Jihadi World Cup Fans 02

Which World Cup Teams Are Jihadis Rooting For?

Members of West-hating terrorist groups love the beautiful game

The first match of the 2014 World Cup hasn’t even been played yet, but it’s already caused dilemmas for certain groups of fans. Brazilians, for instance, are considering rooting for the country’s rivals in protest of the billions their dysfunctional government has spent to host the tournament. Some Americans, meanwhile, wonder if they should ditch a U.S. team doomed for failure (Group of Death!) and instead back a foreign squad. Then there’s the vexing problem jihadis face: Though expressly forbidden from loving anything “Western,” they really, really love futbol.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) published this photo in May showing an ISIS member playing soccer with Syrian kids to illustrate how the group is bonding with local populations.

(Hanein.info)

Some terrorist groups, like the Nigerian Boko Haram, specifically target people for watching football. In late May, a suicide bomber killed three people in Jos, Nigeria, in an attack on a group of fans who were watching the European Champions League match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

But some terrorist groups are using people’s passion for soccer as a way to connect with potential jihadi supporters. In stark contrast to Boko Haram’s tactics, the jihadi group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has featured soccer in its propaganda campaigns multiple times this year. They faked a video depicting famous French footballer Lassana Diarra as a jihadi fighter in Syria, sparking a rumor that went so viral that Diarra was forced to deny the claims. (“He has never set foot in Syria,” said his lawyer.)

We looked at World Cup chatter on leading jihadi Facebook pages to see which teams are the most popular among self-identifying supporters of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas around the world. One big takeaway: Jihadis are in some ways like any other fans–they support the local favorites. Because Al Qaeda followers are largely based in the Middle East, soccer teams that are either from that region or are popular there are also beloved among the terrorist group’s sympathizers. The same pattern holds true for both Hezbollah and Hamas.

Perhaps not surprisingly, among the Al Qaeda pages we searched, Algeria was the most popular national squad. The group’s Facebook fans are largely located in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which is also home to Les Fennecs, Algeria’s nickname.

Italy came in a close second, which would seem like something of a surprise. However, jihadis aside, the Italian team has a healthy following outside of Europe. According to a recent poll conducted in MENA nations, for example, Italy is the most popular team in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. (Qataris may even buy an Italian football club.)

Political reporter and soccer commentator Zack Roth speculates Italy’s popularity might be connected with broadcasting rights, as well as politics. “It might come down to TV availability [in MENA], where [Italy's] Serie A is broadcast more frequently than [England's] Premier League,” he tells Vocativ. Italy, Roth adds, is also viewed more favorably by people in the Middle East than northern European countries like England or Germany, “which are more politically associated with the Western coalition and allied with the U.S.”

Yet the French and English teams also rank high among Al Qaeda’s supporters, even though both countries have waged war against the terrorist network. France might have garnered a following because this year’s team includes six players who were either born in Africa or are of African descent, and are practicing Muslims. (Indeed, a number of the jihadi supporters were from Africa, according to their Facebook profiles.) England, for its part, probably benefits from hosting the world’s most successful soccer league, the Premier League.

And what about Ghana, the United States’s first foe in the World Cup? Apparently, when it comes to soccer, Al Qaeda’s Facebook fans don’t root for the enemy of their great enemy, as Ghana finished last.

Though Hezbollah are Shiite Muslims, making them the enemy of Sunni Muslim outfits like Al Qaeda, the two groups share similar tastes in soccer. The one exception is Brazil, which came out on top among Hezbollah supporters. No surprise there: Brazil is the most popular team among all soccer fans in the Middle East, according to polls. It also has the largest worldwide fan base, with 26 million Facebook followers from the other 31 World Cup nations. (See our World Cup Factbot below.)

It’s worth pointing out that Hezbollah is the rare terrorist organization without a stated agenda against the sport, and that it even regularly organizes soccer tournaments.

Players celebrate last month at a regional tournament organized by Hezbollah.

(WadiPress.com)

What is surprising is how nations that politically support Hezbollah—Iran and the Ivory Coast—generated hardly any support among Hezbollah’s Facebook fans (both came in at 1 percent).

As with Al Qaeda, Algeria is by far the most popular team among the Hamas Facebook profiles we sampled, followed by host country Brazil and perennial favorites England. You might expect more Hamas supporters to cheer on Iran, given its political and financial backing of the group, but we didn’t find one Facebook like for Iran’s national team.

Coincidentally enough, soccer figured in the latest news about Hamas. Israel’s security agency announced today that it believes a Palestinian soccer player used his sports visa to meet with Hamas militants and deliver money.

Noam Binshtok contributed deep web reporting to this article.

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  • Embed this item

    Group G goalkeepers beware: Germany scores more than any other team, with 12.12 goals per World Cup.

    Open database analysis: FIFA

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    Of the African World Cup countries, Algeria has the most passionate footie fans: 14% of Algerian Facebook users follow the national team.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    If Miss World and Miss Universe titles are any indication, the U.S. (10 pageant wins) has the prettiest fans.

    Wikipedia

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    With 26M Facebook followers from the other 31 World Cup countries, Brazil has the largest worldwide fan base.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Of Portugal's Facebook followers, Brazilians (7M) give the team the most love.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    What color is your parachute? It's red, at least for 17 of the teams (53%) playing in the 2014 World Cup. Only two (6%) will wear orange.

    Open database analysis: TSM Plug

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    Just 1,818 miles from Rio, Chile is the southernmost country playing in the 2014 World Cup.

    Wikipedia

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    Love wine? France leads all 2014 World Cup countries with more than 46 liters consumed per capita, per year.

    Open database analysis: WHO

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    In general, the African World Cup countries lead World Cup nations in usage of the it's complicated Facebook status.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Uruguay may be a World Cup dark horse, but the players have their country's love. Almost 40% of Uruguayan Facebook users follow the team.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Japan has more Facebook followers in Brazil (400K) than at home (112K). That's barely 1% of Japan's total Facebook users.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    There are almost no Facebook users in Cameroon, which is why the national team has 17 times more fans in other World Cup countries.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Colonialism works! Of Facebook users in Portugal, 23% follow Brazil. On the flip side, 8% of Brazilians follow Portugal.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    The Iranian national team gets the most love from the U.S., where it has 78K Facebook followers.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Guess soccer isn't big everywhere. On average, less than 0.01% of Japanese and Russian Facebook users follow any football teams.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Who'll have the largest cheering section in Rio? The Brazil national team has 30M domestic Facebook followers alone.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Win or lose, Uruguay could be the best place for World Cup parties—weed is legal there.

    Database analysis: Marijuana Travels

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    Brazil may have the home turf advantage, but Germany (ranked No. 2) has won three World Cup titles, just two fewer than the Canarinhos.

    Wikipedia

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    People in Japan, Korea and Russia like to keep it secret. Most of their Facebook users (70%) don't disclose their relationship statuses.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Hey America, the Kyoto Protocol is calling: With 17.56 tons of CO2 emissions per capita, the U.S. is the least-green country in the world.

    Open database analysis: World Bank

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    Love beer? Of the World Cup teams, Germany is No. 1 in beer consumption per capita, at more than 106 liters per year.

    Open database analysis: WHO

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    If you're looking for love, Ghana is the country with the largest percentage (32%) of singles on Facebook.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Ecuador tops World Cup countries in gender equality—41.6% of its parliament is female. (It even had a female president in 1997.)

    Open database analysis: IPU

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    Team USA is the most talked about World Cup team on Twitter, with 169 mentions of U.S. + World Cup + win.

    Analysis of Twitter chatter

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    The Ivory Coast national team has a sizeable fan base in France (500K Facebook fans) and Mexico (260K).

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Of the 32 World Cup teams, only seven (22%) are from countries in the southern hemisphere.

    Wikipedia

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    Bosnia is the only team playing in the World Cup for the first time. They got close in 2010, but were ousted by Portugal in the playoffs.

    Wikipedia

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    Looking to score? Korea's Taeguk (Warriors) have the flimsiest defense, with an average of 7.63 goals allowed for their eight World Cups.

    Open database analysis: FIFA

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    More than 44% of Facebooks users in Australia, England and U.S. (the English-speaking World Cup countries) say they're in a relationship.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Japan, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece and Portugal are the only countries in the 2014 World Cup with negative population growth.

    Open database analysis: World Bank

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    It's no surprise Ghana has 620K German Facebook fans. Ghanaians make up the largest migrant group from sub-Saharan Africa.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Russia, located 9,376 miles from Rio, is the northernmost country playing in the 2014 World Cup.

    Wikipedia

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    Belgium, England, France, the Netherlands and Uruguay are the World Cup countries with the most significant gay rights.

    Wikipedia

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    By the degree to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for their residents, Costa Rica comes out on top. Pura vida, indeed!

    Database analysis: Happy Planet Index

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    Out of the 32 countries playing in the 2014 World Cup, only three practice capital punishment: Iran, Japan and the United States.

    Open database analysis: The Guardian

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    Bosnians love their football: They favor the home team (22% of total Facebook users), Brazil (12%), Spain (8%) and England (8%).

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Fans from Japan and Korea will have to manage a long flight to support their teams. The two countries are the farthest from Rio.

    Database analysis: Distance From To

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    Portugal has the most football fans in Europe. Approximately 35% of all European Facebook users follow their team.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    The Ivory Coast, which is on the west coast of Africa, is the greenest country of 2014 World Cup competitors (0.31 tons of CO2 per capita).

    Open database analysis: World Bank

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    Talk about a favorite: Home team Brazil has not only played in all 19 World Cups, but it's also won five of them (the last in 2002).

    Wikipedia

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    Yugoslavia is still united: 6% of Bosnians follow the Croatian team, and 7% of Croatians follow the Bosnian team.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Australia gets the least love, with only 90K Facebook followers in the other 31 countries. Only 3% of Australians on Facebook are followers.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Cameroon is the most complicated country. Nearly 4% of its Facebook users have identified their relationship status as it's complicated.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Based on Facebook data, Brazilians love every other South American team, except Argentina (only 2% follow them).

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Of the African World Cup countries, Nigeria has the most Facebook users (12.2M), but they follow England (580K fans) over Nigeria (520K).

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Australia enters the 2014 World Cup ranked 59th in the world—the lowest-ranked team in the tournament.

    Open database analysis: FIFA

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    Spain has six times more Facebook fans in the other 31 World Cup countries than it does at home.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Team USA is more loved in Costa Rica (2% of total in-country Facebook users like the American team) than in the U.S. (1%).

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

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    Only 3.1% of Iran’s Parliament members are female—the lowest of any World Cup country. Also, as of 2013, no woman can run for president.

    Open database analysis: IPU

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    South America is the region with the most World Cup Facebook fans—almost 17M per country, on average.

    Analysis of Facebook profiles' meta data

Respond Now
  • A few labels on the pie charts would have helped. The colors are so close they are almost impossible to read. How about a few arrows to identify the big pie sections? I gave up trying to figure them out. Bad graphic presentation.

  •  Oh, Tra-la-la!  Jihadist, genocidal, misogynistic murderers are just soccer fans too!  Really? Somebody actually wrote this unbelievably short-sighted dreck? GAWD!  That’s like writing a fluff article about which flavors of ice cream serial killers favor most!

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