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Drone imagery in Islamic State propaganda: flying like a state

Veilleux-Lepage, Yannick; Archambault, Emil

Drone imagery in Islamic State propaganda: flying like a state Thumbnail


Yannick Veilleux-Lepage


This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the Islamic State's use of images taken by drones, drawing on a dataset of ISIS propaganda images from October 2016 to December 2018. Analysing the three principal uses of drone imagery by ISIS—images of drone strikes, images of other attacks and observation—we argue that ISIS's use of drones distinguishes itself from other state and non-state uses of drones primarily by its communicative and symbolic value. While ISIS’ use of drone strikes takes place in a tactical rather than strategic setting, its employment of drones to film VBIED attacks allows them to achieve a strategic effect. After outlining ISIS’ use of drones for combat air support and to film ground (particularly VBIED) attacks, we argue, drawing on political geography, that ISIS employs drones in propaganda to stake and reinforce a claim to sovereign control of territory, performed through the flying of aircraft. The use of drone imagery, we argue, taps into long-standing visual and discursive strategies which associate vertical hierarchy and flying with mastery and control, allowing ISIS to display attributes of aerial sovereignty. This article, through an analysis of ISIS drone propaganda, provides a rare insight into non-state actors’ perception of drones and the communicative value of drone images, in addition to suggesting further avenues for the incorporation of political–geographical studies of verticality into the study of political violence and rhetoric.


Veilleux-Lepage, Y., & Archambault, E. (2020). Drone imagery in Islamic State propaganda: flying like a state. International Affairs, 96(4), 955-973.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 16, 2020
Online Publication Date Jul 1, 2020
Publication Date 2020-07
Deposit Date Nov 18, 2020
Publicly Available Date Nov 18, 2020
Journal International Affairs
Print ISSN 0020-5850
Electronic ISSN 1468-2346
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 96
Issue 4
Pages 955-973
Public URL


Published Journal Article (329 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. This is
an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (
licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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