U.S.-Based Social Media Companies – The Engine Of Jihad Today

Social media are increasingly instrumental in spreading Al-Qaeda’s ideology to the younger generation, now in their 20s or even younger, who have grown up watching video clips on YouTube and for whom social media are an integral part of life. Al-Qaeda and its supporters have now infested YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr, and are now spreading to newer media as they develop – Ask.fm, Kik, Friendica, and, most recently, VK.com, Diaspora, JustPaste.it, and SoundCloud. These same users are also utilizing apps that are available on Google Play and iTunes for Apple.

While jihadi forums have been limited to registered users and are often password-protected, social media has created a more open flow of jihadi ideology in real time; in many instances now, information in the jihadi world appears on social media before it is released by the forums, and many jihadis have openly discussed social media as a game changer. Furthermore, when jihadis expand into a social media platform where they have not previously had a presence, they devote a great deal of effort to telling their fellow jihadis about the new platforms and to explaining in detail how to use them effectively, with video tutorials and more. 

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Illustrating Al-Qaeda’s awareness of just how vital social media are today, in a December 26, 2013 video by Al-Qaeda’s media wing Al-Sahab, Warren Weinstein, the American aid worker who was held by Al-Qaeda since his kidnapping in Pakistan in August 2011, urged the American public, as well as journalists and writers, to use them to pressure the White House to secure his release. 

2 Weinstein

In the 13-minute video, which was sent to a U.S. media organization, Weinstein states, possibly reading from written text: “I would like to ask my fellow Americans to use every possible social media channel such as Twitter [and] Facebook, in order to mount a campaign to convince President Obama, and to persuade him and his government to discuss and get my release.”[1][97]

The San Francisco-Based Internet Archive – Platform For Uploading And Downloading Al-Qaeda Content: Fast, Free, And Unobstructed For Terror Organizations

In addition to social media, the San Francisco-based Internet Archive (archive.org) has in recent years become an important platform for Al-Qaeda content, including videos; jihadis are uploading to and downloading from the Internet Archive on a daily basis. Many Al-Qaeda-affiliated websites now include links to Archive.org with posts of new material online – including the most recent speeches by the Al-Qaeda leaders and many other productions by Al-Qaeda’s Al-Sahab media company. This content is often reposted on other websites. Members of the leading jihadi forums also frequently instruct their readers to use the Internet Archive; for example, on July 20, 2011, a member of the major jihadi forum Shumoukh Al-Islam gave readers detailed steps for uploading material there.[98] Using it is quick and easy, and the Internet Archive is doing nothing to stop its use by jihadis. At one point, when the main forums were beginning to be taken down and were no longer reliable, Al-Qaeda and its offshoots used the Internet Archive as their own official forum. Today, it is common for online jihadis to post tweets with links to documents and videos on Archive.org. 

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Twitter.com/truthsMaster; Twitter.com/s7bhijratain

 

YouTube – The Internet’s Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base

For over four years, YouTube has been very extensively used by Al-Qaeda and its offshoots – so much so that it has not only surpassed but has replaced the use of websites administered by the jihadis themselves.[1][99] A number of Al-Qaeda sympathizers involved in terrorism cases maintain active YouTube pages. Additionally, every major video released by Al-Qaeda to its affiliates is uploaded to YouTube as soon as they are posted on forums. 

4 Youtube

On many of the Al-Qaeda forums there have been ongoing discussions of the importance of YouTube, and training has been provided for using it most efficiently. In one example of this, in August 2011, the Shumoukh Al-Islam forum announced that it was offering a course in uploading content to YouTube and the Internet Archives for uploading to YouTube, “to safeguard the mujahideen’s legacy.” The course announcement stated: “My brothers, surely you are aware of the importance of uploading the mujahideen’s productions to the [Internet] Archive [Archive.org], Youtube, and other uploading sites, seeing that the links to the mujahideen’s original productions have been deactivated…”[1][100]

Twitter – Hashtag Jihad And Fundraising For Jihad

Just as important to Al-Qaeda, its allies, and its online followers is Twitter, which is now being used by terrorist organizations and their media outlets, and the number of their online followers have grown exponentially in recent years.

These organizations include many officially recognized by the West and U.S. government as designated terrorist entities, including Al-Qaeda affiliates. The main jihadi forums – Shumoukh Al-Islam, Al-Fida’, and AMEF, as well as senior writers on these forums – all have at one time had Twitter accounts. Other terrorist entities tweeting include the Taliban (alemarahweb and ABalkhi); Hamas (hamasinfo) and its military wing Al-Qassam Brigades (AlqassamBrigade); Hizbullah and its Al-Manar TV (almanarnews); and countless others.

When the MEMRI JTTM first began monitoring jihadis on Twitter, there was only a small handful of them. This number quickly grew to hundreds, and then thousands; there are now tens of thousands of such accounts. MEMRI has extensively researched how these organization use Twitter to promote their agendas, spread their messages, call for attacks against American and Western interests, recruit new members and build their audience of sympathizers, raise funds, and other purposes.[1][101] 

5twitter jihad

One example highlighting how online jihadis and terrorists such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda figures have increasingly been using Twitter is the Ansar Al-Mujahideen Forum’s (AMAF’s) posting of “important instructions” for jihadis for using the service. On May 7, 2012, the forum announced that since it had grasped the crucial role jihadi media plays in the battle between Islam and its enemies, it was using all legitimate means to support Islam, including a new Twitter account (as_ansar) that it had opened the previous month. The “important instructions” to jihadis were to follow AMAF’s Twitter account and to retweet its posts; they also included an explanation of how to use hashtags.[1][102] 

6 twitter ansar al-mujahideen

The following month, a message posted on the Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum (AMEF) on June 5, 2012 announced that “Asad Al-Jihad2,” a prominent writer on jihadi forums, had opened a Twitter account (@AsadAljehad2). The announcement stated that Twitter serves as a “very important” platform for delivering personal messages, both privately and publicly, and that it therefore enables users to overcome the “media barriers” set in place by the enemies of Islam aimed at stopping “[those who] possess the truth” from communicating with the masses of the ummah.[1][103]

Another example is the July 21, 2013 official launch by users of the top jihadi Al-Fida’ forum of “the jihadi media brigade: Al Battaar Media.” Al-Battaar’s official page, @Al_Bttaar, began tweeting July 17, 2013, and as of this writing had over 27,500 followers and had posted over 3,200 tweets. Its purpose is to spread jihadi content online; it provides a Gmail address as contact information.

Hacking, spamming, and takeover attempts of Twitter accounts have been jihadi Twitterverse staples in recent years. For example, one Twitter campaign, with the handle @Spam_campaign, was aimed at coordinating spam attacks against anti-jihadi Twitter accounts designed to shut them down. 

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Twitter.com/AL_Bttar, Twitter.com/Spam_campaign, Accessed December 23, 2013

The campaign’s administrators post links to other accounts that “defame the mujahideen” and ask jihad supporters to help shut them down by filing a complaint against a targeted account using Twitter’s “report [name of account] for spam” option. On November 30, 2013, for example, the Jaish Al-Ansar campaign urged jihad supporters to file a spam complaint against the U.S. State Department Digital Outreach Team’s Arabic account (@ DSDOTAR): “Knock it down, oh lions of monotheism!” The call received 27 retweets, and nine users reported that they had actually filed the complaint. 

Images created to express support for jihad and jihad groups, such as the commonly seen one below showing a bullet, a pen, and a thumb drive representing online jihad, are circulated frequently on Twitter; this one has the ISIS stamp and states “There is a different form of jihad… what’s important is [that you] not abandon your place [i.e. position].” 

8 twitter bullet

Twitter is also widely used for fundraising for jihad. For example, on February 26, 2014, Sheikh ‘Abdallah Al-Muhaisni, a Saudi cleric who has joined the mujahideen in Syria, launched a Twitter fundraising campaign (@Jahd_bmalk) to buy ammunition for the “Islamic brigades” fighting in Syria. According to various tweets from the account, over 26,000 riyals have been donated thus far. A previous campaign was titled “Participate in Jihad with your Money.”[1][104]

A campaign underway on Twitter in the spring of 2014 stated, “Support the Mujahideen with financial contribution via the following reliable accounts” and provides contact information on other Twitter accounts.

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Twitter.com/Jahd_bmalk and closeup of fundraising image; Twitter.com/Khalid_Maghrebi

In previous Twitter fundraising campaigns, photos of donations such as stacks of gold bars, luxury cars, and so on were circulated, along with photos of the weapons purchased with proceeds from their sale. 

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Friending Al-Qaeda On Facebook

A growing number of Al-Qaeda affiliates and other designated terrorist organizations, as well as online activists who support terrorist organizations, have been active on Facebook; while some of their accounts have been shut down, they often return. Some leading pages are those of the Al-Qaeda offshoot ISIS’s media company Al-Furqan,[1][105] Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),[1][106] and Jihad Umma, which reports from jihadi websites.[1][107] Other organizations on Facebook include the Taliban, Hamas, Hizbullah, and individual jihadi leaders and sheikhs. 

11 friending al-qaeda on facebook

Mustafa Maya Amaya, the suspected leader of an international jihadi recruitment ring that was broken up by Spanish and Moroccan security forces in March 2014, used Facebook as a recruitment tool. Jihadis recruited by him, or associated with him – all of whom are as of this writing fighting in Syria – are linked to him on Facebook.[1][108]

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In 2012, one notable online jihadist wrote: “This [Facebook] is a great idea, and better than the forums. Instead of waiting for people to [come to you so you can] inform them, you go to them and teach them!” Other stated goals are: reach the wide base of Muslims who [use] Facebook, encourage brothers to devise new online media in support of jihadi media, form a solid base on Facebook and shed light on it as a medium for reaching people. Move from an elite society ([on] jihadi forums and websites) to mainstream Muslims, [encourage] their participation, and interact with them, advance media operations and encourage creativity, innovation, flexibility, and change. Reach large [numbers] of Crusaders, broadcast the losses of their armies, expose the lies of their leaders, and call Muslims to jihad.”[1][109] 

One of the first reported instances of the jihadist message on infiltrating Facebook was in September 2008, after jihadi forums had been temporarily shut down and the forum members began using Facebook as another venue for convening and spreading jihadist content.[1][110] The first phase of social network jihad consisted mostly of “Facebook raids,” or campaigns aimed at disseminating jihadi propaganda through existing Facebook channels. The second phase has seen jihadists establishing a permanent Facebook presence by creating groups and virtual communities affiliated with leading jihadist websites. In this way, numerous features offered by Facebook have been used to promote the ideology of jihad and to spread its messages. [1] [111] 

On December 20, 2013, jihadi groups announced via several Facebook accounts and online forums the launch of a question and answer session with German jihadi fighters based in Waziristan, which is the Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold in the Pakistani tribal region. A message was posted in Urdu and English on the Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum Facebook page: “We are getting ready for Q&A session/interview with German brothers [i.e. fighters] in Waziristan. If you have any question please send your questions in inbox.” As of December 23, this jihadi account on Facebook had 2,312 followers.[1][112]

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Also, Nasr Al-‘Insi, a Yemeni Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) figure, has been recruiting individuals from the Gulf region, especially from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, via Facebook. Al-‘Insi also communicated with those recruits via email and over the phone. A December 2013 report said, citing a Yemeni security source, that Al-‘Insi had good “persuading” skills. Al-Insi may be deputy to AQAP leader Nasser Al-Wuhaishi, whose deputy Sa’id Al-Shihri was killed in a U.S. drone strike earlier this year.[1][113] 

 14 AQAP Nasser

Al-Qaeda and its online sympathizers are also actively experimenting with apps and other features on Facebook. In March 2013, a member of the leading jihadi forum Al-Fida’, Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan, announced the release of what he said was the first jihadi application for Facebook. He said that the application would facilitate the direct release of jihadi productions to subscribers’ pages.[1][114] In his announcement, Yazan called on forum members to support his project so as to enable him to “complete this stage and move on to another one.” The Facebook page to which Yazan linked is filled with jihadi propaganda videos and interviews, most of them recent releases by AQAP, Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and more. The page had 57 “likes” on its first day. 

In addition, jihadi groups are using Facebook for recruiting purposes. In a recent example, a Gaza Al-Qaeda operative recruited three Palestinians over Facebook and Skype, according to January 22, 2014 media reports. The three were planning the organization and execution of attacks in Israel, including a simultaneous double suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. One suspect had received computer files containing virtual training courses in bomb manufacturing from the Gaza Al-Qaeda operative, and a second said that he too had learned to manufacture bombs online. Israeli authorities announced that the three had been arrested.[1][115]

Designated Terrorists And Terrorist Organizations Online: Maintaining Official Websites, Using Google Blogspot, Using Yahoo Server, Launching Internet Radio Stations

Designated terrorists using various media platforms abound. A few prominent examples are: Omar Abd Al-Rahman (the Blind Sheikh), who is serving 15 life sentences in the U.S., and who has an official website operated on a Chicago-based ISP as well as accounts run by his son on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook [1] [116]; Specially Designated National Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and emir of its charity arm Jamaatud Dawa, who is also wanted by India for his role in the planning of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and who is also active on YouTube and Twitter;[1][117] Syrian Jabhat Al-Nusra and its leaders, and countless others, on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook.

A trailblazer in jihadis’ embrace of social media was FBI Most Wanted Terrorist Omar Hammami, an American commander in the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen, who was killed by his organization in Somalia in September 2013. One of the first Western jihadis to gain a worldwide following, Abu Mansour Al-Amriki, as he was known, he was prolifically active on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube; he even released his autobiographical ebook The Story of an American Jihaadi – Part One via his YouTube account. In the book’s introduction, he noted that he had decided to pen his memoirs due to the “unpredictable nature” of his life in the land of jihad, and in accordance with the advice of Al-Qaeda military strategist and ideologue Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri, who had underlined the importance of documenting one’s history. Such documentation was particularly important today, he said, now that the Internet has made it simple to record events and spread reports of them. Today, a year after his death, his Twitter and Facebook accounts remain online.[1][118]  

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Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) announced, on May 2, 2013, the launch of “the Muslim Africa Blog” aimed at persuading Muslims in Africa to “return to their Islamic identity, which the unbelieving colonizers have worked hard to keep them away from.” The blog, on Google’s social media blogging platform Blogspot.com, has corresponding Twitter and Facebook pages.[1][119] Additionally, the Al-Twahid Wal-Jihad Movement in West Africa, a Salafi-jihadi organization and Al-Qaeda affiliate, used a Yahoo server to launch a jihadi forum offering training courses in bomb making and booby traps.[1][120] 

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Muslim Africa blog, on Google’s Blogspot. Accessed December 18, 2013; February 18, 2014 tweet stating that the broadcasts are experimental.

On February 18, 2014, the twitter account of Syria Al-‘Aan (@Syria_now_1) reported that the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) had launched radio broadcasts of religious lessons and statements by ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (now Islamic State Caliph), in the Syrian town of Al-Raqqa. According to one tweet, the radio broadcasts, which can be heard on 99.9 FM, are at this stage experimental.[1] [121] Previously, in January 2013, Jihad Al-Umma launched what it claimed was the first jihadi Internet radio station, Radio Fajr Al-Jihad.[1][122]

Continue to next section:

VI. Social Media In The Syria And Iraq Conflict

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