Isn’t propaganda great? But it can be misleading.

Branding is important.  Companies spend tens of millions on advertising campaigns to get people to recognise them and buy their products.  Even as a one-man band I know how crucial it is to get the name of my consulting firm, Borealis, out there so that potential clients find out about me, what I can provide and why they should engage me.  It is also why I hired someone to design my cool logo (you can see it on my homepage

It should be noted that branding is important for terrorist groups too.  When we think of an organisation like Al Qaeda (AQ), we think of Usama bin Laden and 9/11 and the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s.  When we think of Islamic State (IS) we think of the Caliphate, barbarity and thousands of Western foreign fighters.  These and other groups invest a lot of time and effort into their media arms to keep their brands in the public domain and remind us that they are still here and still lethal.

What, then, should we do with a claim of responsibility that is most likely false?  IS just stated that the July 22 shootings in Toronto were “the most successful foreign operation of the year”.  To jog your memory, on that date Faisal Hussain killed two people, wounded 15 others and later killed himself.  To date the police are not treating the incident as a terrorist attack.

This has not stopped IS from doing so.  There are problems with its statement, however.  It got the date wrong as well as the number of casualties.  There is absolutely no indication that Hussain was IS or affiliated to IS or inspired by IS or knew what IS is or could even spell IS even if given the first two letters.  Based on this, my analytical past tells me that the attack was most probably NOT an IS operation (never say never but…).

Besides, no disrespect intended towards the victims but since when are two deaths ‘the most successful foreign operation ‘?  Have IS’ standards fallen that much?  Not exactly on par with 9/11, is it?

Interestingly, according to a National Post article by Adrian Humphreys, IS only said it was behind the carnage AFTER speculation was raised in several Western media (based, by the way, on little to nothing at the time but why wait for the facts before writing something?).  Kinda like putting the terrorist cart before the jihadi horse.

If you are IS though, it makes a lot of sense to claim as much as you can.  After all, your group has had a hard time of it lately, what with the vast loss of territory, the deaths of tens of thousands of your ‘holy warriors ‘ and universal condemnation for your tactics.  IS is not what it was as recently as two years ago, even if pronouncing its death is premature in a Mark Twainian kinda way.

What is important here is how we react to news of this type.  What we need to do is demand proof, or at least, more information than a news release by IS or any other terrorist entity.  We cannot assume that just because the shooter was a Muslim means that he was IS, or AQ, or any other terrorist (although I should not have to say this, very, very, very few Muslims are terrorists: yes some are, but we cannot jump to the conclusion that all are).

Expect more of these kinds of statements to come out from IS.  As many have said there is no such thing as bad publicity.  IS gets a freebie when it pulls off stunts like this.  What we should not do is give them credit where it does not belong.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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