Extremist Content Online: Pro-Al-Qaeda Group Encourages Attacks Following Charlie Hebdo Comic Republication

(New York, N.Y.) – The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) reports weekly on the methods used by extremists to exploit the Internet and social media platforms to recruit followers and incite violence. Last week, a media group affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a statement encouraging attacks on France following the republication of Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Additionally, CEP researchers located several pieces of ISIS propaganda—including execution photos from May—on Telegram’s Telegra.ph bulletin board feature, as well as a pro-ISIS website on the .pl domain containing ISIS propaganda videos, ISIS weekly newsletters, and daily Amaq News updates.

CEP researchers also located a recruitment video on YouTube featuring the Rise Above Movement (RAM) founder Robert Rundo encouraging individuals to join white supremacist groups, as well as a RAM-affiliated Instagram account venerating the Kenosha shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse. Additionally, a notorious neo-Nazi accelerationist Telegram channel that frequently urges attacks on law enforcement and Jews, and praises mass shooters was removed by the platform for the second time. Finally, a neo-Nazi accelerationist group released a new video on Telegram and claimed to have ceased online recruitment in the U.S. in preference of in-person recruitment activities.

AQAP Releases Statement Encouraging Attacks on France With Republication of Charlie Hebdo Cartoons

A pro-al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) media group released a statement encouraging attacks in France in response to the magazine Charlie Hebdo’s republication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi killed 12 people in an attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in 2015, allegedly in retaliation for the cartoons' publication. The brothers stated their allegiance to AQAP during the assault and trained with the group according to Yemeni intelligence. The brothers were killed in a shootout with French police near Paris two days later. The magazine republished the cartoons as a trial in France began for individuals allegedly tied to the attack. The message was located on the Internet Archive.

“The Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack five years ago was a tragic occurrence and everything must be done to prevent it from happening again,” said CEP researcher Joshua Fisher-Birch. “The propaganda released by a pro-AQAP group encouraging violence in France is abhorrent and all online platforms hosting the content must taken it down immediately. Their renewed calls for violence remind us that constant vigilance, online and in the real-world, is needed to counter the threats posed by terrorist organizations and their followers.”

Pro-AQAP content on the Internet Archive, September 11, 2020.

ISIS Propaganda Located on Telegram Bulletin Board Feature, Including Execution Photos Posted in May

CEP researchers have located multiple pieces of ISIS propaganda on Telegram’s Telegra.ph bulletin board feature. While campaigns by Telegram and European law enforcement agencies have made significant progress in removing ISIS from the communications platform, gaps still exist. Telegra.ph functions similarly to a bulletin board, allowing users to share content with individuals who do not have Telegram accounts. CEP researchers located numerous pieces of ISIS content on Telegra.ph the week of September 5 to September 11, including photos that show dead bodies from recent attacks on security forces in Nigeria, photos from Iraq in August showing the production of improvised explosive devices, and photos from Anbar province in Iraq from June, and Kirkuk province from May, that both show executions of militia members. All Telegra.ph links were originally located on the Rocket Chat and Hoop platform. CEP researchers have previously found extreme right content on Telegra.ph, including instructions for making explosives.

Pro-ISIS Website Changes Domain, Continues to Use Cloudflare

CEP researchers located a pro-ISIS website on the .pl domain previously removed from the .es, .pw, .info, .xyz, .win, and .in domains. The website contains violent ISIS propaganda videos, the terror group’s weekly newsletters, and daily Amaq News updates. Videos on the website include recent ISIS releases as well as historical videos. The pro-ISIS .pl domain website, like it’s previous versions, uses Cloudflare services. The website’s domain suffix has changed, but the name of the website has remained the same. The website has been changing domain names since at least March 2020.

Rise Above Movement Founder Releases Recruitment Video on YouTube

CEP researchers located a YouTube video made by a media group affiliated with the white supremacist organization, Rise Above Movement (RAM). The video feature’s RAM’s founder and alleged leader Robert Rundo attempting to recruit and offering reasons why individuals should join white supremacist groups. Speaking from his experiences with RAM and in Europe, Rundo states that the movement has provided him with a wide range of benefits, including a sense of purpose, friendships, travel, employment, the opportunity to meet women, and the chance to help others in the white power scene. Rundo mentions traveling to the extreme-right Sword and Shield festival in Ostritz, Germany and traveling to Ukraine.

The video was uploaded on September 7 and had over 1,600 views four days later. The comments section included dozens of positive statements and allowed commenters to interact with the video creators and ask questions. The RAM media group is attempting to create a U.S.-European linked white supremacist counterculture.

RAM affiliated content has been repeatedly found on YouTube, despite its use and promotion of violence. YouTube has failed to remove RAM linked content when alerted to it, despite the platform’s Community Guidelines prohibiting violent criminal/terrorist organizations and hate speech.

In July 2019, three RAM members were given prison sentences of 27, 33, and 37 months respectively, after pleading guilty to charges related to attacking counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Rundo himself was charged with crimes related to perpetrating violence at demonstrations but had his charges dismissed by a judge. The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that RAM members have previously “documented and promoted their white supremacy ideology through postings on various internet platforms.”

Rise Above Movement Affiliated Instagram Account Promotes Kenosha Shooter

An Instagram account belonging to an online community affiliated with the white supremacist Rise Above Movement (RAM) made posts praising the Kenosha shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, and urged their members to write him. The account had over 600 followers on September 10. The Instagram account was reported for violating the site’s Terms of Use on August 27, 2020. However, Instagram did not take action, despite the account’s numerous posts in support of RAM. Journalists have previously noted Instagram’s failure to remove RAM related content, despite the group’s use of violence at demonstrations. In July 2019, three group members were given prison sentences of 27, 33, and 37 months respectively, after pleading guilty to charges related to attacking counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Neo-Nazi Accelerationist Telegram Channel Removed for the Second Time, Urges Violence in Leadup to November Elections

A neo-Nazi accelerationist Telegram channel that is regarded as one of the most notorious propaganda outlets on Telegram was removed for the second time on September 9. In the days before its removal, the channel urged attacks on law enforcement officers and Jews and praised mass shooters. The channel, which had approximately 3,000 members, also frequently posted material praising groups such as the Atomwaffen Division and The Base.

The specific reason why the Telegram channel was removed is unknown, or whether Telegram worked with a law enforcement agency to do so. In June 2020, the channel was removed, however, the creators were able to return to the platform, which including the creation of an announcement channel that remains online. The announcement channel posts approximately once every two months and will allow users to find the new channel when it is created.

In a message following the channel's removal, an allied channel posted a message allegedly from the deleted channel stating that elections in November would be “a time of reckoning” and urged acts of violence and agitating the situation to lead to additional bloodshed.

Neo-Nazi Accelerationist Group Releases New Video, Claims to Have Ceased U.S. Online Recruitment

On Monday, September 7, a neo-Nazi accelerationist group released a video featuring members training with firearms and posting flyers. The video contains different sets of individuals who appear to be in Europe and the U.S. The group has a Swiss and alleged U.S. contingent, and individuals in the video appear to be in Romania. Following the video's release on Telegram, the group announced that they would no longer recruit members in the U.S. through the Internet and instead focus on person to person recruitment. The group also stated that they would focus on networking with similar groups in Europe, and encouraged individuals to commit individual violent acts.

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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