On the Ropes, ISIS Leader Surfaces

A rare video of Baghdadi emerged at a low point for the terror group, but online interest in ISIS' preferred explosive is rising.

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On April 29, ISIS released a video featuring the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It was the first video of the self-styled Caliph of the Islamic State since June 2014, and it came at an inflection point for the terrorist group. ISIS was recently defeated in Baghouz, the last territorial redoubt of the so-called caliphate. Yet ISIS had a hand in the deadly bombings in Sri Lanka that left more than 250 dead.

Predata signals show that the timing of the video release followed an established pattern, by which ISIS, knowingly or not, releases an audio or video recording of Baghdadi at points when the group is failing to gain attention in the digital realm. The leader appears at nadirs, when the group needs to reassure its supporters that it is still in the game. (Contact us for the complete analysis of this trend).

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The video failed to spur online attention to ISIS. It may, however, have inspired some of the group’s far-flung supporters. Predata signals captured increased online attention to triacetone triperoxide (TATP), a simple but powerful explosive often used by ISIS and employed in the Sri Lanka attacks. As the charts below show, online research into the components of TATP has risen in both Southeast Asian and European languages.

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This online activity does not necessarily mean impending terrorism, but it does show that there are unusually high levels of attention toward the ISIS explosive of choice. It might not be a coincidence that it comes in the wake of al-Baghdadi’s recent video release.