In hindsight, it is clear that Cyber caliphates around the world had managed to manoeuvre around the use of technology to spread violent extreme messages without leaving any trails.
When military offensives against terrorists destroyed tangible caliphates in most states and territories recovered from militia groups, the extremists set on a media jihad that did not necessarily need for physical convening.
Suddenly, the terrorists had re-defined ‘jihad’ as ISIL and Al Qaeda rapidly rose as one of the first terrorist groups to put up online presence. Misinformed ‘Fatwas’ were auctioned and groups across continents declared affiliation to terrorist groups and began building cyber caliphates.
However, in recent months, cyber warfare against violent extremists has been on the rise. Governments and security agencies in states fighting terrorism and violent extremism have promoted online vigilance in a quest to protect members of the public from extremists but have also largely invested in tools aiding in flagging down channels spreading extreme content and therefore being in a position to ban multiple channels across Social Media platforms.
Harakat Al Shabaab Mujahideen (HSM) is a perfect example of the diminishing online caliphates across the world. As governments in the region continue to pull effort in cyber warfare, the militia group has suffered losses in both online following and militants who have defected in droves across East Africa.
Having invested in 13 news websites and hundreds of social media accounts used to publish and distribute misinformation online, security agencies in conjunction with platform owners have either rendered these platforms useless through cyber warfare or the platforms have become completely inaccessible.
The arrest of online sympathisers has also played a big part in cutting off the militia groups from potential followers and even militants.
The result of combined cyber warfare and military operations is evident in Somalia as security agencies foil attacks and counter the Shabaab narrative. This has also led to rejection by religious leaders and institutions, clans and civilians as ability to attract youths continues to rapidly decline.
In states where flagging down of extreme messages has not been too successful, governments have gone ahead to ban the use of particular social media platforms generally. These have been platforms most preferred by terrorist and ‘safe havens’ for violent extremists.
Iran is the latest to do so after the Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the country’s government entities would no longer be using messaging app Telegram, and now, Iran’s judiciary has banned its use altogether.
With Internet providers also willingly working with government agencies in blocking online platforms, terrorists have been outgunned in the new day warfare.