Islamic State propaganda groups are back on their own Internet channels just days after the tech company announced it was blocking such terrorists as a reaction to the Nov. 13 Paris massacre.
The company is Telegram, creator of popular instant messaging app that boasts end-to-end encryption that is difficult or impossible for the U.S. National Security Agency and other Western nations to penetrate.
This “dark” Internet feature has made it a favorite communications hub for the Islamic State, also called ISIL and ISIS.
Telegram also began offering a new feature, one’s own channel, and ISIL and al Qaeda quickly established ones to publicly broadcast propaganda.
Telegram developer Pavel Durov, a Russian living in exile in Germany, has come under intense criticism for letting his inventions become a secure network for mass murderers.
On Wednesday, Mr. Durov succumbed to pressure. Telegram announced on its Tweeter account that, “This week we blocked 78 ISIS-related channels across 12 languages.”
But the move was short lived.
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) says that on FridayISIL media support groups announced they were back up on Telegram channels.
These groups go by the names Nashir, Fursan Al-Raf and Al-Battar.
It is unclear if ISIL has continued access to the encrypted instant messaging. Mr. Durov has issued various tweets that leave his position unclear.
Although the channels are public, account holders can create private encrypted chats.
“We are sure there are lots of private encrypted discussions happening that are just not public but continue,” said Steve Stalinsky MEMRI’S executive director.
On Thursday, Mr. Durov responded to criticism from MEMRI and other groups with a tweet that said, “We’ve been against ISIS public content since forever.”
Mr. Stalinsky responded to Mr. Durov with a list of ways Telegram has been helping ISIL.
“It’s positive he removed the accounts, but he did it as a temporary thing as not to get bad press and pressure,” Mr. Stalinsky said in an email.
Mr. Durov has sent our a stream of tweets that at times defend his practice of providing accounts to jihadists and at other times announce he had blocked them.
“Encryption is being scapegoated to mask the failures of mass surveillance,” said Mr. Durov, who is a fan of mega-leaker Edward Snowden, the American living in Russia.
Later, he announced had had blocked ISIL-connected groups from operating channels and or the messaging app.
Since it is encrypted, it is difficult for outside experts to determine if the Paris attackers communicated with each other, and with the ISISl command in Raqqa, Syria, using Telegram. But numerous press reports said French intelligence picked up no terrorists communications that talked of a pending attack. The U.S., which is focused on intercepting ISIL’s mail and hunting down its leaders, has said it detected no specific warnings.
The Paris murderers rekindled the heated national security debate over encrypted messaging apps readily available for free online. They have been embraced by terrorists as nearly a full-proof way to plan attacks. In effect, Silicon Valley and entrepreneurs such as Mr. Durov have become ISIL’s research and development arm for secure communications.
The Obama administration has tried to convince tech companies such as Apple to open their encryptions app to spying, but the firms have refused.
Mr. Durov’s firm boasts, “Telegram is a messaging app with a focus on speed and security. It’s super fast, simple, secure and free.”
Two weeks before the Paris attacks, MEMRI issued a report that said a number of jihadists groups announced they were opening their own channels on Telegram.
ISIL and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group dedicated to attacking the U.S. homeland, by that time were already operating news channels.
“Jihadis’ use of Telegram and other secure messaging apps has gained momentum in the last year, for purposes such as communications, propaganda, and recruitment,” MEMRI said Oct. 29. “The new service offered by Telegram constitutes a step up from the standard one-on-one messaging function, and there seems to be no way to censor it.”
MEMRI is a leader in monitoring, translating and distributing the social media communications of Islamic extremists groups.