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  • Updated: September 19, 2022

Terrorism: Report Says ISWAP Exploiting WhatsApp, Telegram

Terrorism: Report Says ISWAP Exploiting WhatsApp, Telegram

The Institute for Security Studies has reported that the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP) is exploiting digital platforms, particularly WhatsApp and Telegram, to organise and carry out criminal activities in the West African region.

The news comes on the heels of African governments being urged to put pressure on tech companies to tackle online terrorism.

According to the report, many groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, are making the internet a more prominent part of their operations in the African continent.

“Groups such as the Boko Haram breakaway faction, Islamic State West Africa Province, appear to rely on messaging services like WhatsApp and Telegram to communicate internally and externally because they prefer these apps’ encrypted nature.

"Telegram is becoming the new frontline for terrorist groups in Africa,’ warns Mr Bukarti.

"On the last count, ISWAP had over 50 Facebook and Telegram accounts. Furthermore, there’s no scrutiny; nobody seems to care in Africa.

“While larger platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have the resources to offer a degree of content moderation, many smaller operators don’t. These are the ones terrorist groups prefer.

“According to researchers such as Bulama Bukarti of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

"What’s more, given their decentralised character, these groups are proving harder to intercept and are achieving a reach online that would not be possible in the physical world", the report states.

Speaking further, it added: "When al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013, the group live-blogged the terrifying event on Twitter, taunting the authorities who were struggling to end the siege.

"It represented a chilling milestone in the weaponisation of social media platforms and demonstrated the audacity and adaptive nature of Africa’s armed groups.

“Nearly a decade later, terrorist groups in West Africa are fine-tuning their tactics to hijack social media platforms and messaging apps.

"Parts of the region have been home to the fastest growing and deadliest violent extremists, the Global Terrorism Index reveals.

"And there has been a steady rise in incidents where social media platforms and messaging apps have become an integral part of extremists’ modus operandi.

“A former head of Facebook’s Counterterrorism and Dangerous Organizations Policy section and now programming leader for the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, a TAT partner, Dr Erin Saltman, is a prominent voice in this field.

"She says greater efforts are needed to encourage tech companies to ‘prevent and respond’ to terrorism online by increasing their transparency and reporting while respecting human rights."


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