PARIS – Police around Europe and North America have seized servers and data from Islamic State propaganda outlets in a multi-country operation aimed at tracking down radicals and crimping the group’s ability to spread its violent message.
The two-day operation was the culmination of efforts started in late 2015, after coordinated IS attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, according to a statement from European police agency Europol.
Police notably targeted the IS-branded Aamaq news agency, as well as al-Bayan radio, and Halumu and Nasher news sites. Aamaq spreads information online in at least nine languages and has been used to claim IS was behind attacks in multiple countries, from the 2016 nightclub attack in Florida to a deadly supermarket hostage-taking in southern France last month.
While Europol said the operation “punched a big hole in the capability of IS to spread propaganda online and radicalize young people in Europe,” it didn’t shut down the propaganda altogether.
For example, Nasher continued to share IS statements and Aamaq reports Friday through channels on encrypted messaging network Telegram.
The Islamic State group has used sophisticated and ever-changing communications tools to spread its apocalyptic message to disillusioned Muslims living in the West, to persuade them to reject Western ideals of pluralism and tolerance. High-quality videos, complete with thrumming beats and slick editing techniques, have unlimited reach thanks to social networks. Extremists with gentle American accents narrate radio broadcasts aimed at U.S. internet users.
European authorities involved in the operation Wednesday and Thursday said it showed the importance of international cooperation in fighting online radicalization, which has helped fuel deadly attacks in multiple countries in Europe and the U.S.
The operation was led by Belgian prosecutors and also involved authorities in the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Romania.
It aimed “to destabilize this apparatus by seizing and dismantling servers used to diffuse IS propaganda and to identify and arrest its administrators,” the Belgian public prosecutor’s office said.
Two prior international police operations, notably targeting Aamaq’s mobile app and web infrastructure, paved the way for this week’s raids. One led by Spain’s Civil Guard that seized servers in Panama allowed authorities to identify radicals in 133 countries via their interaction with IS propaganda, according to Europol and a Civil Guard statement.
The operation came as more than 70 countries vowed to bolster efforts to stop financing for IS and al-Qaida. Participants at an international conference in Paris on Thursday promised to improve international coordination and transparency of money flows.