 2015.

[7] وكالة الأنباء الإسلامية حق;

[8] Harel Chorev, Hadas Sofer-Shabtai and Linda Dayan, “Islamic State social networks as an imagined community,” Islamic State Media Watch, MDC Network Analysis Desk, No. 1 (November 2015)