Quilliam Researcher, Charlie Winter, explains the possible negative effects which may arise as a result of prematurely attributing attacks to groups such as Isis.
When gunmen, shouting “Allahu Akbar”, opened fire inside the Paris headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this morning, many on social media were quick to give credit to Islamic State (Isis), the terrorist group that now dominates much of Syria and Iraq.
At the same time, jihadist forums sympathetic to Isis lit up. Supporters all over the world congratulated the “mujahidin” involved in the attacks, only just stopping short of claiming responsibility for it. Myriad hashtags appeared citing the attacks as retribution for the “Crusader attacks” on Isis positions in Iraq and Syria. Fanboys rushed together Photoshopped posters of “Jihadi John” standing menacingly by the Eiffel Tower. One thing was certain, Isis supporters wanted their group to be the group that got the jihadist “glory” for this awful affair.
It is far too early to say who was behind the attack. That which we do know is scarce – the attackers were clearly Islamist-motivated and at least moderately well-trained but, beyond that, there is nothing to provide us with solid conclusions about their backgrounds.
Aside from this, we also know that, fighting for Isis, there is a contingent of French jihadists numbering in the hundreds. Furthermore, we know that Isis propaganda has specifically targeted French Muslims in the last couple of months, calling for them to attack and kill police and civilians alike.
However, that does not justify sweeping conclusions. Just because Isis has become the media’s new jihadist bogeyman, that does not mean that Isis should be immediately cited as the organisation that carried out or inspired the attack.
Certainly, there is a strong possibility that this attack was motivated by one of Isis many calls to arms. However, to assume that is it Isis-inspired at this stage is a knee-jerk reaction that helps no one apart from al-Baghdadi’s jihadists.
Indeed, such a response is exactly what the Isis propagandists want, what they have worked towards for months now. As various media Isis outlets have produced horrific video after horrific video, all of which have been eagerly circulated by its decentralised global network of armchair supporters, the jihadists’ propagandists have been working to become the “brand to beat”. Certainly, if today is anything to go by, this marketing strategy seems to have paid off. In days gone by, when an attack like this took place the world would immediately blame al-Qaeda for it. In a matter of months, this has been reversed and Isis has become the go to terrorist bête noire.
This is no accident. Indeed, it is Isis’ maximalist media strategy paying off. Hence, as the crisis in Paris develops and the world watches on, it would be wise to think twice before giving Isis the credit it so sorely wants.
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