While it is clear that the fire is still smoldering under the ashes of the Islamic State Organization (ISIS), one of the major questions facing counter-terrorism experts is the survival strategy that the ISIS will adopt following the collapse of the proto-state of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The ISIS’s intelligence service known as the AMNI is at the heart of this survival strategy…
The present paper is intended to introduce a field study titled “From Directorate of Intelligence to Directorate of Everything: The Islamic State’s Emergent Amni-Media Nexus” conducted by Asaad Almohammad, an independent expert on political violence and counter-terrorism, and Charlie Winter, associate researcher at the Center for Radical Studies at King’s College, London, and the International Center for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague (ICCT).
The field study provides important insights into the IS new operational modes and attempts to trace the metamorphosis undergone by the latter, especially in its chain of command. It also reveals the emergence of new decision-making centers within the IS focused around its Directorate of General Security (DGS), previously known by the Arabic acronym AMNI (al-markaz almuwahhad al-amni).
Reverting to “Guerrilla-Style” Operations?
The authors of the study noted that whilst the ISIS has turned back on itself since the collapse of its Caliphate dream, this setback did not prevent the ISIS from revisiting its modus operandi. The ISIS’s jihadist related “nebula” has a proven presence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, respectively. It works to stir up religious tensions, especially between Sunnis and Shiites, in order to preserve its nuisance effect, inter alia, through attacks, assassinations and other terrorist operations. So one can say that the IS returned to guerrilla-type operations, according to the insurrectional modus operandi that it has already tested and practiced in Iraq. However, the attacks launched by the ISIS to restore its “vitality” necessarily require new operational coordination modes. Hence the emergence of the DGS, which has become a predominant Directorate within the ISIS chain of command.
The present study produced for Perspectives on Terrorism (PoT) -Journal published by the Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI) American think tank- is based on interviews conducted between January and October 2018, in Eastern Syria. It is on the basis of these interviews that the authors of the study advanced, in their conclusions, the assumption that the DGS is the organ that has evolved the most since the collapse of the Caliphate to be at the heart of the decision-making process within the ISIS’s chain of command.
From Intelligence to Propaganda
The ISIS/DGS is now in charge of several spheres including recruitment, training, intelligence, management of detention and torture centers, as well as preparation of terrorist attacks in the West.
After the establishment of the “Unified Security Center (USC)” between January 2017 and February 2018, the DGS powers were considerably strengthened. In addition to the management of military operations, the DGS powers also encompass external operations, intelligence and religious affairs. However, it is through the “Central Media Directorate”, including its “Security Media Office” that the DGS has imposed its presence and has become a major actor in the organization’s leadership.
To realize “Centralized Media Productions”, the Security Media Office relies on its A’maq Press Agency which has the primacy of access to the ISIS’s internal information which is secured through a strict security strategy revolving around the following four imperatives:
Prevention: by restricting access to Internet amongst the ISIS members to preserve sensitive information.
Deterrence: by restricting access to the organization’s stored data (data base) and by taking, as necessary, severe sanctions that may lead to the execution of jihadists suspected of espionage.
Surveillance: strictly imposed on all persons and places related to the production or transport of sensitive information.
In addition to this Security Strategy, there is a propaganda component based on strict control of the members of the organization, compartmentalization and application of a “deception policy” combining misinformation and propaganda.
In conclusion, in order to deal with the setbacks it has suffered in its Middle East traditional strongholds, the ISIS relies on its DGS Directorate which is in charge of leading both the armed and media fights. The very survival of the Organization is at stake…
AMNI Metamorphosis into DGS
Established by Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a former intelligence colonel-major of Saddam Hussein, AMNI (forefather of the DGS) has long been led by Syrian Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, a prominent figure in the organization, a sponsor of several terrorist attacks in Europe. After his death in 2016, he was replaced by his compatriot Ali Musa al-Shawakh alias Abu Lôqman and Abu Ayoub al-Ansari. According to the two researchers, it is the latter who has changed the structure of the DGS to transform it into a directorate responsible for both security and media issues.