Posts Tagged 'jihadist language'

Inspire and Azan paper is out

The paper Edna Reid and I wrote about the language patterns in Inspire and Azan magazines has now appeared (at least online) in Springer’s Security Informatics journal. Here’s the citation:

“Language Use in the Jihadist Magazines Inspire and Azan”
David B Skillicorn and Edna F Reid
Springer Security Informatics.2014, 3:9
Security Informatics

The paper examines the intensity of various kinds of language in these jihadist magazines. The main conclusions are:

  • These magazines use language as academic models of propaganda would predict, something that has not been empirically verified at this scale AFAIK.
  • The intellectual level of these magazines is comparable to other mass market magazines — they aren’t particularly simplistic, and they assume a reasonably well-educated readership.
  • The change in editorship/authorship after the deaths of Al-Awlaki and Samir Khan are clearly visible in Inspire. The new authors have changed for each issue, but there is an overarching similarity. Azan has articles claiming many different authors, but the writing style is similar across all articles and issues; so it’s either written by a single person or by a tightly knit group.
  • Jihadist language intensity has been steadily increasing over the past few issues of Inspire, after being much more stable during the Al-Awlaki years (this is worrying).
  • Inspire is experimenting with using gamification strategies to increase motivation for lone-wolf attacks and/or to decrease the reality of causing deaths and casualties. It’s hard to judge whether this is being done deliberately, or by osmosis — the levels of gamification language waver from issue to issue.

ISIS is putting out its own magazine. Its name, “Islamic State News”, and the fact that it is entirely pictorial (comic or graphic novel depending on your point of view) says something about their view of the target audience.

Update on Inspire and Azan magazines

Issue 12 of Inspire and Issue 5 of Azan are now out, so I’m updating the analysis of the language patterns in these two sequences of magazines.

To recap, both of these magazines are glossy and picture-heavy and intended primarily to encourage lone-wolf attacks by diaspora jihadists. It’s unclear how much impact they have actually had — several attackers have had copies, but so have many other non-attackers in the same environments. We have written a full analysis that can be downloaded from SSRN (here).

Here is the variation among issues for Inspire, based on the 1000 most-frequent words:


You can see that the first 8 issues, edited by Samir Khan, are quite similar to one another, except for Issues 3 and 7, which are different in tone (and quite similar to one another, although that isn’t obvious in this figure). The new issues, by unknown editors don’t resemble one another very much, but they do have an underlying consistency (they form almost a straight line) which argues for some underlying organization.

The other interesting figures are based on a model of the intensity of jihadi language. The figure shows the variation among issues of both magazines, with jihadi intensity increasing from right to left:


Overall, the jihadist intensity of Azan is lower than that of Inspire; but the most recent four issues of Inspire represent a departure: their levels are much, much greater than previous issues of Inspire and all of the issues of Azan. This is a worrying trend.

Inspire and Azan magazines

I’ve been working (with Edna Reid) on understanding Inspire and Azan magazines from the perspective of their language use.

These two magazines are produced by islamists, aimed at Western audiences, and intended primarily to motivate lone-wolf attacks. Inspire comes out of AQAP, whereas Azan seems to have a Pakistan/Afghanistan base and to be targeted more at South Asians.

Both magazines have some inherent problems: it’s difficult to convince others to carry out actions that will get them killed or imprisoned using such a narrow channel and appealing only to mind and emotions. The evidence for the effectiveness of these magazines is quite weak — those (few) who have carried out lone-wolf attacks in the West have often been found to have read these magazines — but so have many others in their communities who didn’t carry out such attacks.

Regardless of effectiveness, looking at language usage gives us a way to reverse engineer what’s going on the minds of the writers and editors. For example, it’s clear that the first 8 issues of Inspire were produced by the same (two) people, but that issues 9-11 have been produced by three different people (but with some interesting underlying commonalities). It’s also clear that all of the issues of Azan so far are produced by one person (or perhaps a small group with a very similar mindset) despite the different names used as article authors.

Overall, Inspire lacks a strategic focus. Issues appear when some event in the outside world suggests a theme, and what gets covered, and how, varies quite substantially from issue to issue. Azan, on the other hand, has been tightly focused with a consistent message, and much more regular publication. Measures of infomative and imaginative language are also consistently higher for Azan than for Inspire.

The intensity of jihadist language in Inspire has been steadily increasing in recent issues. The level of deception has also been increasing, this latter surprising because previous studies have suggested that jihadi intensity tends to be correlated with low levels of deception. This may be a useful signal for intelligence organizations.

A draft of the paper about this is available on SSRN: