Europol has reported that it dealt a “severe blow” to the online presence of the Islamic State after it knocked 26,000 ISIS-linked pieces of content off the web during an operation carried out on November 21-24.
The operation came after Belgian police began investigating ISIS’ self-proclaimed official propaganda outlet, Amaq. As part of the operation, Europol police also arrested a man suspected of being one of the main distributors of the terrorist organisation’s online content.
The spokesman for the Belgian prosecutors, Eric Van Der Sypt, stated during a news conference in The Hague that ISIS online activities have disappeared from an important part of the internet”, adding that “We will see how they recover from this. It will take a huge effort for them to come back.”
Europol has in recent months been working with some the largest online platforms, including with Google, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram, to counter the spread of ISIS propaganda operations. In the case of Telegram, the bulk of the extremist material that was removed from the internet was found on the server of the cloud-based instant messaging and voice over IP service.
ISIS has suffered major setbacks since 2018 when its self-declared capital Raqqa, in eastern Syria, was recaptured by US-backed Kurdish forces in October 2017. Since then, ISIS’s so-called caliphate has collapsed after its forces were defeated on the battlefield by an American-led Western coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish force that has been at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic State since ISIS first emerged in mid-2014.
The terrorist group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed on October 26 during a raid on his hideout near the Syrian-Turkish border by American special forces. Despite the setbacks, Western intelligence agencies – including the CIA, MI6, and Germany’s BND – say that ISIS has begun to reconstitute, particularly after Turkey and its Islamist allies in the Free Syrian Army launched an invasion of northern Syria as part of Ankara’s campaign to destroy the Syrian Democratic Forces and occupy areas that the Kurds liberated from ISIS.
The Islamic State’s digital footprint has become more robust since the fall of Raqqa and the terrorist group is actively seeking to improve its technical sophistication in order to spread its online presence.