ExtremismNewsSecurity & Tech

ISWAP Propaganda Machine Grows With Launch Of Online Radio Channel

Taking after its parent organisation, ISIS, the terror group based in the Lake Chad region has recently started experimenting with online radio broadcasts.

Boko Haram’s breakaway terror group, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), has added online radio broadcasts to its range of propaganda channels, in a move likely aimed at persuading more people to join its ranks. 

Although the unprecedented launch of an online radio channel in Jan. 2021 depicts a departure from the group’s long-standing tradition, the radio channel reflects a part of the high-tech arsenal used by its parent organisation ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in recruiting new members and retaining existing ones. What prompted ISWAP to opt for an online radio and how effective it would be are key questions demanding answers that would help in curbing the terrorists’ propaganda in the African sub-region.

“This is Radio Right Service, a supporter of Islamic State, presenting weekly news summary in Kanuri language…,” announced a presenter of the channel in Hausa in an audio clip obtained by HumAngle. These opening phrases were a prelude to a few seconds of Arabic jingle which was followed by news read in Kanuri by one Bakura for about eight minutes. 

The development goes a long way in sending strong signals to authorities in the sub-region that the insurgency has continued to be dynamic in adopting various means of propaganda. 

The recruitment pace of the insurgency has still not been effectively halted and online media propaganda by the terror group has continued to play a key role in ensuring that. The newly incorporated online channel would on one hand induce potential recruits to the terror group and, on the other, bridge the huge communication gap among adherents of the sect. Apart from periodic audio and video releases by the terror group published by conventional media, many members of the sect have been ex-communicated from happenings around them–which could be reversed by the new platform.

The weekly news broadcast by the ISWAP channel seemed to be dominated by reports of military campaigns in areas under ISIS control globally, Iraq, Syria, Central and West Africa, and areas where ISIS is striving to establish relevance such as Afghanistan and the Sinai peninsula. The broadcast heavily dwelled on happenings in Nigeria, indicating that the target audience is the Lake Chad region even as the news was read in Kanuri, a language spoken by people in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

The broadcast, according to the audio clip, is a weekly news bulletin dated Jan. 15, 2021. It is not clear whether there were subsequent broadcasts in the following weeks. If there were none, this would indicate the group is facing a troubling hurdle sustaining the online station. 

Radio has been the easiest way to reach people before the prevalence of the internet. Hausa service broadcasts by international media giants like BBC, VOA, RFI, and DW have been in the forefront surpassing even local radios in the African sub-region. These broadcasts still play important roles in reaching the audience-ship of the insurgency despite some mistrust for them as ‘western media’.

Software applications that enable the launch of radio stations are now available on mobile app stores. The programmes are then broadcast using the internet, without the need to transmit radio signals via AM or FM. More advanced devices such as tablets, laptops and smartphones are needed to receive the transmitted messages. 

Since the target audience for the ISWAP radio is substantially their loyal members most of whom reside in the bush where internet connection is poor, listeners of the radio would have to grapple with interruptions in transmission due to poor internet connectivity. 

Advanced radio stations have their downloadable apps to reach multiple audiences, which in the case of ISWAP online radio is still premature. However, ISIS in 2016 released its first android app, al-Bayan, which the militants used to share their radio broadcast globally, especially targeting European recruits.

Not quite long from its declaration of a worldwide caliphate in 2014, ISIS adopted the internet as one of its formidable weapons of propaganda that are tailored to the contemporary digital age. It has been using Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and other platforms for quite some time to reach out to its target audiences as Boko Haram has done since paying allegiance to it in 2014. In 2016 alone, ISIS tweeted, streamed and posted 360,000 times on social media, according to data provided by the UN Security Council.  

It is obvious ISWAP would not conform to conventional broadcast standards due to its insistence on remaining parallel to anything modern or secular in nature. But conforming to standards, especially in programming, is critical in broadcasting if the desired audiences are to be reached and sustained. Meanwhile, the continued reporting of only military campaigns, as in the ISWAP online radio, without news on developments and welfare of the sect’s followers, may prove to be another clog in the wheel of sustaining interests.

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