Hiding in Plain Sight: Jihadi Activism on Twitter

By Roger Farhat:

Well into the new millennium, radical Islamist propaganda has found a popular platform for terror groups to disseminate their messages with relative ease, while reaching out to a wider audience than they ever could before.

This has been accomplished through access to the Web, initially by establishing networks and platforms designed for purposes that range from propaganda and news to recruiting new operatives, planning, and exchange of ideas, whilst limiting access by password restriction.

In the wake of flourishing jihadi use of the Internet, considerable effort has been invested by security agencies around the world to thwart this trend, only to yield a counter-productive result by prompting the mushrooming of multiple new outlets for every forum blocked.

In recent years, this issue has developed and evolved at a far greater rate, owing to social media platforms that enable any hardline Islamist or extremist to become a virtual activist, irrespective of hierarchy or organization. Nonetheless, jihadists who have realized the great potential of social media as a prominent and rapid means of spreading propaganda for a multitude of sympathizers, supporters, and would-be jihadists are now utilizing these platforms to reach out and target a new audience.

This new target population includes neutrals and Westerners seeking extreme adventures and experiences.

To this end, this article presents an examination of expanded jihadi activism on Twitter, and highlights the tardy U.S. efforts to counter this trend, specifically with regards to addressing Muslims in the West.

Senior Jihadists Join Twitter, Forum Members Follow Suit

Between late 2012 and early 2013, notable jihadi discussions were observed on al-Qaeda (AQ) affiliated password-protected forums regarding the importance of the online media battlefield and the emphasis on the risks inherent in its use.

Additionally, a general abatement in the participation of activists on these forums was discerned, prompting top AQ ideologue Abu Saad al-Amili to pen an essay lamenting the decline and calling upon the “soldiers of the jihadi media” to return to their (virtual) arenas.

One of Amili’s social media columns

One of Amili’s social media columns

In the essay, titled “Appeal to the Media Soldiers of Jihad: Maintain your Positions and Return to your Enclaves,” al-Amili attributed the shrinking activity on jihadi forums to the migration of members into such social media networks as Facebook and Twitter.

al-Amili’s Twitter account

al-Amili’s Twitter account

Although himself a Twitter activist (@al3aamili), in his article al-Amili attempts to motivate members to remain active on the forums. Yet, the fact that he, together with top AQ brass, has become a prominent Twitter user appears to have encouraged forum members to “migrate” to Twitter en masse instead of “maintaining their position” elsewhere.

Twitter as an Instant Relay for Booming Jihadi Activities

Serious jihadi activism on Twitter floundered for some time before eventually taking off and developing into a full-fledged propaganda arena, massively utilized by senior jihadists, actual fighters on the battlefield, and media jihadists alike.

This trend has also swept the once-wary jihadi platforms that until recently complained about losing members to the open Internet sphere. Nowadays, the majority of jihadi forums and platforms have official and unofficial Twitter accounts, most of which advertise these accounts on their main page.

The intensification of the armed conflict in Syria, where jihadists and AQ-splinter groups have flooded in from around the globe to successfully establish strongholds in various parts of the country, precipitated an expansion of war efforts to social media.

It is in this conflict that Twitter has become the ultimate intersection for jihadi propaganda and activism, where actual fighters and their followers publish first-hand statements and accounts in addition to uploading raw footage from the battlefront. Foreign jihadists who “migrated” from Western countries to Syria greatly contributed to the rise of this phenomenon, as they regularly update their friends, family, and followers on their well-being, as well as on their “holy war adventures.”

Read more at PJ Media

Also see

Video: Walid Phares on jihadi propaganda war against the West

In an interview with Fox News, Dr Walid Phares author of ‘The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East,’ and of the newly released French book ‘Du Printemps Arabe a l’Automne Islamiste,’ said “Saudi Arabia, but also Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE and other Gulf, as well as Egypt, are frustrated with the Obama Administration on the issues of Syria, Iran and declining partnership with the US.”

Phares said “the Arab moderates were mobilized by Washington to pressure Syria’s, before the Administration suddenly pull out from the confrontation with the help of a Russian diplomatic maneuver. Also Washington engaged in a unilateral rapprochement with Iran’s regime without a consultation with its Arab and Middle East allies.”

Phares said “it would be as if the US, in the middle of the Cold War, would run to Moscow for dialogue, before it positions itself in between the USSR and Great Britain. Would that make sense? If you have allies in the region, you consult them and as one bloc you deal with Syria and Iran.

The Arab frustration is not about security matters, it is about the ailing partnership between the Obama Administration and America’s allies in the region.”

 

How Inspire Magazine Uniquely Motivates Acts of Terrorism

Note: Massive thanks to Dr. Jarret Brachman for his guidance and support in putting together this post. He’s one of the best out there studying violent extremism, and we recommend that you check out his book ”Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice“ and follow him on Twitter.

The Boston bombing investigation continues to reveal new information on the two primary suspects, but quietly reported last Friday was the discovery of jihadi propaganda Inspire Magazine – produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – on a computer belonging to the elder Tsarnaev brother’s widow. The publication, particularly its first issue containing instructions for building a pressure cooker bomb, was spotlighted as a possible resource immediately after the bombings.

The news the Tsarnaevs possessed Inspire, whether it directly influenced their actions or not, serves as evidence of the AQAP magazine’s reach and visibility in the jihadist community.

Now, Max Fisher at the Washington Post rightly pointed out Inspire is not the only place to find such information; so, why exclusively call out and analyze Inspire?

What makes the magazine so intriguing from a counter terrorism perspective is its seemingly unique ability to spur people into action.

There are many places where you can learn to build a destructive device; there are far fewer that emotionally instigate actual mass killing operations. As communication scholars at Arizona State University have explained, some of al-Qaida’s most effective pied pipers have been able to link widely accepted collections of stories or “master narratives” (“insult to Islam” or “support of Israel”) to challenges being faced in specific geographic locations “local narratives” to calls for individual-level action, such as using pressure cookers, knives on trucks, etc.

Narrative as the Hook

Instructions for IEDs are typically uninteresting when disconnected from incentive. Where Inspire has proven competent is living up to its name and making an act of terrorism accessible to the radicalized malcontent without an army. Take the following excerpts from Inspire #2 and Inspire #10 respectively:

Inspire #2 (October 2010): This idea could be implemented in countries like Israel, the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Denmark, Holland and other countries where the government and public sentiment is in support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq or countries that had a prominent role in the defamation of Muhammad. In such countries we may strike at the public at large. As long as they target our noncombatants, we will target theirs. This is one of many ways to implement this idea. You may modify it and add or subtract to it according to what is suitable for your particular conditions.

and…

Inspire # 10 (March 2013): The French crusade on Mali is certainly connected to the historic crusades, and definitely its result won’t defer from its predecessors. So, why is France so thick in learning from its past mistakes? Is it leaving Paris undefended once again to engage in a war away from home? Woe upon you from tens of Muhammad Merah!

As you can see, there’s a heavy dose of “why” one should be willing to carry out a attack in the name of Islam. Providing a narrative, whether it be insult of Muhammad, occupation of Palestine, or American wars, loads the rest of the instructions with emotion. Next in the process is localizing the capacity for an attack.

Localizing a Mission

Screen-Shot-2013-05-06-at-11.32.27-PM

The above map created using Recorded Future details all of the countries mentioned in the ten issues of Inspire Magazine. As you can see, there are very specific actions tied to distinct locations following the explanation and rationalization for an attack.

Read more at Analysis Intelligence

Terror Tweets

Omar-Hammami-YouTube

Omar-Hammami-YouTube

BY:

Twitter and YouTube accounts claiming to be operated by a suspected al Qaeda terrorist who is listed on the FBI’s most wanted list have been disseminating jihadi propaganda, according to terrorism experts.

A user claiming to be Omar Hammami, an American citizen who joined forces with the al Qaeda-aligned al-Shabaab terror group in 2006, has been tweeting about “martyrdom” and U.S.-led operations against terror cells in Africa via his Twitter account, “abu m.”

The 102 users who follow the virtual Hammami, who is also known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, have access to an ongoing stream of unfiltered radical thoughts and possible tips about clandestine U.S. operations taking place in Somalia, where al-Shabaab is based.

Users are also directed to view a YouTube page, which features videos about jihad starring Hammami sitting before al-Shabaab’s black war flag and an automatic weapon.

Hammami’s purported social media presence has raised red flags among terrorism experts who cite both YouTube and Twitter for promoting such radical figures.

“It’s pretty outrageous that someone on the FBI’s most wanted list can communicate on a Twitter page and a YouTube account and no one has removed it,” said Steven Salinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser told the Washington Free Beacon that the organization does not “comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.”

He also cautioned “against reporting an account’s ownership with such certainty unless you’ve independently verified it with the supposed owner themselves or they have a Verified account,” meaning that Twitter has confirmed the user’s identity.

Critics of the social media sites said that even if the account in not operated by Hammami, the sites should proactively take steps to remove users who post terror-related material.

“If you look at the words, it’s singular voice of ‘I’ when referring to questions and he has a long history of being on these jihadi forums,” Salinsky said. “He definitely communicates and even if it’s not him, it’s pretending to be a terrorist. So are they afraid to remove the page of someone who says they’re a terrorist, who a few months ago was put on the FBI most wanted list?

“It says a lot about a company when they will close a user account for violating some vague notion of political correctness or criticizing the excesses of militant Islamism, but will open their floodgates to calls for genocide and incitement to mass murder,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser who has written extensively on terrorists.

The Twitter user claiming to be Hammami routinely engages with a wide variety of Twitter users who reach out to him for insights or advice about al-Shabaab and its terrorist activities. He was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list in mid-November.

Al-Shabaab also has an official and highly active Twitter account.

As of Friday afternoon Hammami’s supposed account was still active, with his last tweet being sent out on Monday.

MEMRI has reported extensively on Hammami’s sophisticated social media use.

Twitter has long treaded a fine line between free speech and the promotion of terror-related activities.

Read more at Free Beacon