By TOM FINN
The radical Islamic militia ISIS that has swept through much of Iraq and is menacing Baghdad is also on the offensive in a raging cyber war.
Armed with Instagram accounts, Koranic verse, and a new iphone app “Dawn” that allows them to live-tweet their military advances, the group is using social media to recruit and radicalize supporters and to broadcast propaganda beyond Iraq’s borders.
“Like guns and rockets the internet is a tool in our struggle. We have to get the word out,” Mohammed Ashti, 27, a computer science student and an ISIS supporter, told ABC news. Ashti, a young Sunni from Tikrit, a city north of Baghdad seized by the Islamists insurgents last week, says he uses Viber and Whatsapp to spread news about ISIS’s advances.
Ashti also runs a popular Instagram page that features images of masked ISIS fighters brandishing kalashnikovs and driving military vehicles abandoned by the army as well as cartoons mocking Iraq’s President Nuri al-Malaki.
Instagram later contacted ABC News to say the account is no longer active.
On Monday, ISIS provoked a media storm when they claimed to have executed 1,700 Iraqi government soldiers. Images posted on Twitter showed Iraqi soldiers being laid in slit trenches, gunmen opening fire on them, then posing over the bloodied and mutilated corpses.
The authenticity of ISIS’s claims though often hard to verify seize the attention of the West and heighten flaring sectarian tensions. The United Nations, however, has said they believe the number of executions carried out by ISIS may be in the hundreds and that it is likely that war crimes were committed.
The Iraqi government has tried to fight back in the cyber battle. Last week it blocked Facebook and Twitter over fears that the Islamists were using the outlets to organize their insurgency. Anti-censorship organizations have reacted angrily to the block, saying it harms Iraqis using the sites for legitimate purposes.