The Infographics Of Terror: ISIS’s Illustrated Propaganda War

The terror group in Syria and Iraq publishes an annual report, operates “like an army that has state-building ambitions.”

Not only do jihadists appear to be doing dishearteningly well in the war on terror, capturing major swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria–they are increasingly using Western-style tools against the West. Case in point: the disturbing infographics and “annual report” recently published by the fearsome Al Qaeda splinter group ISIS, which has all but established a large terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, showcasing the number of suicide bombings, executions, and other atrocities perpetrated by it in the past years.


What is most shocking in those images is the stylistic celebration of methodic murder and destruction they convey–several sticks of dynamite and a timer illustrate the number of attacks with improvised explosive devices carried out while a schematic picture of a vest with explosives shows the suicide attacks (a blot of blood depicts the number of houses destroyed).

Experts say that ISIS’s information campaign and fundraising strategy, organized in detailed annual reports (the last one was over 400 pages long), mimic that of a modern corporation and bolster its claim to a capacity to build a state.

“The reports provide measures of performance in the way you roll out details for donors,” Jessica Lewis, the director of research at the Institute for the Study of War, told the Financial Times. “They affirm that the organisation operates like an army and that it has state-building ambitions.”

And the terrorists’s social media campaign is “probably more sophisticated than most U.S. companies,” Aaron Zelin, an expert on jihadist groups, told the Times.

But while global jihadists may have moved into the information age, its on-the-ground tactics for establishing a state remain medieval at best, including crucifixions, flagellations, and public executions. Its brutality has already generated backlash in much of Syria, and though for now the group is winning battle after battle against the disorganized Iraqi army and the poorly-equipped Syrian rebels, it may well lose the war.

After all, it already happened once, in Iraq, when the same people it claimed to represent, the Sunni Muslims, helped to expel it, unable to cope with its savagery.

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(Primarily) Istanbul-based journalist writing about international politics, business, technology, and innovation.