The widow of an American terror victim wants Twitter to answer for the sea of terrorist propaganda and recruitment pitches that flow through the social media network each day.
But the microblogging giant is trying to get Tamara Fields’ lawsuit tossed out of court, arguing their network is protected by free-speech provisions and no one can prove that the propaganda posted on the site contributed to her husband’s murder.
The attack on a Jordanian police training facility happened Nov. 9 — a decade to the day after a trio of coordinated hotel bombings orchestrated by al-Qaeda in Iraq killed 60 people across Amman, including at a wedding.
Two Americans, one South African trainer and two Jordanian translators were killed when Capt. Anwar Abu Zaid, 28, opened fire. Two Americans, a Lebanese and four Jordanians were wounded. Abu Zaid, who worked at another training facility but handed in his resignation a few days before the attack, was killed by security forces.
Jordanian officials said Abu Zaid had a Kalashnikov tucked in a bag along with 120 bullets, and a pistol with 31 extra bullets. First Abu Zaid prayed at noontime, then started shooting at a truck that was moving through the facility, killing one of the Americans. Then he went inside the facility where people were having lunch and killed four more people before he was shot dead.
Lloyd “Carl” Fields, Jr., 46, of Cape Coral, Fla., formerly a deputy sheriff at Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana, began working for contractor DynCorp International in 2006 as a police adviser in Iraq. He later worked in Afghanistan as a police adviser and embedded police mentor before moving on to Jordan. He left behind a wife and three children.
James “Damon” Creach, 42, of New Tampa, Fla., previously worked for the Virginia Beach Police Department and at the time of the attack worked as a law enforcement instructor for DECO Inc. He was married with three children.
A week after the attack, PJM was the first to report on ISIS’ claim of responsibility issued in a statement through their Al-Battar Media Foundation.
“Yes… we kill the Americans in Amman,” the terror group said, using the words “lone wolf” to describe the attack.
The claim was included in a chronological list of attack claims: the Russian Metrojet over the Sinai on Halloween, the Burj el-Barajneh bombings in the Beirut suburbs on Nov. 12, and the Nov. 13 Paris massacre. It was pasted on a file-sharing site and the link was disseminated among ISIS supporters on Twitter.
“Do not provoke the Muslims more than this, especially recruited and supporters of the Islamic State,” the message said. “The more your aggression against the Muslims, the more our determination and revenge… time will turn thousands of supporters of the caliphate on Twitter and others to wolves.”
ISIS also claimed the attack in an issue of their Dabiq magazine: “Anwar Abu Zeid – after repenting from his former occupation – attacked the American crusaders and their apostate allies, killing two American crusaders, two Jordanian apostates, and one South African crusader. These are the deeds of those upon the methodology of the revived Khilāfah. They will not let its enemies enjoy rest until enemy blood is spilled in revenge for the religion and the Ummah.”
Jordanian and U.S. officials have never publicly attributed the attack to ISIS.
Fields, on behalf of her family and Creach’s, filed suit against Twitter in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California in January, charging that “without Twitter, the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most-feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible.”
Twitter attempted to get the lawsuit thrown out in an April 20 hearing, arguing that it “fails to allege facts that would establish that Twitter proximately caused Mr. Fields’ death” or “committed an ‘act of international terrorism.'”
“Lloyd Fields’ death at the hands of former Jordanian police captain Abu Zaid is tragic, and the attack that killed him and four others is appalling. The senseless violence of Abu Zaid’s shooting spree has been explained as an act of a ‘lone wolf’ terrorist inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But even accepting this explanation, there is no basis in law or fact for holding Twitter liable for that heinous crime. Not even the thinnest of reeds connects Twitter to this terrible event. Further, Twitter’s alleged conduct is immune from liability under federal law,” states Twitter motion to dismiss.
“The Complaint does not allege any direct connection between Twitter and either Abu Zaid or the attack on the police compound in Jordan that killed Mr. Fields. Nor does it allege that Twitter itself created any of the Tweets, messages, or other content that the Complaint strains to link, even indirectly, to that attack. Instead, the Complaint seeks to hold Twitter responsible on the ground that Twitter’s ubiquitously available online communications platform, which has hundreds of millions of users worldwide, allegedly was used by other terrorists (though not Abu Zaid) to transmit information promoting their views and activities.”
Twitter added that they’ve been “broadly immunized” by Congress against “lawsuits that seek to hold them liable for harmful or unlawful third-party content, including suits alleging that such entities failed to block, remove, or alter such content.”
This week, Fields’ attorneys filed a rebuttal in advance of a June 15 dismissal hearing, arguing “the role of Twitter in the rise of ISIS cannot be overstated.”
“Indeed, without Twitter, ISIS’s dramatic emergence over the last few years into one of the most feared terrorist groups in the world would not have been possible. Twitter was not an innocent bystander in all this,” the filing states, adding that the Anti-Terrorism Act “prohibits knowingly providing terrorist organizations with precisely these kinds of services” and “anyone who violates the ATA’s criminal material support statutes may be held liable under the ATA’s private right of action.”
Because the lawsuit also covers Twitter providing its direct messages to terrorist users, Fields’ lawyers argue that the social-media giant isn’t covered under protections that would apply to publicly posted tweets.
Under the ATA, the filing adds, “it is sufficient to allege that Defendant provided material support to ISIS and that ISIS is responsible for the deaths” of the Americans.
“Plaintiffs adequately allege that Twitter committed an act of international terrorism because they allege that Defendant violated the ATA’s material support statutes, which are per se acts of international terrorism.” Plus, “in knowingly permitting ISIS to sign up for accounts on its social network, Twitter provided ISIS with material support in violation of the ATA. This violation is not based on the publishing of offensive content.”
“Because the creation of a Twitter account necessarily occurs before the issuing of tweets from that account, and separately from the creation of published content, Defendant’s violations of the ATA cannot be accurately characterized as publishing activity, but rather the provision of the means through which ISIS spreads its poison.”
Thus, the court document states, Twitter would be in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act “even if ISIS had never issued a single tweet.”
Twitter said in February that it shut down 125,000 ISIS-linked accounts; however, suspended accounts quickly pop back up with slightly different usernames. ISIS accounts not suspended at the time quickly share the word about new usernames of established users.
Accounts linked to other terror groups such as al-Qaeda tend to live on Twitter even longer than ISIS accounts. An official Twitter account for al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, which has posted full assassination claims of bloggers and activists as well as guidelines of which targets Islamists should kill next, has existed on the site unimpeded for nearly a year.
“Twitter is liable under the ATA only because it knew that it was providing material support to ISIS, but did so anyway,” Fields’ attorneys argue. “…As the Supreme Court has noted, non-financial forms of material support to terrorists are just as fungible.”