The Growth and Internationalization of Islamic State Khurasan Province’s Media Operations
Since its nascency in 2014/2015 Afghanistan, the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) has worked to develop a robust and dynamic propaganda apparatus, thriving within a rapidly evolving South Asian media ecosystem of official and pro-Islamic State groups. ISKP has combined their insurgent operations with an intense media warfare campaign targeting its designated enemies.
ISKP’s propaganda output has increased, the productions have improved in quality, and their strategy has become more sophisticated. The group has also markedly expanded its reach and ability to communicate its messaging to targeted ethnic and linguistic groups. ISKP has historically put out content in Arabic, Pashto, and Dari; however, more recently, the branch has produced propaganda in an expanded number of languages such as Urdu, Uzbek, Tajik, and English.
Expansion of ISKP Media Strategy
Since its founding, the Islamic State Khurasan Province has used its propaganda machine to attack enemies such as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, said government’s international coalition allies, and the Taliban. ISKP started out impugning their foes through statements released by official branch media including Khurasan Wilayah News, Tor Bairaghuna, Al-Millat Media, Al-Azaim Foundation, and Khurasan Ghag Radio — which were all semi-official outlets — as well as several other aligned propaganda groups.
ISKP notably bolstered its media warfare efforts after the current Emir, Shahab al-Muhajir, reportedly took charge of the organisation in mid-2020. This proliferation was exemplified by a number of statements issued by the group and signed by ISKP spokesman Sultan Aziz Ezzam, as well as through the increased production of unofficial videos, audio statements, and various forms of print materials posted online. The activity of some pro-ISKP outlets remained limited, like in the case of Sangar Media and Furqa TV; however, others like Haqeqat News and Khalid Media started to produce and disseminate online high-quality videos and statements.
A subsequent period of discernible propaganda expansion followed the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021. ISKP ramped up its media production with dozens of books and booklets disseminated online. Al-Azaim Foundation became the group’s official local media organ, publishing all its print materials, audio statements, and video productions. Much of this content has been directed at the Taliban with the aim of delegitimizing and discrediting them as a politico-religious authority. Al-Azaim has also produced content purposed to inspire ISKP fighters, encourage attacks, instill patience amongst the rank and file, and raise money for the organization. Their productions often provide religious and ideological guidance to their forces and followers.
Not only has ISKP increased its output and introduced new publications, but the group has also begun releasing content in more languages. ISKP has started translating its books in Urdu and its audio statements in Uzbek — the latter comes as part of their outreach to potential Uzbek supporters in the region. Likewise, Al-Azaim's Aqeedah and Manhaj lessons are translated into Uzbek, and, last month, Al-Azaim also started to issue audio productions in the Uzbek language about the life of Asadulloh Urganchiy, a former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) ideologue.
These lessons are published with the official Al-Azaim Foundation logo in the Uzbek channel Aqida Darsliklari. Segments of these audio statements are then translated into the Tajik language and shared on the same channel, most of them addressing religious matters and calling for support of the establishment of the Islamic State in the area, rejecting those who believe in polytheism, secularism, and nationalism. ISKP propaganda in the Tajik language remains limited, but it is worth noting that in July of last year, a video was published showing ISKP militants who attacked Jalalabad prison in August 2020, which was a great operational success for the group as it freed several of its captive members. Among them, a young Tajik man threatened the “taghuti” government of Tajikistan with future attacks.
Pro-Islamic State propagandists have also been producing Hindi translations. Similar to Urdu-language media Nida-e Haqq, which translates all IS claims into Urdu, Al-Qitaal regularly publishes translations of official IS material into Hindi. While these channels are not formally linked to the Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch, their contents are shared in the same channels where ISKP publications are featured. Furthermore, a new pro-ISKP channel, Weekly Khilafat, has emerged and started to issue semi-official translations of al-Naba newsletters in Urdu and Hindi. Propaganda in the Bengali language is also shared in pro-ISKP channels through the Al-Burhan outlet.
Another notable sign of ISKP’s increasingly internationalized propaganda strategy is Al-Azaim Foundation’s decision to put the time, manpower, and resources into publishing both a magazine and a book in English, the world’s most-spoken language. With two such productions released in such short order, in late January and early February respectively, it is likely that ISKP will continue putting out English language content.
ISKP’s outreach strategy is designed to reach new sympathizers, attract disaffected members from other jihadi groups, and inspire militant elements belonging to targeted ethnic groups to conduct attacks in the countries where they reside. The organization is consolidating its support base, while also working to increase its ability to project power and influence through its media apparatus.