Advancing Iraqi forces find ISIL media centre in west MosulMarch 4, 2017
MOSUL // Hiding in plain sight, ISIL produced its propaganda from a villa in a once upmarket part of west Mosul. The two-storey property, complete with a garden and a shed, has now been taken by Iraqi forces but it was from there that ISIL produced placards and broadcast its Al-Bayan radio station.
"The neighbours told us that they [ISIL] produced their adverts here," said Lieutenant Colonel Abdulamir Al Mohammedawi, from the interior ministry’s elite Rapid Response Division. "And after we came in and examined it completely, we discovered that it was a media centre that broadcast the Al Bayan radio station."
ISIL fighters set fire to the building as they fled. Little was left behind. Inside, the walls were caked with soot to the roof. Reams of documents were reduced to ash. The kitchen was gutted but for a few melted calculators and hard drive towers standing by the front door. Radio broadcasting equipment was also found, and the Rapid Response team was seen moving a sound mixing desk.
"Everything is totally burnt ... we found a few computers, adverts, some CDs, which will be taken to the intelligence unit," said Lt Col Al Mohammedawi. "This place used to belong to Daesh, no one entered it because it was forbidden," said Obaida Radwan, 22 who lives next door. "They used it as a media point, to print their adverts, the ones you see on the street."
ISIL has developed a sophisticated media output that experts said was a key plank of its operations, using Al Bayan and its other media channels to claim attacks overseas, including the Orlando nightclub shooting that killed 50 people in June. It also regularly distributed material to lionise its fighters and romanticise life under its rule in the hope of attracting recruits.
"Propaganda is everything for the Islamic State, not just in terms of its ability to brand itself around the world but also to sustain some level of acquiescence in its heartland in Syria and Iraq" said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College.
ISIL’s own media, as well as discoveries made in territory recaptured from the group, show it often erects large placards with its religious rules, including instructions on how women must dress. And when forced to leave, the extremists destroy their media operation to protect its secrets.
"They are perhaps more secretive about the media than they are about almost any other aspect of the organisation, because it’s so important to them. It’s a way for them to weather losses, to embed themselves in people’s mind even if their territorial hold is tenuous," said Mr Winter." He said the other remaining contents of the house, such as a box of CD covers, ISIL had produced materials there for distribution at "media kiosks," which ISIL set up in areas under its control to disseminate propaganda touting its achievements.
But, he added: "I’d be very surprised if they made any of the videos, did any of the post-production or kept any of the narrators in a place as public as that. I think that would be somewhere very, very secret."