update deskIsrael at War

Israeli firm helps take down Hamas propaganda machine

The terrorist group's Gaza Now Telegram channel was being run by two brothers, one in Gaza and one in Austria, according to INTELEYE.

Data graphic. Credit: abbiefyregraphics/Pixabay.
Data graphic. Credit: abbiefyregraphics/Pixabay.

A coordinated transcontinental effort by government agencies and an Israeli company monitoring the dark web and Telegram led to the assassination of a terrorist “journalist” in Gaza and the arrest of his brother in Austria—dealing a major blow to the notorious “Gaza Now” Telegram channel.

On Oct. 7, chaos erupted as the Israeli military scrambled to understand the events unfolding, the government tried to regain control and mainstream media outlets clamored for information. Filling the void left by official Israeli sources were horrifying propaganda videos distributed by Hamas showing terrorists attacking kibbutzim and cities, carrying out murders and massacres with sadistic glee.

Behind the distribution was the “Gaza Now” Telegram channel, with 1.8 million followers, that has long promoted Hamas’s agenda and anti-Israel messaging. Initially circulating footage of Hamas terrorists in Israeli border communities, it then shared the terrorist group’s distorted and fabricated narratives. Simultaneously, channel operators began fundraising to continue their activities.

Recognizing the severe threat, Israeli security officials turned to INTELEYE, an intelligence firm specializing in the collection of dark-web and encrypted messaging data in cooperation with global governments, after failing to identify those behind the channel internally. The company has been aiding several Israeli ministries free of charge to obtain information critical to Israel’s security. 

“Our advantage is piecing together information across the dark web and messaging apps to unmask the person on the other end,” INTELEYE co-founder Ziv Hava explained.

Their efforts revealed that two brothers were operating the channel—Mohammed Ayyash in Gaza and Mustafa Ayyash in Austria.

“The Gaza brother focused on filming and sharing content, while Mustafa was the one running the show from Austria,” said Hava.

With over 50% of the company’s employees having been called up for reserve duty, the remaining team identified the Ayyashes’ digital wallets, crypto accounts, habits and behaviors.

“The fundraising was aimed to finance terrorist groups in Gaza,” said Hava.

In November, Mohammed Ayyash was assassinated at his Gaza home—a blow Hamas condemned as its political leader Ismail Haniyeh mourned him. But his Austria-based brother Mustafa continued disseminating Hamas propaganda until late March, when the United States and Britain imposed sanctions on the Telegram channel. 

Hours later, Austrian police arrested Mustafa Ayyash for financing Hamas terrorism, after crypto wallets he controlled, containing large sums raised to fund the group, were uncovered. The arrest crippled the Gaza Now channel, which ceased operations temporarily and has all but shut down despite some lingering operators.

The channel claimed to be an “independent Palestinian news site” whose voice exposing Palestinian “genocide” was being suppressed. How Austrian authorities ultimately tracked Ayyash down is unclear, as those involved remain tight-lipped.

“We’re glad that whoever caused Ayyash’s arrest did their moral and national duty,” said Hava. “We understand there were good people involved who helped prevent ‘Gaza Now’ from spreading poison and hatred.”

The Israeli and international efforts also led to a WhatsApp group with hundreds of thousands of followers being shut down, as well as a Twitter account (although it then reopened), and of course to the major crackdown on the popular Telegram group that remains open but whose activity has been dramatically impaired.

Hava noted that as far as his company is concerned, the activity will continue in the future.

“We are continuing to monitor and search for terrorist elements that could threaten the State of Israel. The surveillance is extremely close, closer than you can imagine,” he said.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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