For immediate release | Thursday, October 1, 2020

Tech & Terrorism: Online Propaganda Shown As Factor In Deadly Manchester Bombing

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Media at CEP

ISIS Bomb-Making Video Remains Online Over Three Years Later

(New York, N.Y.) – This month, the Manchester Magistrates’ Court launched a public inquiry examining alleged failures to prevent the May 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, in which Salman Abedi killed 22 people and wounded 250 in a suicide bombing. The inquiry has partly focused on Abedi’s younger brother, Hashem Abedi, who in March was found “jointly responsible” for the attack and convicted on charges of murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to cause an explosion likely to endanger life. Now, the inquiry has revealed new evidence that Hashem Abedi repeatedly consumed and participated in the spread of ISIS propaganda from his phone, including recruitment videos and literature, for several years prior to the attack. Salman Abedi was also known to use Hashem’s phone.

The new details demonstrate the role online extremist content played in radicalizing the brothers. Most infamously, Salman Abedi had reportedly viewed an ISIS video with English subtitles on YouTube that offered step-by-step instructions for building a homemade bomb with easily and legally acquirable components. A report from The Telegraph on September 28 found that the 13 minute clip was available on Telegram, the Internet Archive, and a pro-ISIS website. On the Internet Archive, the video was online for nearly three years and had been viewed thousands of times. It was taken down after the non-profit website was notified of its existence by The Telegraph.

To address this issue, tech companies must effectively use hashing technology to stop the bomb-making video and other known terrorist content from being uploaded and reuploaded. The longer extremist content stays online, the longer it can be consumed and shared by others. Further, larger companies have an obligation to assist smaller companies to better achieve this goal. As Counter Extremism Project (CEP) researcher Joshua Fisher-Birch stated, “It is unacceptable that dangerous ISIS propaganda that contains instructions for making explosives remains online.”

CEP has repeatedly located the reappearance of the ISIS bomb-making video online since its release in November 2016. From November 2016 to January 2018, it appeared on YouTube and other Google-owned platforms at least 11 times. In April 2019, almost two-and-a-half years after its original release, a pro-ISIS Telegram account shared a set of upload links. The video was also active on: Myspace (video streaming), Vidio (an Indonesian video streaming site), Mediafire (file download site), Anonfile (file download site), Uppom (file download site), Megaup (file download site), nofile.io (file download site), Zippyshare (file download site), and Zupload (file download site).