The extremist militants of the Islamic State have surprised many with their sophisticated social media strategy and slick propaganda videos. New details show how the militants' quest for PR professionalism has led its cyber warriors to an unlikely location.
Last Sunday, an Icelandic company announced it had closed down a Web site with the domain khilafah.is that it believed was affiliated with the Islamic State. Iceland's general Web site domains, which end with '.is,' are likely to have drawn a special interest by the Islamic State, which is often abbreviated to IS as well.
The site's purpose was unambiguous: "This is the news publishing website of the Islamic State," the homepage reportedly read, featuring visual material showing the murder of hostages and other gruesome propaganda videos. Now, the site appears to be offline:
According to ISNIC (Internet á Íslandi), the private company in charge of Iceland's web domain registration, the decision was made last Sunday, but the site had reportedly been online since mid-September. "Never before has ISNIC suspended a domain on grounds of a website's content," a statement on the company's Web site read. The decision was welcomed by Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who told the daily Morgunbladid: "This has nothing to do with freedom of expression, but criminal and monstrous conduct. We have to be able to shut that down."
Apart from legal reasons, ISNIC took into account the possibility that the Icelandic domain's reputation could be threatened "to a great extent," one of the company's legal advisers, Steindor Dan Jensen, told The Washington Post.
Iceland's decision to shut the alleged Islamic State Web site down has also drawn criticism. Wikileaks, for instance, condemned the crackdown in several tweets, saying "everyone has the right to see and judge the arguments of IS." It continued:
If Iceland wants to charge someone for attempted murder it can do that. It has not. It has closed a publisher and reduced knowledge.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 13, 2014
Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson, an Icelandic member of parliament representing the Internet-savvy Pirate Party, criticized the decision on Facebook. Instead of discussing whether Islamic State militants should have the right to feature their content under an Icelandic domain the debate should focus on the rights of Icelandic citizens "to be informed about what it is that the Islamic State says, believes and wants," in order to draw own conclusions, according to the politicians' Facebook account.
"ISNIC finds the question of censorship not applicable, since it is not a government entity, but a private company protecting its business," legal adviser Jensen told The Post, reacting to the criticism.
The Islamic State and users affiliated with the militants continue to operate Web sites under other domains, but none of them draw such an obvious connection to a country as in the case of Iceland.
American companies have been particularly harsh in dealing with Islamic State affiliated users: Both Twitter and Facebook have cracked down on online propaganda distributed via their social networks, forcing Islamic State militants to search for less popular alternatives or to face the possibility of having their accounts suspended.