The Syrian war is the first of the modern Islamist “jihad” conflicts to have attracted large numbers of recruits from Central Asia and the post-Soviet region. Some 9,000 men and women from the post-Soviet republics travelled to Syria, including 4,000-7,000 Central Asians, many of them recruited in Russia. Why did the Islamic State’s caliphate attract such large numbers? Information manipulation was central to IS strategic planning and a primary factor in its unprecedented global recruiting success. IS produced Russian-language media content to build support among post-Soviet Muslims. At the same time, emerging communications networks are building ties between “Russian-speaking” Muslims and the Middle East. Jihadist media engagement in Russian and in Central Asian languages, exploiting these new networks, was a key factor in attracting Central Asians to support the caliphate.

Keywords—strategic communications, strategic communication, Islamic State, violent extremism, radicalism, jihad, disinformation, Central Asia, Caucasus, Russia, post-Soviet.


About the Author:

Ian MacWilliam has been a journalist and media development specialist for over 25 years, including ten years with the BBC and reporting for major British and US newspapers, particularly from the former Soviet region and South Asia. He was based for eight years in Central Asia and Moscow.


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Caucasian Knot [Кавказский Узел] <https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu> News website focusing on the Caucasus.

51 Chechens in Syria <http://www.chechensinsyria.com> Managed by Joanna Paraszczuk.

Counter Extremism Project <https://www.counterextremism.com> Khalimov entry: <https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/gulmurod-khalimov>

Islamic State videos (most accessible on Jihadology.net):

Al Furqan Media Centre:

Clanging of the Swords, Part 4.


Al Furat Media Centre:

Apostates Killed: Revenge for the Monotheists.

Caravan of Martyrs 2: Abu ‘Abd al ‘Aziz ash-Shishani [Караван Шахидов 2: Абу Абдульазиз Шишани].

Caravan of Martyrs 3: Abu Hudhayfah al-Daghistani [Караван Шахидов 3: Абу Хузейфа Дагестани].

Completely Bankrupt [Полный Банкрот].

Council of the Commanders of the Mujahidin in the Caucasus Province [Собрание Амиров Муджахидов Вилаята Кавказ].

Message from an Officer of the Russian FSB captured by the Islamic State to the President and People of Russia [Обращение Офнцера ФСБ РФ плененного Исламским Государством к президенту и народу России].

Message to the People of Kyrgyzstan [Послание Народу Киргизий]

The Right Word, from the Shores of the Tigris [Справое Слово с Берегов Тигра].

Surgut: Blood for Blood [Сургут: Кровь за Кровь].


Jihadology <https://jihadology.net/> Archive of Islamist media content managed by Aaron Y. Zelin.

UN Security Council Sanctions List <https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list>

Atabiev entry: <https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_ sanctions_list/summaries/individual/islam-seit-umarovich-atabiev>