Most people who want to get Islamic State group propaganda spend hours scouring Twitter, Facebook and online forums that cater to terrorist sympathizers, looking for videos so gruesome they’re barely online an hour before being taken down or seeking links to PDF downloads that require passwords most people don’t have. But for a brief time recently, the official Islamic State group propaganda magazine was available to anybody for easy and convenient purchase online -- from Amazon.
From May 24 to June 6, Amazon’s global website was selling Dabiq, an English-language magazine that promises “photo reports, current events, and informative articles on matters related to the Islamic State.” For the cost of $22 you could get all nine editions, printed, bound and shipped to your home in 48 hours, via Amazon’s fulfillment center.
The magazine remains available online for free in a glossy, full-color PDF format; no print edition had been known to exist before it was offered, briefly, for sale on Amazon.
“It's a big problem. How many teenagers received the magazine? How will this impact them?” asked Abu Mohammed, a spokesman for the anti-ISIS activist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.
Mohammed saw the original Amazon posting and reported that it had been removed from the site, but he did not know the physical item could actually be delivered within the United States until an International Business Times reporter told him.
This reporter purchased the entire boxed set of Dabiq magazines and had them delivered to a New York City apartment building. Two days later, they arrived in an Amazon Prime box, along with a box of pens and a carton of cat food that were purchased in the same order.
Amazon refused to comment beyond acknowledging in an email that the items had all been removed from the site and were no longer available for purchase. The seller’s user profile -- named after the official ISIS media house Al-Hayat Media -- was also deactivated just hours after this reporter purchased the magazines.
“I think it's not a person, it's a group. ISIS always work in groups,” Mohammed said.
At the time of purchase, the user Al-Hayat Media Center’s page had only one comment: “Islamic State trash.”
The magazines are divided into two volumes and are roughly the same dimensions as a textbook. Inside the glossy front cover, which boasts a collage of all nine Dabiq online covers, the pages appear to be direct printouts of the original PDF, with every gruesome photo and disturbing article intact.
The back cover has an invalid ISBN number and the back page claims the books were “Made In The USA,” and printed June 6, 2015, in Middletown, Delaware. Amazon has one of its dozens of fulfillment centers in Middletown, which is also the location of one of the printing houses for its self-publish service.
Amazon owns a platform called CreateSpace, which anyone can use to “get to market fast,” “distribute globally” and “earn high royalties” for self-published work. Publishing an item is free and simple. All an author must do is upload the PDF and choose the book’s formatting. The format options are consistent with the copy of Dabiq this reporter received.
“Once ordered, your book will be printed on-demand using the latest digital printing technology available,” according to the CreateSpace website. “All book covers are printed in full-color on cover stock and finished with a protective laminate-coating.”
The content must be adhere to CreateSpace’s content guidelines, which prohibit material Amazon or CreateSpace deem “offensive,” which includes “crime-scene videos, videos of cruelty to animals, and extremely disturbing materials.” Photos of beheadings and screenshots of an ISIS video showing Jordanian air force pilot Mu'ath Safi al-Kaseasbeh being burned alive would certainly fall under the category of “offensive.”
CreateSpace also prohibits publishing content that is freely available online for distribution, which Dabiq is, unless the author owns the copyright. As the Amazon seller claimed to be Al-Hayat Media, it’s possible this was perceived as the original publisher of Dabiq online.
Once it is published, the item can either be sold on Amazon, or the author may purchase copies and sell them independently. CreateSpace requires all members to provide them with their Internal Revenue Service information -- the user’s U.S. tax identification number or Social Security number -- or the European Union LUX VAT number, in order to collect royalties.
If the hard copies of Dabiq were indeed published using Amazon’s CreateSpace service, then it could be inferred that the author was either an American and European taxpayer, possibly hoping to make money off ISIS propaganda, and that Amazon has identifying information that would help law enforcement track him or her down.
“I cannot believe it. How did they do all this,” Mohammed said. “Dabiq in the United States! It's a big achievement for them.”