As terrorists increasingly have embraced social media, Twitter has increasingly come under criticism for hosting terror feeds. Al-Shabaab is on it sixth account after getting suspended in the past for tweeting photos of a dead French special ops soldier, and most recently the Somali terror outlet blazed through a few accounts after suspensions for gloating about the Westgate mall massacre. Their latest account, @HSM_PR, has remained active for many days now and has racked up 59 tweets. During the attack and its aftermath, journalists were checking the Shabaab feed for its latest claims and links to statements.
So when al-Qaeda announced it had launched its first official Twitter account, I, like other journalists who cover terrorism, hit the follow button. The @shomokhalislam account was suspended Sunday by Twitter after being allowed to remain open since Tuesday, posting nearly 50 tweets that included an attack on “the servants of worshipers of the cross” in a bombing that targeted staff of Pakistan’s interior minister in Peshawar.
On Saturday, I received one of those occasional emails from Twitter offering suggestions based on a recent follow — suggesting that I follow other terrorists:
The first suggested account, “Islam Workshop,” is connected to an al-Qaeda web forum to “rouse the believers” — shamikh1.info. On Saturday the feed posted a video removed by YouTube for violence, showing Qaeda- and Muslim Brotherhood-backed jihadists Ansar Beit al-Maqdes fighting Egyptian forces in the Sinai.
The second appears to be linked to the Al-Battar training camp, al-Qaeda’s program that has offered DIY as well as hands-on terrorist advice. These days Muaskar Al-Battar (Camp of the Sword) concentrates largely on bringing together groups with the same goal in a loosely connected network. The feed even has a nice camp photo as its backdrop, with more than a few Tsarnaev look-a-likes in the wooded hills:
The third suggested Twitter account appears linked to a Kurdistan-based affiliate of al-Qaeda.
The fourth claims to be “one of the foot soldiers” of Al-Shabaab, and posted several press photo from the Westgate attack while gloating about Shabaab’s gruesome accomplishments.
The last account, posing with the girl, is former Guantanamo Bay detainee Abdulaziz Sayer Owain al Shammari, who was arrested by Pakistan in 2001 and transferred to his home country Kuwait in 2005.
“Based on detainee’s deception history, it is assessed that he has received training on advanced counter-terrorism techniques, as well as above average terrorist training typically taught by Al-Qaida,” reads a 2004 Defense Department memo. “…Detainee is assessed to have connections to high-ranking Al-Qaida members.”
Twitter has said it can’t comment on users when asked to explain why terrorist accounts remain up. The only reason Al-Shabaab’s account fell a couple of times after the horrific Westgate attack was because of intense pressure from angry Twitter users in Africa and around the globe.
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