Tools and tactics of radical Islamic groups hiding in the Dark Web Part I : Extremist Literature

Philip Green

Deep Web

The phenomenon of online radicalisation has evolved in recent history, mainly due to the globalised world that we live in.

This process of globalisation created the foundations of the digital era and has enabled the relatively free flow of information to transcend across borders. Infrastructural development in the Middle East provided not only a stable Internet connection, but also access to Westernised websites.

The Dark Web & Radicalisation: Dangerous Networks

The dark web is a collection of thousands of websites that use anonymity tools to hide their IP addresses and has been compared to the black market. It has provided Islamic extremists with a platform to share their ideology unchallenged by governmental intervention. Relationships between Islamist recruiters and those prone to radicalisation flourish in this unmonitored environment. Sageman observed a link between small-world networking (dark web) and the eventual formation of a clique[1].

SEE ALSO: UK government ‘excluding conservative groups’ from counter-extremism work

The administrations behind a large proportion of these criminal websites are notoriously difficult to track down. Encryption devices are developed in order to restrict access to any unwanted intruders. There is also clear evidence of password-protected forums, containing extensive Jihadi literature[2]. The Global Islamic Media front reportedly supplies users with five encryption algorithms and data compression tools to restrict access to a chosen few[3]. The Global Islamic Media front is the European Arm of the Islamist propaganda machine, disseminating extreme literature to those deemed prone to radicalisation, by ISIL, et al.

Dark Web Forums and Extremists Literature


One of the most infamous pieces of literature shared amongst the Internet and dark web forums is the Encyclopedia of Jihad. Despite the schism amongst scholars  to the existence of a single document, there is a general consensus that a body of teachings is shared amongst online Jihadi communities. These teachings are the supposed constitutional and ideological foundations that will form radical Islamic activity[4].

The Encyclopedia of Jihad was originally developed as an instruction manual for the Taliban fighting against the Coalition forces. It was further developed for the purposes of Home Grown terrorism and provided a detailed guideline on carrying out violent attacks[5]. Another piece of Al Qaeda literature, The Call for a Global Islamic Resistance, is a valuable piece of inspirational doctrine, which focuses on the idea of Revivalism. It has been described as a 1,6000 page magnum opus, instructing wannabe Jihadists to partake in acts of mass murder[6].

Al Qaeda's online journal, Al Battar, was established to encourage young Muslims living outside of Afghanistan to participate in global Jihad. Al Battar was translated into the languages of several prominent countries within Europe, hoping to attract Muslims residing in Western countries to join radical Islam[7]. The content of digital journals shared amongst Islamist terrorist organizations aim to validate acts of terrorism by virtue of religious justification.

Historical and contemporary literature that rationalises self-sacrifice and encourages martyrdom, play an important role in radicalisation online[8]. Translations of classical texts are reformatted into word documents and e-books, allowing for a wider scope of influence. Silsilat al-I’dad lil-jihad (The series for preparation to Jihad) is a 19 step methodological approach to achieving martyrdom. Originally developed as a training manual for Islamic terrorist cells, it is now readily available within dark web forums. A copy of the e-journal was found amongst extremist documents on the computer on one of the members of the terrorist cell responsible for the Madrid train bombings.

Dabiq Magazine

An integral part of the Islamic State propaganda apparatus is the Dabiq magazine, available online. Dabiq is an imitation of the Inspire publication developed by Al Qaeda, under the guidance of the Salafiya Theologian Anwar Al-Awlaki[9]. The magazine is available in PDF format, allowing for peer-to-peer sharing and easy accessibility. Although translations are available, Islamic State has prioritised an English version, urging emigration to ISIS territory. Magazine issues cover a variety of topicsfrom Western military intervention to memorials, commending jihadists that martyr themselves in the name of the caliphate.

Islamic recruiters aim to present the Caliphate as an exciting alternative to life in the West. They do so by presenting the Caliphate as an Ideal Utopian State, where Muslims will find a sense of purpose and belonging.

In order to establish that sense of belonging, extreme interpretations of Islamic history are incorporated into the monthly issues of Dabiq. Titles of the publication are often related to specific periods of Islamic history, depicting Muslims overcoming adversity and fighting in the name of Allah. The title of issue 3: The Failed Crusade relates to the perceived failures of western intervention, both in a classical and contemporary context. 

Islamic State justify the atrocities its commits by applying historical context to the modern theatre of Islamic warfare. Each copy of Dabiq has an ideology driven narrative based on the extreme interpretations of Qu’ranic texts. One particular example of this narrative is evident in issue 7: From Hypocrisy to Apostasy: The Extinction of the Grayzone[10], where Islamic State justifies their ethnic cleansing of Shi’a Muslims. They rationalize these abhorrent war crimes as a religious duty, which shall be rewarded in the afterlife.

According to the Home office, ISIL’s media hub specifically targets young people on social media and encourages them to share Dabiq magazine[11].

Works Cited

[1] Philips, E (2015) Extracting Social Structure from Metadata on Dark Web Forums, Department of Computer Sciences, University of Oxford, Uk

[2] Almagor, C, R (2015) Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side, London, Cambridge press

[3]Almagor, C, R (2015) Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side, London, Cambridge press, pp 182

[4] Malashenko, A (2001) Encyclopedia of Jihad, Centre For Security and Science

[5] Almagor, C, R (2015) Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side, London, Cambridge press

[6] Almagor, C, R (2015) Confronting the Internet’s Dark Side, London, Cambridge press

[7] Minor, T (2012) Attacking the Nodes of Terrorist Networks, Global Security Studies, 03:02 pp 1-12

[8] Hafez, M (2015) The Radicalization Puzzle: A Theoretical Synthesis of Empirical Approaches to Home Grown Extremism, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 38:11, pp958-975

[9] Mogahadan, A (2008) Motives for Martyrdom: Al- Qaeda, Salafi Jihad, and the spread of Suicide Attacks, The Mit Press, pp 46-78

[10] Colas, B (2016) What Does Dabiq do? ISIS Hermeneutics and Organizational Fractures within Dabiq Magazine, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. Pp, 250-27