Online Fight Against Islamic State Makes Gains, U.S. Envoy Says

  • McGurk says ‘smart, engaged’ Muslims work from U.A.E. center
  • Iraq’s victory in Fallujah marred by ‘atrocities,’ McGurk says

Islamic State’s online efforts to recruit and inspire terrorists are being met with increasingly effective resistance, according to the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

QuickTake Fighting Islamic State

“This network of voices on the internet right now is really starting to turn the tide against their message," Brett McGurk told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. Lawmakers have criticized U.S. efforts to counter the group’s propaganda in the past.

Even as Islamic State has lost 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria, McGurk said, reducing its presence on Twitter, Facebook and other social media has become increasingly important. Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to the group in 911 calls before he massacred 49 people at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub this month.

McGurk said he visited the year-old Sawab Center in the United Arab Emirates where "Muslims from the U.A.E. and the area who want to fight” Islamic State work around the clock. He said he met “smart, engaged, dynamic, incredible young people” at the center, which the State Department has described as “the first-ever multinational online messaging and engagement program” to counter terrorist propaganda.

But he said “what really works is the non-coordinated, organic message” that’s increasingly being spread by opponents of the group.

Twitter Handles

In the last two years, six anti-Islamic State accounts have been opened on Twitter for every one in support of the group, McGurk said, and San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. has taken down 125,000 handles supporting the group.

In testimony to the Senate Intelligence committee on June 16, Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan predicted Islamic State will only intensify its global terrorism campaign as a response to losing territory in the caliphate it claims across a stretch of Iraq and Syria.

Fallujah in central Iraq had been under Islamic State control from January 2014 until Iraqi forces liberated the town this week. But that success for U.S.-backed forces came with word that Shiite militias operating outside the control of the central government had attacked Sunni Muslims fleeing the city.

For a related story on the fight in Fallujah, click here.

Committee members questioned the ability of the coalition and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to keep the Sunni population safe as the process of returning 80,000 displaced Iraqis to Fallujah begins.

"Those atrocities were a tarnish on the government, on the Iraqi army, the Iraqi security forces and that’s something that Prime Minister Abadi very much recognizes,” said McGurk, who told the committee that the attacks on Sunni civilians were halted after 24 hours.

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