Islamic State (IS) fighters and supporters on social media erupted in explosive celebration over the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France, which resulted in over 150 dead. The extent of the celebration far exceeded past online rallying by IS supporters, especially noting the fact that IS has not claimed the attack.
If you looked at Twitter, however, you would have thought IS claimed the attack as the events unraveled (something the group does not do, and didn’t in this case, either). IS fighters, supporters, and residents flocked to social media using hashtags translating to “#Caliphate_State_Strikes_France” and “#Crusader_France_On_Fire” to celebrate the event. While users threatened that “this is just the beginning,” media groups immediately started producing material celebrating the events. One picture within a series made by pro-IS media group al-Samood stated:
Same as you kill you are killed and we have promised you of that we will move the battles to your own homes, and then you may taste our severity
Most notable is that IS accounts and established media groups have started releasing large amounts of media campaigning against Paris, showing dead children and damage buildings caused by French airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. The posts were part of a purposefully timed campaign to create hatred against France amongst jihadis. Fighters also distributed past IS publications in French and videos featuring French speakers. The following posts, for example, contained the link to an IS video profiling French IS fighter “Abu Sohayb Al-Faranci” and pictures of dead children implied to be killed in French airstrikes:
Such posts were spread all throughout social media. Among the most stand-out of these messages by IS fighters and supporters, however, was the quote by IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani from his March 12, 2015 speech, wherein he claimed that the group would reach “Paris before Rome.” The quote may just contain disturbing truth in that IS may very likely be responsible for this attack. And, this highly plausible scenario considered, these responses by social media users appear to be coordinated to prove that this threat to attack France had come true.
Furthermore, though al-Qaeda (AQ) may still be behind attacks, the group has demonstrated a much different approach to terror in recent years. AQ, though its attacks have aimed at targets which are much more acceptable in the jihadi community: atheist bloggers, blasphemers of the Prophet, etc. AQ picks these targets carefully as a way to appeal to jihadi hearts and minds amid its popularity war with IS. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula’s (AQAP) Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015, for example, was supported by many.
A Dutch fighter with al-Nusra Front (NF), AQ’s Syrian affiliate, commented on these differing attack styles:
On the other hand, to Abu Saeed’s point, IS doesn’t care who it attacks, be they civilians or anyone else. This brutal methodology seems much more fitting to the attacks we’ve just witnessed in Paris.
The way IS supporters have embraced this attack appears much more coordinated at a much earlier stage than massive reactions to past attacks. In these past cases, IS supporters speculated and hoped that IS was behind those atrocities, but did not actually assert that the group was behind those respective attacks with such unanimous confidence as seen today. While no group has yet claimed the attack, the well-coordinated and well-disseminated campaign by IS fighters and pro-media might be an indication to a role by IS.