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ISIS Had a Social Media Campaign, So We Tracked Them Down

May 22, 2016

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

On Saturday, numerous supporters of ISIS posted pictures on social media from major European cities, displaying messages of support for the group. This social media campaign was in support of an imminent speech from ISIS spokesperson Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. In these photographs, backgrounds of various European cities can be seen, with the intention of, as described by Sheera Frankel of BuzzFeed News World, “instill[ing] fear by showing that the group had supporters in major European cities.” As noted by J.M. Berger, this was the “first time in months that the ISIS social media team has come out in force to push a release,” and that the ISIS “fanboys” felt accomplished in getting their hashtag to trend.

However, these photographs revealed the exact locations of the ISIS supporters in their photographs, in some cases even exposing their home addresses. Numerous Twitter users crowdsourced the geolocation of these photographs throughout the day on Saturday, eventually pinpointing the locations of several photographs shared by ISIS supporters.

One ISIS supporter tweeted a photograph of him/herself from Münster, Germany.

Twitter user @hotzn1 was able to pinpoint the location to an intersection in a northern suburb of Münster. @ArtWendeley noted that there is a map with all of the advertising pillars in the city, leading him (and @hotzn1) to the location of the photograph.

One photograph shows a red double-decker bus in the background, and a London Underground sign. Twitter user @mamzbondok was able to use the available clues to geolocate the photograph to the Bruce Grove station in North London:

Another photograph claimed to be taken in Amsterdam:

https://twitter.com/RamiAlLolah/status/734072598200455170

Many Twitter users suggested it could possibly be in Amsterdam’s southern suburbs, given the many trees and its wide bike paths. The search intensified when a popular Dutch weblog asked its “reaguurders” to join the search. Some went as far as comparing lamp posts in different areas of Amsterdam, while others suggested it might be in other, surrounding towns. This turned out to be correct, as a member of the Bellingcat investigative team was able to find the exact location in Hoofddorp, a town near Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

Later, Twitter users came to additional conclusions from this photograph, including the exact apartment building that the photographer was in:

Lastly, an ISIS supporter in Paris shared a photograph overlooking a street below.

Twitter user @Naenil was able to geolocate this photograph to Rue Championnet in Paris.

As noted by @Naenil and @juge29, the Suzuki logo in the photograph was a dead giveaway, as there are only about a half-dozen Suzuki shops in all of Paris:

Overall, the ISIS social media campaign backfired spectacularly, likely revealing information about multiple ISIS supporters in major European cities, including their residential locations and, perhaps with CCTV cameras, their identities.
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32 Comments

  1. Max

    If their objective is to “Instill fear by showing that the group had supporters in major European cities,” then wouldn’t they want their photos to be geolocated to major European cities? Maybe not to their apartments, but to European streets.
    Also, are they trying to get right-wing xenophobic parties elected or what?

    Reply
    • Julian

      It would fit their agenda to get right wing xenophobic parties elected, absolutely.

      Reply
      • Max

        Why? They want to reduce Muslim immigration to Europe?
        It’s as if the ISIS supporters gloat that Muslim immigration has brought terrorists everywhere.

        Reply
        • Ceebs

          If they can organise a crackdown on Muslims already in, either by the fools of the far right or security services going over the top to prove they are in control, then the argument is they can push far more people towards extremist groups than they could ever get across the borders.

          It’s a (from their point of view) self reinforcing spiral

          Reply
          • Max

            I doubt that ISIS supporters who are citizens of European countries vote for far-right parties. I think they vote for far-left parties who welcome Muslim immigrants, bash Israel, and condemn cartoons of Mohammed.
            The one reason I could see them supporting far right-parties is if those parties are more anti-interventionist. However, they tend to support Russia’s intervention in Syria.

          • Slackjaw

            They don’t directly support far-right parties (for the most part, at least from a Western idea of ‘far-right’) – but if far right parties are ascendant in the West, closing off immigration, turning heavy-handed security apparatus on domestic Muslim populations etc, that removes any sort of ‘gray area’ for Muslim to live (or co-exist) in the West. You have to remember that ISIS’s main goal at this point in time is to set up and expand their Caliphate – everything they do is largely directed towards this end. Terrorist attacks in the West aren’t an end in and of themselves, they’re recruiting tools. What they really want is more Muslims coming to Syria to help them fight. To that end, creating hostile conditions for Muslims in Western countries is beneficial for them, as it allows them to sell their narrative of being the only groups looking out for Muslim interests. It’s pretty much exactly what they did in Iraq, and what they’re doing in Syria.

            Also, depending on how seriously they take a lot of the apocalyptic prophecies they spout, there’s a good chance they want to provoke a ground war, a full on Western intervention in Iraq and Syria. Whilst I can’t personally imagine the Caliphate lasting very long as a state-like entity under those conditions, if you think you’re operating under an end-times prophecy, that won’t matter to them. And even when the apocalypse fails to occur, they can still sell the idea that once again they’ve bogged the West down in an unwinnable quagmire, draining resources and troops for another decade etc.

            Far-right forces may not want the same things as Jihadis, but they serve their agenda regardless. The far left has it’s own problems dealing with the problem, but generally speaking their problems are more of the useful idiot variety, than one of almost actively aiding their desired outcomes.

  2. Felix

    Have you notified the national intelligence services or local police about the findings of your Geo-location? Because if not the exercise would be rather pointless. Authorities definitly won’t find this side.

    Reply
  3. hans peter

    Thr geo info on pics doesn’t un reveal the home addresses of the twitter users but where the pics where taken
    for user info you need to trace the account or hack it and get the ip addresses and device’s of the Internet user
    Otherwise anyone can use pictures from the net and manipulation starts the same time so we see more than there is.
    spread fear……

    Reply
  4. boggled

    Nice job all
    The Netherland’s one was tough
    I was thinking the tall white building was Ijburg Apartments.
    I was on the wrong location

    Fare thee well

    Reply
  5. Ronald McDonald

    how exactly did bellingcat track anyone down? nobody can be identified.

    Reply
    • Pasc

      94 rue Chapionnet is really close from place Albert Kahn where police found the black Clio car used for the attack of the 13th november 2015.

      Reply
  6. Jeroen

    From the pic in the Netherlands it is clearly the second or third floor somewhere in the middle.looking at the height of the tree. Then, looking at the left side of the book, the person held his book in the window. Now let’s hope they get these filthy bugs and put them away for at least the next decade.

    Reply
    • Richard

      No. The second or third floor would put him as high as or lower than the top of the lampposts. The highest tree on that corner is taller than the building. And looking at the fact that the picture is taken at approximately the same height as the fifth floor from the top of the yellow building in the background, I’d say the picture is taken from the top floor, or the one below. And considering the fact you can see a tiny bit of the roundabout, the picture was taken from the corner of the building and probably not from the inside or you would have seen part of the railing of the gallery/balcony. What looks to be some kind of (window) frame, is actually something he’s holding. Look at his index finger. Possibly a flexible cover on his notebook, which seems to be rather specific with the yellow and blue tab.

      Reply
  7. Bart

    After studying the photo, you can just look on top of the roof of the 4th floor of the office locatend at the ‘Binnenweg’, but you can’t look at the roof of the 5th floor.
    So the ‘IS fanboy’ must be on the 5th floor of the flat.

    When you go to Google streetview and turn to the 5th floor and the most right appartment you find out that the foto is take in front of the appartment with the yellow door (Graan voor Visch 13740, Hoofddorp): https://www.google.nl/maps/@52.2972037,4.6908978,3a,15y,216.43h,107.82t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s6uabYxtRHITBBfj5ooqxGA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1?hl=nl

    Reply
    • Nick

      Good thinking. Now all that needs to be done is go to the building with a camera and easily check which floor/door the photo was taken from. The lamp post heads are a good triangulation vector.
      Judging by the hair on his left thumb and the fluid arabic writing he is definitely not a young youth. I would say at least 18.
      Judging by the fluidity of his Arabic compared to the disastrous Latin alphabet (Dutch), he most likely has only recently started learning Dutch (a newcomer?), and therefore is also not likely to understand English (e.g. here 🙂

      Reply
    • DUrq

      How does being anti-IS make you pro-NATO? IS are not just anti-NATO, they are anti anyone that does not come in line with the idea of ‘the caliphate’, be they British, American, European, Christian, Muslim, anyone that does not buy into their ideas is at risk. IS is a threat to everyone, so any effort to disrupt their operations or recruitment should be roundly applauded!

      Reply
      • Herman Melville

        Haven’t you twigged this is a site for NATO fan-boys deluding themselves that they’re pulling the big, bad Russky bear’s tail? Did you think it was impartial analysis? These “citizens” are very selective with their “journalism”.

        Reply
        • Nick

          Selective maybe. But that’s no crime is it? And it also doesn’t at all mean all their work is nonsense.

          Reply

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