Hiding in Plain Sight: Jihadi Activism on Twitter

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."

Moreover, Twitter became a major medium for recruiting would-be jihadists from Muslim populations residing in the West, often via media campaigns conducted in a number of languages such as English, French, and German.

In recent months, Twitter activism by AQ-inspired operatives in Syria, particularly foreigners from the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), have multiplied exponentially to the point that individual jihadists have grown even more famous and followed than their respective group. Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Kuwaiti (@sm65sm46), an ISIS regional commander in northern Syria, is one of the most active on the battlefield as well as on Twitter. So is Qarin al-Kalash (@K_L7), a prominent Twitter jihadist who has one of the highest numbers of followers among the activists and groups highlighted in this report. Al-Kalash, a Saudi foreign fighter in Syria, boasted a striking 65,000 followers before suspending the account and referring his followers to another account (@OT_48) where he revealed his real name, Abd al-Majid al-'Utaibi. His posts, as well as recent information released by opponents of ISIS, indicated that al-Kalash is a senior member of the media committee set up by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

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Twitter account of Qarin al-Kalash under his real name

Competitions to attract Western-based would-be jihadists have also reached Twitter, mainly by appealing to Muslim communities in the West through the release of multilingual posters and documentaries depicting the lives of “Mujahideen” in Syria. For instance, AQ official branch in Syria al-Nusra Front (JN) and ISIS rely on religious incitement against minorities, be they Shi’a, Alawi, Christians, Kurds, Druze, etc., to motivate hardline Islamists to join the battle against “the infidels.” An additional tactic shared by most terror groups is the release of videos featuring “suicide jihadists” preparing for their operations, and before departing to “paradise” for Allah's greater cause.

It should be noted that the media branches of militant jihadi groups are now virtually (via Twitter) joining battles from the moment they begin, providing immediate updates and minute-by-minute coverage of events -- whether photos or communiques -- all in real time. This was best demonstrated during the Westgate Mall siege in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, when terrorists from the Somali Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (HSM) stormed the upscale venue and massacred nearly 70 shoppers on September 21.

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During the attack, the HSM press office posted continuous updates, accompanied by threats of additional assaults to follow in the near future. The original HSM account was blocked by the company. However, multiple other accounts were opened by the group.

Former ISIS Operative Exposes the Group on Twitter

On December 5, 2013, a controversial Twitter account sporting the name @wikibaghdady was opened and has been creating waves within the jihadi world ever since. The account now has some 25,053 followers and almost 669 tweets. It mimics WikiLeaks, and as suggested by its name, it is dedicated to exposing the structure of ISIS and the mindset of its feared leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

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@wikibaghdady Twitter account