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Daesh Expands its Language Capabilities to Amharic
Islamic State Somalia’s Ethiopia Strategy and Online Amharic Language Supporter Networks
The Daesh movement is truly a global one with branches on multiple continents waging insurgencies from Mali to Syria, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. These militant forces are part of and supported by a worldwide constellation of official and pro-Daesh media outlets as well as individual grassroots sympathisers who help shape, amplify, and disseminate narratives to support the greater cause. Being such an international movement has its advantages but also its challenges. Daesh’s Central media apparatus primarily produces its propaganda in Arabic, while it also looks to build and maintain support amongst a vast target audience comprised of speakers of many different languages, including Farsi, Urdu, Kurdish, Turkish, English, and French. One of the more notable but least studied linguistic spheres emerging within Daesh is the Amharic-speaking one.
Daesh Somalia Branch Reaches Out to Amharic Speakers
In late July, Daesh’s affiliate in Somalia released a rare official production featuring the use of Amharic. To most observers, this may seem somewhat insignificant, however, for the networks discussed, it was an explicit and meaningful gesture toward them from Daesh’ Central media and leadership, directly acknowledging their contribution to the movement.
Abdul Qadir Mu’min, a veteran jihadist leader and former senior cleric for the Al-Qaeda branch Al-Shabaab, broke away from the group and subsequently pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Daesh in October 2015, marking the approximate beginnings of Daesh’s Somalia-based affiliate. However, it took Daesh leadership until December 2017 to formally promote Mu’min’s branch to the status of an official province.
Daesh’s media organ released its Amharic language production in late July of this year. The 26-minute-long video, “In the footsteps of the conquerors”, is in Amharic with Arabic subtitles. The video is shot in high quality and shows operations, training, and the daily life of its fighters, featuring Ethiopians amongst its ranks. The video shows Ethiopian recruits training and taking courses in absolute monotheism (tawhid), jurisprudence (fiqh), and the laws of government (Siyyasa al-Shar'iyya).
This is a deliberate attempt to appeal to Ethiopians, Somalians, and Eritreans located on the border with Ethiopia who speak the Amharic language. This indicates that Daesh-Somalia sees an opportunity for increasing recruitment, fundraising, and building support in the Amharic parts of the region. According to some estimates, there are over 25 million people who speak the language — they are mostly located in the country with diaspora communities scattered abroad.
It should be noted that there were early signs of the organisation’s intention to move toward official content in Amharic with the publication of a December 2017 Daesh-Somalia video featuring a jihadist from Ethiopia speaking the tongue. Then, in July 2019, pro-Daesh media announced the coming release of Amharic propaganda, and official Daesh media elements subsequently endorsed the statement.
Daeh-Aligned Amharic Propaganda Sphere
A sizable pro-Daesh Amharic media and communications ecosystem has emerged consisting of networks comprised of several key propaganda production nodes, leading idealogues, and interactive discussion channels. The networks operate and are active on numerous messaging applications and social media platforms as well as websites and online archives. Amongst the most prominent propaganda outlets are Munasir Radio, Fatwa Media, Fatwa Amharic, and others.
The Voice of Munasir Radio is the most active amongst these and is perhaps the most significant media force in the space. The group releases audio content dealing with theological and religious topics, jurisprudence, weekly news, explanations, and historical events. It has a presence and disseminates its material on Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Telegram, and other instant messaging applications and social media platforms.
Fatwa Media is a group that deals heavily with religious and ideological issues and is mainly on Telegram. Fatwa Amharic is another group that publishes religious and ideological material; however, it also translates official Daesh material from Arabic to Amharic which is then shared throughout the networks and across platforms. In addition, there are several connected channels that share an array of religious material including sermons, videos, posters, and translated Daesh materials.
One notable component of these online pro-Daesh Amharic networks is the web of interactive channels where supporters, Daesh members, and ideologues discuss current affairs, religious topics, Daesh-related events around the world, and ultimately contribute to the movement’s cause through discourse development and personal input.
These channels regularly share links to the I’lam Foundation, which is the site that provides access to an archive of the terror organisation’s past print, audio, and video media content in a number of languages. The site has an entire section devoted to storing Amharic language propaganda and updating it with the latest materials. I’lam operates using surface-level websites and is accessible on the DarkWeb, as the former are often taken down by their hosts.
Assessment of the IS Amharic Movement’s Future and Threats to Ethiopia
Daesh is always looking to expand its reach and tap into new pools of potential supporters. There is a burgeoning Amharic online ecosystem and Daesh’s Central media has taken its first real step toward making a serious effort and formal appeal to speakers of the language.
This has real-world impact and may pose some level of threat to Ethiopia. Over the past few years, Addis Ababa has released statements detailing a series of raids and disrupted plots involving Daesh members in the country. In 2017 for instance, 26 suspected jihadists were arrested in an operation against an Ethiopian Daesh network that allegedly received training in Somalia. In 2019, the Ethiopian army captured Daesh militants, and, in 2021, authorities claimed they busted a cell going by the name “Islamic State Center”.
Depending on capabilities, intent, and operational priorities, Daesh-Somalia or other forces on the continent could plot against or conduct attacks inside of Ethiopia or against Ethiopian targets abroad — this would galvanise Ethiopian and Amharic-speaking supporters. In the future, the terror organisation may increase its efforts to appeal to these segments for recruitment, fundraising, and encouraging attacks. There is a risk of elements within the associated thriving online ecosystem answering such calls to violence and taking direct action.
Co-written with Lucas Webber.
Appeared on “Extremist Monitoring Analysis Network (EMAN)” on 19/11/2022.
Daniele Garofalo is a researcher and analyst on Jihadist terrorism and an expert in monitoring Jihadist media channels.
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