#SyrianCivilWar :European satellite operators provide Internet access to ISIS terrorists

According to a report of the German magazine Spiegel ,some leading European operators that provide satellite Internet access, ISIS is using their networks in order to spread its propaganda. But how this could be possible ?

ISIS (DAESH) is the first terrorist organization that uses efficiently modern Internet services and the Web, to disseminate its propaganda and recruit jihadists all over the world who join its ranks.

But how is it possible to connect to the Internet in areas of Syria and Iraq where telecommunications and infrastructures have been largely destroyed by the fighting on the ground and aerial bombings?

Without letting them know, the terrorists are using the satellite networks of a lot of European telecommunications providers. It remains unclear whether the companies knowingly do so, but documents obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE show that they may very well know what’s going on. And the documents show that the companies could immediately cut off Islamic State’s Internet access without much effort.

According to the German magazine Spiegel which conducted an investigation on the ground, connections are provided  from the south of Turkey where satellite dishes and subscriptions are provided that allow DAESH to access the Internet . And more precisely from Antakya, Turkish city best known in France or Greece under the name of Antioch (Antiochia), very close to the border with Syria , which was once the starting point of the Silk Road :

If you need to get online in Syria or Iraq, the technology needed to do so can be purchased in the Hatay province -- a corner of Turkey located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian border. In the bazaar quarter of the regional capital of Antakya, peddlers hawk everything from brooms and spices to pomegranates, wedding dresses, ovens, beds and all kinds of electronics. Antakya has served as a crossroads for numerous trade routes for thousands of years. Wares continue to flow through the region's relatively porous borders even today.
Thousands of dishes have been installed in the region allowing users to access the Internet by satellite. There has been a huge surge in recent years in the satellite Internet business. Instead of the usual landline cable connection, all one needs is a satellite dish with a transmission and reception antenna and a modem. The result is top-speed Internet access, with downloads at a rate of 22 Megabits per second and uploads of 6 Megabits.

Accessing the Internet by satellite is easy, but it isn't cheap. The equipment needed costs around $500 in Syria right now. On top of that are the fees charged by Internet service providers, which run at about $500 for six months for a small data package and customer service provided by email.

A Lucrative Business

Most of the satellite dishes going to the Middle East make their way through Rotterdam, the world’s third-largest port. It’s here, among the 12 million containers processed annually, that the satellite technology and modems arrive in Europe. Most of the manufacturers are located in the Far East, with their customers based in Paris, London or Luxembourg.

A number of distribution firms are involved in the sales chain of the technologies required to obtain satellite Internet access. At the beginning of this chain are the major European satellite operators, led by France’s Eutelsat, Great Britain’s Avanti Communications and Luxembourg’s SES. Among the most popular brands are Hughes by Avanti and, especially, Tooway by Eutelsat. The French company has been in business for years and offers almost complete global coverage with its satellites.

Distribution firms then buy facilities and satellite capacity from the big companies and resell it to corporate or private customers. They also work together with additional companies like the German firm Sat Internet Services based in the northern city of Neustadt am Rübenberge.

It’s a lucrative business for company CEO Victor Kühne, who expanded distribution to Turkey a few years ago. His problem is: the market for satellite Internet technology is limited in the European Union because of near blanket coverage of standard broadband Internet connections on the continent. Sales in Turkey are fairly slow too, because satellite connections are more expensive than classic DSL access.

The satellite operators don’t provide data on the number of customers they have, but there is anecdotal evidence. In Turkey, for example, those seeking to access the Internet using a satellite dish are required to register with the government’s BTK telecommunications authority. According to the most recent data available from the agency, there were 11,000 registered satellite Internet users in Turkey during the first quarter of 2015, only 500 more than the previous year.

One would expect that these international operators do not know the end users of their services and offers that have been subscribed to their international distribution network, which includes wholesalers and retailers. In this sense, it is not possible to assert that they are complicit into DAESH business.

But is that true? Spiegel says that satellite operators and their distribution partners generally can determine the location of the equipment they are supplying. When they install satellite dishes and configure Internet access, their customers are required to provide their GPS coordinates. If the wrong information is provided, then customers are either unable to access the Internet or they end up with poor connections, the documents show. GPS data obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE from 2014 and 2015 clearly indicate that satellite dishes were in fact located in precisely the places that are under Islamic State control.

Many of the satellite dishes are located in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, which isn’t completely under the control of the terror regime, but other locations of the dishes include Raqqa, the unofficial IS headquarters, al-Bab, Deir al-Zor and along the Euphrates River into Iraq and the IS-occupied city of Mosul.

Satellite operators could also, on the orders of their perspective  governments to obtain full blocking of such Internet access, making it more difficult to disseminate jihadist propaganda from Syria and Iraq.

Why Don’t Companies Take Action to Stop It?

For Spiegel there are two options:

  • Perhaps the companies simply want to pursue their business goals without checking precisely to see who is profiting from the services they provide.
  • Perhaps the companies have full knowledge of who is using their services and are sharing that information with intelligence services. When asked, neither the companies nor intelligence services were willing to comment.

That would mean that intelligence services have been listening in for years, even as IS continued growing in strength. It wouldn’t be difficult for intelligence services to tap the connections either, given that the ground stations used to feed the satellite signals into the cable networks are also located in European countries, including Cyprus (Avanti) and Italy (Eutelsat).

Possible connections linking Eutelsat with Syria could be particularly uncomfortable for the French government, which indirectly holds a 26-percent share in the satellite operator through the state-owned Bank Caisse des Dépôts.


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