British security services were involved in the assault targeting websites hosting its flagship Amaq “news agency”, alongside allies in the EU, US and Canada.
Europol said Islamist group’s ability to broadcast and publicise terrorist material has been “compromised” by a mix of cooperation with internet service providers and cyber attacks.
Security services are also working to identify Isis administrators and radicalised individuals across Europe and beyond with the data retrieved.
In the third phase of an operation started in 2015, law enforcement agencies coordinated by the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) started a two-day “simultaneous multinational takedown” on Wednesday.
Isis servers were seized in the Netherlands, Canada and the US, while raids were conducted in Bulgaria, France and Romania as the UK targeted its domains.
European Counter Terrorism Centre:
“Designed as a central hub in the EU in the fight against terrorism, the ECTC focuses on:
- providing operational support upon a request from a EU Member State for investigations;
- tackling foreign fighters;
- sharing intelligence and expertise on terrorism financing (through the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme and the Financial Intelligence Unit);
- online terrorist propaganda and extremism (through the EU Internet Referral Unit);
- illegal arms trafficking;
- International cooperation amongst counter-terrorism authorities”.
Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) at King’s College London said permanent damage to the Amaq website could have a “substantial strategic impact”.
“The website was a living archive of Isis propaganda and there’s no equivalent,” he told The Independent. “Given that at this point in time the group is maniacally trying to curate its post-territorial legacy, it really could do with access to all of those materials.”
Increased detection and removal work by both governments and hacktivists has since pushed it into ever more obscure corners of the internet, with the Amaq website being taken down and reappearing on an almost daily basis even before Europol’s attack.
The head of GCHQ revealed that British spies have been disrupting Isis’ communication networks and propaganda earlier this month, hinting that it could be behind a glut of fake propaganda that unnerved the group last year.
The British government has also funded free artificial intelligence software that can detect the group’s videos and prevent them being uploaded to the internet.
By Abigail Eatock