Last night the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program announced that it would pay $3 million for information leading to the capture or killing of Muhammad Khadr Musa Ramadan, described as “a senior leader of and key propagandist for the Islamic State”.
Ramadan, who uses the kunya Abu Bakr al-Gharib, was born in Jordan and is reported by Rewards for Justice to be “one of ISIS’s longest-serving senior media officials”, who currently “oversees the group’s daily media operations, including the management of content from ISIS’s dispersed global network of supporters”.
It is somewhat unusual to target media officials—and there have been minor controversies previously, as when the U.S. struck down Baraa Kadek (Riyan Meshal), the founder of Amaq, a pseudo-independent “news agency” through which IS admitted responsibility for various attacks. But the line between propaganda and recruitment is thin in general and within IS it is non-existent.
The Rewards for Justice notice says Muhammad Ramadan “has overseen the planning, coordination, and production of numerous propaganda videos, publications, and online platforms that included scenes of brutal and cruel torture and mass execution of innocent civilians”. More importantly, Ramadan “has played a key role in ISIS’s violent propaganda operations to radicalize, recruit, and incite individuals around the globe”.
IS’s media department has an outsize role in the organisation, both locally to handle the political dimension of what is in effect a revolutionary war, and in its external operations. It was no accident, as the comrades used to say, that IS’s spokesman—the face of its media operations—from 2011-16, Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani), also ended up overseeing the foreign terrorism campaign. The terrorism guides or, in espionage terms, handlers, who at the height of the foreign attacks campaign walked IS agents from Luton to Hyderabad through their operations, were almost unanimously people whose role was originally appearing in propaganda material to attract recruits from back home. It was a short and logical step from that to speaking to potential recruits through encrypted apps to secure their recruitment, then using these channels of communication to direct these individuals to terrorism.
The Rewards for Justice concludes: “Underscoring [Ramadan’s] violent extremism, he led an effort to cleanse ISIS of moderate opinions, imprisoning members of ISIS’s propaganda teams who did not meet his extreme interpretation of Islam.” This is a reference to the (often exaggerated in scale) ideological struggle within the Islamic State that pitted the so-called “extremists” like Ramadan and the late Wael al-Fayad (Abu Muhammad al-Furqan) of the Hazimi current (al-tayyar al-Hazimi) against the jihadi scholars grouped around the Office of Research and Studies, led by Turki al-Binali and then Yusuf ibn Ahmad Samreen (Abu Yaqub al-Maqdisi), both now dead.