HASHTAG #Jihad Twitter Usage By Al-Qaeda And Online Jihadi Affiliated Groups Explodes; Apps Increasingly Used As Tools For Cyber Jihad
As part of their online media strategy, jihadi organizations have in recent years begun using Western websites and technologies – uploading videos to YouTube and to the San Francisco-based Internet Archive, creating official Facebook pages, and over the past year, “tweeting” news flashes from the jihadi fronts. During that time, MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) Project has monitored how Al-Qaeda-affiliated online jihadi groups and their followers have embraced Twitter.
As the number and activity of jihadis and terrorist groups on Twitter continue to multiply exponentially, the issue is attracting more attention from media outlets and from U.S. government and military officials; while the latter have been reluctant to take action, Twitter officials remain neglectful.
Highlighting this is a September 3, 2012 article titled “Twitter Becomes Terrorists’ New Propaganda Machine” in USA Today, which quotes Marine Lt. Col. Stewart Upton, spokesman for Regional Command Southwest, as saying of terrorists’ use of Twitter: “They’re all over Twitter… they’re incessantly tweeting.” He adds that over the past year, Central Command has reported about 10 social media violations to Twitter. The paper noted that Twitter could suspend an account if the user violated policies, and quoted Twitter spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz, who said that Twitter does not discuss specific accounts, including military requests, as saying: “We have a process to report terms of service violations.”
Previously, on August 22, 2012, The Washington Times reported that U.S. intelligence agencies that monitor the Internet for terrorist activity are now regularly in touch with the U.S. military’s Central Command, who have on their behalf been contacting U.S. social media companies, including Facebook and Twitter, “urging them to halt terrorist recruitment or inciting violent attacks noting that it violates their terms of service.”
Since Twitter began operating in 2006, there is not one publicly known case of a jihadi or terrorist organization’s account being shut down. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Twitter presence of these groups is constantly increasing.
Among the organizations that openly utilize Twitter are many that are officially designated by the Western and U.S. governments as terrorist entities, such as the Taliban (alemarahweb and ABalkhi), the Somali Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen (HSMPress), Hamas (hamasinfo) and its military wing Al-Qassam Brigades (AlqassamBrigade), Hizbullah and its media arm Al-Manar TV (almanarnews), and other groups. (For a full list of MEMRI research on jihadi and terrorist groups on Twitter, see Appendix I.)
While the phenomenon of jihadi and terrorist organizations on Twitter is in its relatively early stages, if it is left to continue unabated, the service will increasingly be used to help build an online community of individuals who support terrorism and are enemies of the U.S. Many of these Twitter users are also now utilizing apps to spread online jihad, which gives Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations additional weapons for their cyber-jihad.
As previous reports in this series have noted, Twitter has in fact already become a cyber-weapon used against the U.S.. Furthermore, MEMRI’s attempts to alert Twitter, and in particular its CEO and media department, of this and of the risks it entails have been repeatedly ignored.
The following report highlights some recent examples of jihadi and terrorist organizations, sheikhs, and other groups who have joined Twitter. Those Twitter accounts, all in Arabic, use the social media site for multiple purposes, including giving religious justification for jihad and terrorist attacks; sending links minute by minute of the latest Al-Qaeda media releases; accounts held by numerous former prisoners jailed for terrorism to provide an outlet to reach followers on their opinions; training purposes for attacks against American forces; and as a vehicle for new terrorist and jihadi groups to easily spread their message for recruitment.
Part I: Tweeting Jihad And Martyrdom: Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad,
Website Of Imprisoned Jihadi Leader And Scholar Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi
An extensive report published earlier this year by the staff of the MEMRI JTTM (see Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad English-Language Site, Owned by Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, Peddles Jihad to Non-Arabic Speaking Muslims in the West, March 12, 2012) gave detailed information about one of the main online centers of the global Salafi-jihadi movement – Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad (MTJ), “The Pulpit of Monotheism and Jihad,” belonging to Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi.
As the report noted, Al-Maqdisi has long been at the fore of the radical Salafi movement in Jordan, and is considered a religious authority and spiritual leader by many Salafi-jihadis worldwide. His website has served as a primary means of disseminating Salafi-jihadi doctrine and texts, and jihad-related fatwas. The website is overseen by Al-Maqdisi himself, in addition to a shari’a committee of radical Salafi-jihadi clerics from various Arab countries, some of them residing in the West.
In addition to its main Arabic-language website, MTJ has an English website, Tawhid.net. This website serves as an online library of Salafi-jihadi material translated from Arabic, including sermons, articles, books, magazines, and interviews by Islamist luminaries such as Al-Maqdisi himself, Sayyed Qutb, and Al-Qaeda leaders past and present, including Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, ‘Abdallah ‘Azzam, and others. Also offered is original English-language material, much of it by the late Yemeni-American cleric Anwar Al-‘Awlaki, who is featured prominently on the site with books, articles, audio recordings, and magazines such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) English-language magazine Inspire.
With its English forum, MTJ aims to propagate jihad and serve as a virtual library for the Salafi-jihadi education of Muslims who are distant from active jihad communities. This includes preaching jihad as an individual duty incumbent upon all Muslims; eliciting support for Al-Qaeda and disseminating its leaders’ messages online; playing up grievances suffered by Muslims in the West’s anti-Islam “Crusade”; and glorifying slain jihadis, publishing fatwas in support of suicide operations, and so on.
Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad’s Twitter Account
On January 12, 2012, Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad launched a Twitter account, twitter.com/MinbarTawhed, and has since posted over 200 tweets. Most of the tweets include content from MTJ’s website as well as links to the main MTJ website itself. Tweets include rulings on fatwas and answers to Islamic law questions – many of which are related to jihad.
Examples Of Topics In Tweets By Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad
Minbar al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad tweets on a number of topics. The following are examples:
- Becoming a martyr in the battlefield of jihad.
- The permissibility of fighting with the mujahideen without pledging allegiance to a specific group.
- The permissibility of working with Jews and Christians to collect money to go wage jihad.
- Rulings on using stolen money for jihad.
- The permissibility of killing drug dealers in the land of jihad.
- Rulings about disclosing the secrets of the mujahideen.
- Whether one should wage jihad or pay off a bank debt.
- The permissibility of joining the mujahideen fighters in the Levant.
- Waging jihad in Nigeria, Tunisia, Libya, Syria.
- Leaving one’s country to wage jihad in another country’s battlefield.
- Rulings on joining the armies of Western countries.
Minbar Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad Uses Twitter Apps Twishort And TwitMail Service To Post Longer Texts
Over the past year, the Middle East has seen the emergence of a plethora of apps and other tools which have helped to innovate social media usage in the region. What makes Minbar al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad’s Twitter account unique is its extensive use of such Twitter-specific apps, including Twishort and Twitmail.
MTJ uses Twitter’s Twishort (twishort.com) service to ask questions that link to the answering longer fatwas or rulings. These Twishort tweets often include hashtags such as #jihad, #fatwa, and #mujahideen. Users do not need to register to use Twishort. To use the service, they post longer texts on the Twishort website, and the service then tweets the first 140 characters, including a link to the longer post, from the user’s Twitter account. Most MTJ Twishort links lead to long items directly on MTJ.
Twitter’s Twitmail service allows Twitter users to attach their emails to Twitter posts. To use the service, which is not affiliated with Twitter, users must open an account. They then send an email with the content they wish to tweet to their Twitmail account, and the service tweets it to their Twitter feed with a link to the email, which is publicly viewable along with all attachments to the original email.
TwitMail on MTJ’s Twitter account includes Al-Qaeda material posted on the main jihadi forums. One example, sent July 17, 2012, includes a DVD collection of Osama bin Laden’s speeches and videos for downloading, as well as the usual links to download the material, including links to the San Francisco-based Internet Archives.
It should be noted that the use of services such as Twitter, including apps such as Twishort and Twitmail, is a growing trend among online jihadis. After encountering increasing difficulty in posting content to main jihadi websites, they are now looking for quicker and easier ways to spread jihad online.
Part II: Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum (AMAF)
An Al-Qaeda Affiliate, Tweets
One of the most prominent Al-Qaeda affiliated forums, Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum (AMAF), opened a Twitter account (https://twitter.com/as_ansar) on April 13, 2012.
Ansar al-Mujahideen Twitter Homepage
Top Of AMAF Twitter Account Page Includes YouTube Link To Video Of AQAP Leader Discussing Importance Of Online Jihad, How To Use Cyber Tools And Weapons
Featured prominently on AMAF’s Twitter page, next to its official logo, is a link to a YouTube video in which Abu Hurayrah, an Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader, praises online jihadi forums including AMAF. He stated, “The enemies of the Muslims are taking the true and clear facts from jihadi forums on the Internet.” The same YouTube video also provides very specific instructions on installing Tor, a program designed to hide the user’s identity online. In fact, at the conclusion of the video, AMAF instructs users not to access its website without installing Tor.
AMAF Gives Advice On How To Effectively Disseminate Its Message On Twitter
On May 7, 2012, the Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum (AMAF) published “important instructions” regarding its Twitter account, which it had opened on April 13. The announcement said that, having understood the crucial role jihadi media plays in the battle between Islam and its enemies, the AMAF is using all legitimate means to support Islam. Among the steps it took in this regard, it said, was the recent opening of the AMAF’s Twitter account, “as_ansar@”.
As for its instructions to jihadis, the announcement asked them to follow AMAF’s Twitter account and to disseminate its content via “retweeting” and the use of hashtags.
Examples Of Topics In Tweets By AMAF
Many of the AMAF tweets are links to YouTube videos of suicide bombers; jihadi groups training for attacks; Al-Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri, Al-Zarqawi, Al-Awlaki, and others; and videos of dead jihadi fighters. Al-Qaeda groups in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Africa are heavily represented.
AMAF Twitter Account Relies On San Francisco-Based Internet Archives
A large number of AMAF tweets link to files on the San Francisco-based Internet Archive (archive.org), where jihadists can download PDF’s of books, articles, and statements on AMAF, along with links. MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 724, Al-Qaeda, Jihadis Infest The San Francisco, California-Based ‘Internet Archive’ Library, published August 17, 2011, detailed this website’s importance to online jihadis. Founded in 1996, the Internet Archive is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose stated mission is to provide “universal access to all knowledge.” The Internet Archive is recognized by the state of California as a library, and is a member of the American Library Association. It states that its purposes include “offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format. The Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages.” Multiple U.S. government agencies, including NASA, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institute collaborate with the Internet Archive, and, according to a Washington Post report, federal prosecutors, the FBI, and CIA “frequently” use it.
Besides the U.S. government, Al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups are continually and increasingly using the San Francisco-based Internet Archive by posting links on Twitter to spread their propaganda/recruitment messages, including video and audio recordings of speeches, attacks, publications, and much more. They often include content encouraging, and urging, terrorist attacks against the U.S. It can be assumed that Al-Qaeda-related material was first posted to the Internet Archive for legitimate research purposes, but that at some point jihadis discovered that it was an accessible website that could be easily used for online jihad; jihadis now upload content to and download content from the Internet Archive on a daily basis; all anyone needs in order to use the Archive is a valid email address.
Part III: Muhammad Al-Zawahiri
Brother Of Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri Joins Twitter
On August 13, 2012, a post by Ishmael Jad on the Al-Qaeda-affiliated forum Al-Fidaa announced that Muhammad Al-Zawahiri, brother of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, had opened a Twitter account. Muhammad Al-Zawahiri, a member of the Egyptian organization Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiya, served 13 years in prison in Egypt on allegations that he was linked to the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
Even before posting his first tweet, on August 18, 2012, Muhammad Al-Zawahiri had nearly 1,000 followers; to date he has tweeted 12 times and has 1,562 followers.
Examples of Muhammad Al-Zawahiri’s Tweets
Al-Zawahiri’s second tweet, on August 19, 2012, links to the Ansar Al-Mujahideen forum, to an article he published August 7, 2012 titled “Is It Legally Correct That We Only Fight Those Who Fight Us?” in which he defends the Islamic notion of offensive jihad. Other posts include his first TV interview after his release from prison (posted August 20, 2012), a biography of Zawahiri found on a jihadi blog (posted August 21, 2012), as well as another Islamic legal response titled “A response to the Saudi fatwa regarding warning the youth against going abroad with the intention of fighting jihad.“ (posted Aug. 21, 2012).
Part IV: Former Bin Laden Jihadi And Gitmo Detainee Walid Muhammad Hajj Tweets In Support Of Al-Qaeda, Jihad, And Martyrdom
On June 13, 2012, Walid Muhammad Hajj, a former Guantanamo detainee who fought in Osama bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade, joined Twitter (WaleedGaj2002); to date, he has posted 2,272 Tweets, has 12,072 followers, and is following 55 well-known jihadis and jihadi groups.
Muhammad Al-Zawahiri @Mohamed-Zawahiri
Ansaar Al-Mujahideen @as_ansar (AMAF)
Tawheed and Jihad Platform @MinbarTawhed (Sheikhs of Jihad and the Shar’ia Committee of the Tawheed and Jihad Platform)
The Madad News Agency @W_mdd (AQAP)
Hazem Al-Masri @hazim10000 (Ansar Sharia Blogspot)
Walid Muhammad Hajj: Background
According to an unclassified official report, in September 2004 a tribunal was appointed at Guantanamo to review Walid Muhammad Hajj’s designation as an enemy combatant; he allegedly participated in military operations against the U.S. or its partners and was defined as “an individual who was part of or supporting the Taliban or Al-Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who committed a belligerent actors has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.”
The Guantanamo Bay detainee file on Walid Mohammad Haj Mohammad Ali, US9SU-000081DP, dated December 2007, which in April 2011 was passed to the Telegraph (U.K.) by WikiLeaks, stated that he “is assessed to be a member of Al-Qaeda and a fighter in Osama Bin Laden’s 55th Arab Brigade.” It added that he had “admitted participating and being wounded in hostilities during U.S. and Coalition action against Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan” and that “Al-Qaeda operative, Anjasha, recruited detainee for jihad, and detainee’s name was recovered on an Al-Qaeda affiliated document. Detainee acknowledged receiving militant training from an Al-Qaeda commander, and is assessed to have received… more extensive training. Detainee is also assessed to be affiliated with Jama-at Tablighi (JT).”
A Department of Defense assessment of Walid Muhammad Hajj, also released by Wikileaks, stated that he posed a “medium” risk of threat to the U.S. and its interests and allies. According to the document it is believed that he received training at the infamous Al-Faruq training camp, and was involved in da’wa, “areas of potential exploitation,” “communications,” and “terrorist recruitment of juveniles.”
Some five years after his release, Walid Muhammad Hajj is free to communicate to potential Al-Qaeda recruits; he has over 10,000 followers on Twitter.
Examples Of Walid Muhammad Hajj’s Tweets
- July 26, 2012: “The real location of our da’wa in the world in this time during which houses are raped and honor is violated is in the bout of a citizen on the fields of jihad.”
- August 21, 2012: “Sheikh Suleiman Abu Gheith, the Al-Qaeda spokesman, may Allah protect him, emphasized at the beginning of his remarks that: Al Qaeda is the vanguard which has taken upon itself [the task of] igniting the fuse of confrontation.”
- August 21, 2012: “The fuse of the inevitable confrontation between it [Al Qaeda] and its enemies, and as such it does not fight on behalf of the nation, but rather works to mobilize the nation against its enemy and awaken in the face of the usurping occupier.”
- August 21, 2012: “And this is proof that Al-Qaeda has been since the beginning of the conflict with the Zionist-Crusader alliance waiting and working for the sake of this historical moment and for any hint of jihad.”
- August 21, 2012: “The Syrian revolution will turn to Al-Qaeda once it realizes the regional and international conspiracy against it, which validates the truth and reality of this role played by Al Qaeda and the reason for its establishment.”
Part V: How Online Jihadis Are Using Twitter – The Taliban Video That Revealed Planning Behind June 1, 2012 Attack On U.S. Military Base In Khost
Online jihadi groups and Al-Qaeda sympathizers have greatly increased their Twitter usage in the past year; the avatars of thousands of them are images of Al-Qaeda leaders, most notably Osama bin Laden. One such user is @abnAltohid.
@abnAltohid first tweeted on August 14, 2012, and as of August 16 had tweeted 74 times, and is following 84 users. Some examples of his tweets include:
- August 16, 2012: A link to a video from Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawhiri, as well as quotes from Osama bin Laden.
- August 16, 2012: A re-tweet from an account he follows praising the deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan, commenting that Mullah Omar paid zakat when 33 American soldiers died in a helicopter crash.
An important example of how @abnAltohid and other online jihadis use Twitter can be seen in another August 15, 2012 tweet of a link to a Taliban video, posted on a Taliban website sometime in July 2012, showing the training and planning behind the June 1, 2012 attack on the U.S. military’s Forward Operating Base Salerno, the second-largest U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, located near Khost, Afghanistan. The Pashtu-language video, which was released by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s lead organization, shows the 11 bombers who carried out the attack.
The video to which the tweet linked shows the bombers undergoing military training and planning, and carrying out the attack. The video, produced by the Islamic Emirate’s Manba-ul-Jihad Studio, begins with a verse from the Koran stating: “Or do they intend a plan? But those who disbelieve – they are the object of a plan.” This is followed by a verse from a war song saying that jihad will continue as long as Islam exists. “A thunderous theory it is, and thunderous are its blows; what a strange philosophy [of jihad] it is that eliminates the buildings of infidels,” states another song in the background.
Part VI: New Egyptian Pro-Al-Qaeda Google Blog Group Joins Twitter
” posts many items about jihad in Egypt, as well as a wide variety of jihadi media. It has two unofficial Twitter accounts associated with it: @hazim1000, created on June 12, 2012, which has posted 697 tweets, and @Almojahidon, created on March 13, 2012, and so far has posted 257 tweets. The Twitter account bears Al-Qaeda’s black flag, and its avatar is of late leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.
One notable tweet, by @hazim1000 on August 21, states: “Mullah Omar is a simple Afghani man putting his shoes on the pride of America every day. America puts it’s shoes on the heads of Arab leaders every day. What is the dearest of that or lowest of those.”
The following are a few examples of tweets from @Almojahidon1:
- August 16: A statement from Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based jihadi group, confirming responsibility for a rocket attack on the Israeli city of Eilat. The complete statement is located on Ansaralsharia.blogspot.com, and was originally posted to jihadi forums such as Shumoukh Al-Islam and Ansar Al-Mujahideen.
- August 16: An official statement by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis regarding the group’s desire to consolidate its control over propaganda and establish credibility
- August 22: This statement praises a recent martyr in Syria:
The statement includes a Twitter image of him:
Part VII: The New Breed of Al-Qaeda Groupies on Twitter – Abu Malik Al-Maqdisi
Abu Malik al-Maqdisi (@elmakdisi) first tweeted on March 27, 2012, and as of August 30, 2012 has posted 82 tweets, has 601 followers, and follows 691 others. His account’s byline reads: “The official account of the Munashid Abu Malik Al-Maqdisi.” Most of his tweets are in support of Al-Qaeda, as the following few examples highlight:
“I hope [for] the sharing and spreading [of this page], for this page is the best of pages.”
“If an apostate is killed by one of the mujahideen then the media pours on us accusations and plunges into symptoms of the mujahideen.”
“The visual nashid “Al-Qaeda” sung by the brothers Abu Lubaba and Abu Malik, may Allah protect them, for download.”
HASHTAG “#Jihad” – Easy To Find, Easy To Remove Terrorist-Related Content From Twitter
As the first report in this series highlighted, terrorist organizations are increasingly utilizing Twitter, while Twitter and the U.S. government continue to refrain from acting to impede their efforts. This is only part of the greater failure to act against terrorist use of online social media on the part of Western governments, the business community, and especially social media companies themselves – as social media have become a valuable tool and weapon for groups and individuals dedicated to attacking and killing Americans and Westerners.
Twitter is capable of blocking accounts and specific content in certain countries where that content violates the law – for example, pro-Nazi content in Germany. But it refuses to stop terrorists worldwide who have come to rely on its services. Many of the terror organizations and individuals mentioned in this and previous reports use HASHTAG “#Jihad” in their tweets, and anyone, including Twitter, wanting to identify them need only type that phrase into Twitter’s search engine.
The lack of action to stop terrorist activity on social media platforms has not gone unnoticed by terrorist organizations and online jihadis. It is not uncommon for chatter on the main jihadi forums to focus both on the importance of online jihad and on mocking the absence of efforts to put an end to jihadis’ tremendous freedom online.
Twitter’s rules and regulations guiding the actions of its millions of users cover a wide range of topics, from pornography, trademark infringement, and privacy, including the type of media users can upload and what avatars and background images they can use. But conspicuous in its absence is any clear regulation of the dissemination of terrorist content. While Twitter does prohibit users from “publish[ing] or post[ing] direct, specific threats of violence against others,” and adds that no one can “use our [service] for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities,” it does not ban the dissemination of content that has been created by organizations designated by the U.S. government as terrorist.
*Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
© The Middle East Media Research Institute All Rights Reserved
MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Reports On Twitter
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HASHTAG #Jihad: Charting Jihadi-Terrorist Organizations’ Use Of Twitter
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Deleting Online Jihad on Twitter: The Case of British Jihadi Anjem Choudary – Tweeting for the Caliphate and the Conquest of the White House
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Inquiry & Analysis Series – No. 816 – March 21, 201