Selfies And Salafis: Instagram Use Among Jihadis And Their Supporters

February 19, 2016

Instagram, the online mobile photo- and video-sharing app, is a popular platform for jihadis fighting in Syria, as well as for their sympathizers, for propagating the message of the Islamic State (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and other jihadi groups. It is one of the host of social media platforms that jihadis are adept at using, and by means of which they leave their indelible mark online. Instagram appears to be used by jihadis mainly to chronicle life on the battlefield, or for public, and private one-on-one communications. Fighters appear to use it for small talk or as an initial point of contact before moving on to other, encrypted platforms such as Surespot or Telegram. It is also used by jihadis for reaching out to potential recruits, and for spreading their ideas – for example, quotes by and sermons of radical clerics such as Anwar Al-Awlaki and Abu Haleema, and ISIS videos and publications such as the ISIS English-language online magazine Dabiq. Particularly popular with young people, Instagram is being used to provide a unique and intimate view of the Syrian conflict via photos and selfies of fighters on the front lines. Many users edit their photos and enhance them using filters that the app provides. Instagram’s use by jihadis is not new; they have already been using it for a couple of years. For example, in 2013, a British member of Al-Shabaab who fought in Somalia maintain an account in which he chronicled his experiences.  This report will highlight the Instagram accounts of jihad fighters in Syria, as well as of jihadi sympathizers and disseminators in the West.

Conversing With And Contacting Fighters On Instagram

The screenshot shows a conversation between two ISIS fighters. Bblack_eyed_hooriyss wrote: “my nigga what u saying come link me lol am in al kariyatin fam lol. How’s things add me on kik asap don’t have my phone but ill get back to you.” _Terr.or replied: “Were you still in dimashq? Weres that? I’m in Anbar haha, alhamdullilah good man and ayt 1 min. Akhi [my brother] don’t have kik ill have to get someone to send it to me inshallah tmmrw.” Qaryatayn is a village in the Homs governorate, but it is controlled by ISIS’s Damascus Province.

ISIS fighter TheBaghdadiGuy3 wrote: “I am a brother striving for Jannah [Paradise] may Allah grant me Shahada [martyrdom]. And if anyone wanna ask for hijra [emigration] help I well be Happy to Help.”

British ISIS fighter BaqiaBritish’s profile reads: “If you want to help contact kik-Dabiq1.”

British ISIS fighter Akhi47Muhajir instructs anyone interested in contacting him to do so using Surespot, Wickr, or Kik; such individuals can direct-message him on Instagram for his contact details.

Fighters On Instagram

The late ISIS fighter and hacker Junaid Hussein was killed in a drone strike in Raqqa in August 2015; however, his Instagram account remains online.

In an account named “miskin__,” a group of Chechen ISIS fighters pose in front of an ISIS mural.

A Western ISIS fighter called RealestMujahid writes that he is “Fighting for the Sake of Allah.”

A fighter called Abuslashibnfulan posted a photo of a hand grenade and wrote: “Gonna send some kaffirs [infidels] to jahanam [hell] with this beast inshallah.”

A Turkish fighter called Abu Usamayasir poses with a cache of weapons.

A fighter called akh_muhajir posted a photo, presumably of himself, of a man posing with a severed head. It appears that filters have been used for this image.

Akh_muhajir posted a photo showing a beheaded and crucified corpse; a sign in Arabic indicates the dead man’s parents’ names and birth date, and states that he was killed for speaking out against ISIS.

He also uploaded videos of fighters in action on the battlefield.

It appears that Instagram’s suspension of accounts do not deter some. Akh_muhajir notes that he is on his

“5th acc[ount].” It should be noted that a prominent Syria-based Jabhat Al-Nusra cleric, Shaykh Abdullah Muhaysini, opened an Instagram account after his Twitter account was suspended, but when that too was closed, he moved again, this time to Telegram.

A fighter called _pankissky poses with two friends on the streets of Syria.

A Russian ISIS fighter from Moscow called abu_zarr_al_moscowi shared a photo of himself sitting in the back of a pickup truck.

A fighter called abu_nurr77 shared a photo of a fellow fighter resting in a trench.

ISIS fighter aks.iS posted a photo of himself and a friend in front of a car. He noted that it was taken in Raqqa.

An ISIS fighter called _terr.or posted a photo of himself with fellow fighters sharing a meal, captioning it “Terrorists.”

A female ISIS member, umm.yusuff, posted photos of damage to a mosque in Al-Bab caused by an air strike.

ISIS fighter abu_imran_muhar posted a photo of palm trees and wrote: “Its not hawaii bro it’s dawla islamiyah [ISIS] looks like hawaii you need to know jihad is the holiday of the ummah.”

Maldivian Jabhat Al-Nusra fighter Umar. Maaldifi provides his Kik details on his profile. This fighter might be a recruiter, since he very accessible.

Accounts Spreading Radical Jihadi Ideology

The Birmingham-based radical Islamist group Invite to Islam, which has been linked to ISIS, has, at this writing, 12,000 followers on Instagram. Its account disseminates flashy graphics with quotes by radical sheikhs, or Koran passages focusing on violent actions, across various social media platforms.

Invite to Islam is the best-known group to produce and circulate memes of this genre on Instagram, but other groups on the platform doing likewise include Dawahsquad, a radical U.S.-based group.

The full text of this report is available to MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor Subscribers. 

Subscription information is available at this link.

JTTM subscribers can visit this page to view the report.