Islamic State using Telegram to recruit converts

Terrorist movement Islamic State is active on the encrypted telecommunications app Telegram and is using alleged atrocities committed against Muslims in Syria to entice and radicalize vulnerable people online.

The disclosure comes from cybersecurity analyst Cyfirma, which operates across south and east Asia and in the US.

The fundamentalist religious group, which sometimes goes by the name ISIS or Daesh, is using a dedicated Telegram channel, “WhispersOfTheForgotten,” to share content intended to radicalize Muslims and convert them to its cause, Cyfirma claims.

Besides that, it is using a RocketChat server named TechHaven, which Cyfirma says has been previously linked to the terror group.

“The existence of the group on the RocketChat server proved that the Telegram channel WhispersOfTheForgotten is run by users with ISIS ideology,” it said.

The channel also runs what Cyfirma describes as “a parallel donation drive.”

“The suspicious channel shares contact details where other Telegram users could reach out to and discuss donations they would like to offer,” said Cyfirma, which infiltrated the chat group online to uncover its intentions.

It added that the RocketChat platform hosts many other ISIS groups besides WhispersOfTheForgotten, both active and inactive and apparently based in different regions around the world.

"The channel broadcasts atrocities alleged to have occurred to women and children living in the Al Hawl camp in Syria"

Cyfirma explains how it believes Islamic State is using reported catastrophes in the Middle East to lure potential recruits

Alleged atrocities used as bait

Cyfirma believes that Islamic State is using alleged atrocities committed against Muslim women and children in the Al Hawl detention camp in north-east Syria, where thousands of people, including former Islamic State members and refugees from other countries such as Iraq, are being held, to attract followers and subscribers online.

Another dedicated channel, “Letters From Inside,” is used to raise awareness of reported abuses – Islamic State is accused by Cyfirma of using this as a lure to move targets onto extremist content in an apparent attempt to provoke them into joining it.

“This channel broadcasts atrocities alleged to have occurred to women and children living in the Al Hawl camp in Syria,” said Cyfirma. “The channel also raises funds for specific individuals from the camp who have medical or survival needs. However, the channel has been found to reshare content from the ISIS-linked WhispersOfTheForgotten.”

Moreover, Cyfirma believes the ISIS Telegram channel donation drives it observed “are highly likely to fund further terror activities.”

“WE ARE BACK,” declares one user, UndergroundPrisoner, on a post shared by WhispersOfTheForgotten with the RocketChat platform. “SubhanAllah our channel got deleted. By the Mercy of Allah it’s up and running again.”

Another Telegram channel, “TheTravelers,” again explicitly links reported human rights abuses committed against Muslims in Syria with reshared content from WhispersOfTheForgotten.

Screenshot of WhispersOfTheForgotten an ISIS channel
WhispersOfTheForgotten, run by ISIS believers and shared on Telegram through an affiliated channel to attract fresh followers

Not easy to pin down

While Cyfirma says it managed to gather evidence on the affiliated groups, it later ran into difficulties when it engaged with the ISIS-linked Telegram users “DonationsUndergroundPrisoners” and “BackUpStarWar.”

“Later on, the user asked us to chat on another handle and enabled Telegram’s secret chat feature, which restricts users from grabbing screenshots,” it said of the former.

As for the second, “the suspicious account is collecting funds to help prisoners, and potentially also Jihadists outside prison [but] the [screen] captures are not perfect as the chat was extremely time-limited and the messages were deleted by the user after reading.”

Cyfirma also managed to trace some of the money gained by the ISIS affiliates, paid in cryptocurrency.

“During our engagement, we obtained their bitcoin wallet addresses,” it said. “The suspect transfers funds to other wallets, maintaining empty balances in the donation-receiving wallets, with a single-wallet address only used, before generating a new one.”

The analyst says the groups it observed had received over $80,000, paid into two distinct bitcoin wallets, but believes the true total could well be higher.

“Given that we only obtained two wallet addresses, it is likely that additional wallets are being used to receive and disperse the funds they have acquired,” it added.

ISIS buzzing under the radar

“The widespread availability of messenger platforms such as Telegram and decentralized RocketChat server grants terrorist organizations the ability to establish communication hubs and connect with individuals who share their ideologies, radicalizing them from afar,” said Cyfirma.

It adds that the “convergence of cryptocurrency and secure platforms like Telegram enables terrorist groups to operate stealthily, evading detection by law enforcement agencies and complicating efforts to track their illicit activities.”

The cybersecurity analyst warns that if agencies do not act to address this “hidden threat emerging from the depths of the internet,” Islamic State and affiliated groups will continue to flourish online.

“The ease with which terrorists can access communication platforms to connect with like-minded individuals presents a significant internet security challenge,” it said, adding that this threat is all too often being overlooked by cybersecurity professionals.

“Despite this, it is still unclear how money is being circulated and precisely where it is being utilized,” it added. “However, this investigation has shown that funds are being used directly and indirectly for terrorist activities.”

Cybernews was able to find what appears to be an English-language channel called WhispersOfTheForgotten on Telegram, promoting pro-Islamic content and seeking to raise money for “untold brothers and sisters imprisoned unjustly in syrain [sic] territory.”

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