Caliphate AI: IS/ISKP Supporters Harness Generative AI for Propaganda Dissemination

Militant groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and its supporter communities are increasingly capitalising on advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) to disseminate propaganda and disinformation more efficiently and at reduced costs. By exploiting generative AI through easy-to-use and accessible Chatbots and image and audio generators, IS supporters are producing visually appealing and persuasive content that aligns with the organisation’s values, media outreach, and recruitment aims, thereby expanding their propaganda reach.

By Mona Thakkar & Anne Speckhard

Following the deadly attack on a Moscow concert hall, in March, an IS supporter circulated AI-generated video news bulletins about the group’s global operations within pro-IS communication channels. This sparked extensive discussions and a growing interest among IS supporter networks in integrating AI into their media content creation. This development signified a pivotal shift in the utilization of AI as a key tool in the Islamic State and its regional affiliates’ media warfare strategies, particularly, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) based in the Afghanistan Pakistan region, as it continues to be on a rampage posing a significant international security threat.

In the aftermath of the IS Moscow attack, an IS sympathizer on the encrypted communication platform Rocket Chat circulated an AI-generated video news bulletin on the attack as part of an escalating anti-Russian propaganda campaign. In the video, realistic-looking AI-generated characters in military fatigues emulating real news broadcasters read news dispatch about the attack in Arabic sourced from official Islamic State mouthpieces like al-Naba and Amaq news agency.

With the AI-generated humanoid broadcaster speaking and IS logo and news tickers moving along the bottom of the screen interspersed with footage showing IS fighters executing attacks, the broadcasting style closely emulated the popular television networks of Al Jazeera and CNN. Other AI-generated video news broadcasts of IS’s operations in the Middle East and Africa were subsequently produced in a similar style, featuring a character in traditional Islamic outfit as part of what the IS supporter branded as the “News Harvest” program. In these cases, text-to-speech AI to convert written information into speech and audio with a human accent, and video generators were used to produce these cutting-edge propaganda videos.

Subsequently, among fervent IS adherents, contentious discussions emerged regarding the theological ramifications of employing AI in their media production under Islamic law. Some contended that the portrayal of animated characters with discernible facial features in videos was haram (sin) in Islam, prompting the producer to obscure the speakers’ visages in subsequent releases. Despite these modifications, other radical supporters urged the creator to eschew using “full-body animated characters” altogether, suggesting that the IS flag would be a more suitable background for future videos. Conversely, others advocated for launching analogous news programs in English and other languages to enhance engagement with Western Muslim audiences. Following this trend, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) and its supporter communities have now weaponized generative AI to produce similar interactive AI news reports, albeit with notable differences in visual style and narration, to amplify their propaganda messaging. This study investigates the gradual incorporation of AI into pro-ISKP supporters’ media propaganda through these broadcasts as well as the reactions of other supporters to these developments.

Read the full article on the ICSVE website here

About the authors:

Mona Thakkar is a research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism, where she focuses on monitoring militant jihadist groups and their financial networks. Follow Mona on X: @ t16_mona

Anne Spechard, Ph.D.
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past three years, she has interviewed ISIS (n=239) defectors, returnees and prisoners as well as al Shabaab cadres (n=16) and their family members (n=25) as well as ideologues (n=2), studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 175 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 125 Facebook campaigns globally.

She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting with governments on issues of repatriation and rehabilitation. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow Anne Speckhard on X: @AnneSpeckhard