IS Boosts Russian-Language Propaganda Efforts


Georgian native and IS member Umar al-Shishani (Tarkhan Batirashvili) in a photo from 2014

By Joanna Paraszczuk
July 06, 2015

The militant group Islamic State
(IS) has stepped up its Russian-language propaganda efforts, another
sign that its Russian-speaking contingent is becoming more powerful.

Though Russian-speaking IS militants have put out their own
propaganda for some time, in recent weeks a new Russian-language IS
media wing -- Furat Media -- has emerged that appears to have taken on
official, or at least semiofficial, status within IS's overall media
operations.

IS currently produces official propaganda messages in Arabic,
English, Kurdish, French, and Russian, according to Aaron Y. Zelin, an
analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

And though IS has not made any specific announcement declaring that
Furat is an official IS media wing, Zelin says it is an "unofficial
official account."

Furat has opened accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and the Russian
social network VKontakte and maintains a website, Furat.info, through
which it disseminates various forms of IS propaganda, including video
messages by Russian-speaking militants and Arabic- and English-language
videos dubbed into Russian.

Furat, whose name comes from the Arabic word for the Euphrates River,
even has its own logo, a blue square with two white, wavy lines
suggesting water.

Formalizing Operations

That Russian-speaking militants in Syria are disseminating propaganda is nothing new.

The various factions of militants -- including those fighting
alongside IS as well as individual 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
in numbers -- it has transformed its media operations from piecemeal
efforts by what appeared to be a handful of militants into an
increasingly slick and semiprofessional operation.

The main precursor to Furat began life around early 2013 as FiSyria, a
website run by a group of Chechen militants led by Umar al-Shishani, an
ethnic Kist from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. 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 on to bigger things -- he is now IS's military commander in Syria -- FiSyria changed, too.

After Shishani swore an oath of allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi and moved over to IS with a group of militants in late 2013,
FiSyria went with him and became a Russian-language IS propaganda
website.

Now, FiSyria redirects to Furat's website.

Furat also seems to have swallowed another IS media group, ShamToday,
which was previously active on Russian social media and which was run
by a group of North Caucasian militants.

Increased Output

Furat has significantly increased the volume of IS propaganda
available to Russian-speakers, primarily by publishing existing IS
videos with Russian subtitles.

But to do this, the group will have had to recruit additional "staff"
who have a good enough understanding of spoken Arabic to allow them to
translate the videos into Russian.

Clues of how IS's Russian-language media operations work can be found
on social media, where Russian-speaking militants have posted
photographs of IS media offices.


A Kazakh IS militant who goes by the name Artyom posted a photograph
of what he said was an "IS Media Center" on July 1. The photograph shows
Artyom and another militant sitting in an office with laptops and
cellphones.

Not Just Chechens

The presence of Artyom, who is based with a Russian-speaking IS
contingent in Mosul, in an IS "media center" is another sign that IS's
Russian-language propaganda efforts are changing and growing.

In the past, Russian-speaking IS propaganda efforts appeared to be run primarily by and for North Caucasian militants.

Recently, however, Central Asians have also been photographed undertaking IS propaganda work.

Prominent Tajik militant Abu Daoud (real name Parviz Saidrakhmonov) has been www.rferl.org/content/islamic-state-tajikistan-tracking-/271

Saidrakhmonov, who is thought to have been killed, has been linked to
several prominent Russian-speaking IS ideologues, including Daghestani
preachers Akhmad Medinsky and Nadir Abu Khalid. Both Daghestanis are
close to Abu Jihad, an ethnic Karachay who is Shishani's close
confidante and who has been involved in IS propaganda efforts for many
months -- and who is likely one of those behind Furat Media.

Recruitment And Retention

Furat's work has two main purposes.

First, it is dedicated to recruiting new Russian-speaking militants,
both from the Russian Federation -- particularly the North Caucasus --
and from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, especially from Central
Asia.

Furat is also engaged in spreading IS messages to Russian-speaking
militants who are already fighting alongside the group, both via social
media and by creating and sending CDs containing Russian-subtitled IS
propaganda videos to various Russian-speaking militant groups in
IS-controlled territory.

A July 1 Facebook post included photographs of one batch of CDs with
an explanation that these were for "brothers in the caliphate," the term
used by IS for territory under its control.


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. So, too, can potential recruits back home in the Russian
Federation or Central Asia.

Furat is also playing an important role in building ideological
bridges between militants in Syria and Iraq, and those who are still in
the North Caucasus.

It was Furat which announced that IS had declared the establishment
of a "province" in the North Caucasus. The propaganda wing also issued a
professionally produced video, Unity Of The Mujahideen (Jihad Fighters)
Of The Caucasus, which included interviews with Russian-speaking
militants in Iraq and Syria who praised the pledges of allegiance to IS
by North Caucasians.

Resilience

Although there have been efforts by social-media websites like
Facebook and Twitter to crack down on pro-IS accounts, Furat has so far
been resilient.

Furat's Facebook account has already been banned, but the group
opened a new one -- this time a closed group -- on July 1. By July 2,
the group had 87 members.

And while several countries, including Russia, Kazakhstan, and
Tajikistan, have banned pro-IS and other Islamist websites, they have
been less successful in blocking social media.

A group of websites listed by the Tajik Interior Ministry on July 2
as being banned does not include Furat Media's site or its social-media
accounts.

www.rferl.org/content/is-boosts-russian-language-propagangda