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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:

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.
Bellingcat Investigation Team

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  1. Dao

    Great job, great thinking. Want to know more about the techniques/methodologies used to geolocate the pictures (law inforcement perspective).

    • boggled

      Welcome to the site Dao.
      Many of the articles have their own special way of investigation.
      Some are more individual to the author of said article.

      Tab on the top of the screen called ‘ guides’ would be helpful for you I think.

      You can also type in OSINT in the search box on the upper right and it will show various articles Bellingcat has done on OSINT.
      Open Source Intelligence = OSINT

      IF you would like to delve deeper into techniques than what you find here.
      MY suggestion would be search your favorite search engine for – OSINT techniques
      OR — OSINT tools.

      Best of luck to you
      Hope you enjoy the site
      Maybe you will become one of the helpers that assist solving some of the mysteries.

      Fare thee well

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  3. Lynn

    Were they silly enough to post these with user names? Would be interesting to expand visibility on their network.

  4. Sheona

    Your post reminded me of a taxi driver I noticed beside the Ibis hotel at Luton airport last month taking photos of the large gas/fuel storage tanks. He then got back into his cab and drove off, but I can’t remember the name of the taxi firm, I’m afraid.

    • Nick

      Dont be afraid. All kinds of shit happens to very few every day. Life for the huge majority goes on. And this sad Islam terrorism will pass. Freedom will always prevail. Also, be a little bit brave maybe huh?
      Oh, and please say hi to your friend T. Roll?


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