IS launches media offensive to recruit Russian nationals

by Nina Achmatova
With the creation of Furat Media, the once piecemeal output and propaganda in Russian have become unified. The goal is to recruit militants in the former Soviet sphere and impose ideological conformity outside the Arab world.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The Islamic State (IS) group has stepped up its Russian-language propaganda efforts, another sign that it is becoming more powerful in the post-Soviet countries, this according to The Guardian newspaper, which reprinted an article published by Radio Free Europe that analyses the latest development in the IS media strategy in the former USSR.
At the recent BRICS summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that 2,000 Russian nationals are currently fighting in Syria or Iraq.
In June, the country’s Security Council chief, Nikolai Patrushev, warned that terrorist organisations, including ISIS, were recruiting Russian nationals.
Patrushev, who urged the secret services of other countries to boost cooperation against recruitment, also said that there was “no possibility” of stemming the tide of fighters.
In recent weeks, a new Russian-language wing, Furat Media, has emerged, with Twitter and Facebook accounts broadcasting IS messages.
It was through Furat that the militant group declared the establishment of a province in the North Caucasus, within the Russian Federation itself.
The propaganda wing also issued a professionally produced video, Unity Of The Mujahideen Of The Caucasus, which included interviews with Russian-speaking militants in Iraq and Syria.
Previous Russian-language output had been piecemeal, with most videos either without subtitles or arriving after the Arabic versions were broadcast.
Now Furat, which was announced on 5 June, can put out a mix of subtitled videos, addresses from IS militants, DVDs, motivational messages, and propaganda in original Russian produced inside Syria and Iraq.
Despite crackdowns on pro-IS accounts by Twitter and Facebook, the number broadcasting and sharing Jihadi material is vast – the Brookings Institute in late 2014 estimated that there were over 46,000 accounts with over a thousand followers used by Isis supporters.
Furat’s homepages on Russian social website VKontakte have been closed. A Facebook account has already been banned but the group opened a new, closed one in July. Just over a week later, the group had nearly 250 members.
The presence of Russian-speaking militants in Syria disseminating propaganda is nothing new. The various factions have had their own websites and social media accounts almost since they first emerged in Syria in late 2012.
But as IS’s Russian-speaking faction has grown in prominence and numbers, it has transformed its media operations into an increasingly slick and professional operation.
Furat’s main precursor began life around early 2013 as FiSyria, a website run by a group of Chechen militants led by Georgia-born Omar al-Shishani, the Wall Street Journal reported.
At first, FiSyria was effectively Shishani’s personal site, offering news about battles he and his fellow Chechen militants were involved in.
But when Shishani moved to IS in late 2013, FiSyria became a Russian-language IS propaganda website. It now redirects to Furat whose main purpose is to recruit new Russian-speaking militants, both from the Russian Federation – particularly the North Caucasus – and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, especially Central Asia.
Another important aim is to build ideological bridges between militants in Syria and Iraq, and those who are still in the North Caucasus.
By translating Arabic-language material into Russian, Furat is able to ensure that all Russian-speakers in IS-controlled territories have access to the same messages and ideology as their Arabic-speaking counterparts.
For some analysts, IS activism in the former USSR is not a real threat to Russia, but rather a pretext used by Moscow to get its Western allies to end its isolation over the Ukrainian crisis and join forces against the shared Islamist threat.
For Russian analyst Andrey Piontkovsky, the above is all the easier to imagine because, of the hundreds of Russian citizens now in the ranks of the Islamic State group, at least some are almost certainly Russian intelligence officers working under cover.
In fact, a Polish study cited by Radio Free Europe noted that there was far less IS activity in Central Asia than many have expected.


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