Al Qaeda is experiencing a resurgence on Twitter, as feeds associated with the terrorist group are reaching up to 200,000 extremist followers, according to a new report, which criticizes the social networking service for failing to crack down on radical terror groups.
As Twitter works to crack down on accounts affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, it is failing to do the same with al Qaeda-associated accounts, which are routinely “tweeting jihad and martyrdom” to a growing audience of radical followers, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which has been tracking the issue for some time.
With terrorist groups becoming increasingly sophisticated on the Internet, Twitter and other social networking services have become key tools for the dissemination of radical propaganda and recruitment.
Though al Qaeda’s ongoing operations have taken a backseat to the exploits of IS, the group founded by Osama bin Laden is thriving on Twitter, according to MEMRI.
“It should be noted that as Twitter's removal of accounts on its platform linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) has gotten a lot of attention, accounts belonging to many other Designated Terrorist Organizations, notably to Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN), Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria that was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department in December 2012, have not received any attention, and its many accounts, which have a total of over 200,000 followers, are thriving,” MEMRI wrote in a recent report.
“This is another reminder of Twitter's failure to effectively address this issue and its lack of a true strategy for doing so,” the group concluded.
With the attention focused on IS, al Qaeda’s affiliates are freely operating online and continuing to recruit new followers.
“Despite the fact that when people focus on terrorist use of Twitter it is ISIS that comes to mind, many other jihadi groups are using it,” according to MEMRI.
The al Qaeda groups have used Twitter to post graphic footage of public floggings and executions it has performed in lawless areas of Syria under the terrorist group’s control.
MEMRI also found that these accounts have published internal JN documents about its terrorist activity, as well as “military advancements and updates, including official communications documents; and its outreach to children.”
Earlier this month, for instance, JN leader Sheikh Mostafa Mohamed held a two-day question-and-answer session with radical Twitter users in English.
“In his Q&A, [Mohamed] praises JN and its affiliation with Al-Qaeda, stating that they are genuinely Salafi-jihadi organizations, unlike ISIS, and denies that JN aims to end ties with Al-Qaeda,” according to an excerpt of the Twitter conversation published by MEMRI.
Mohamed discussed with users plans by JN and al Qaeda to assume power in Syria following the ouster by rebels of President Bashar al-Assad.
The terrorist leader also “encourages and advises jihadis in Australia” during the session.
Indoctrination is also a key goal for these groups, as Twitter allows them to reach a broad audience both in the Middle East and across the globe.
“The Twitter accounts include many photos of the group's efforts to indoctrinate the next generation of JN—distributing sweets to children, conducting games and lessons for them and presenting them with achievement awards, providing them with military and religious training for jihad and martyrdom, and more,” according to MEMRI. “The accounts also tweet images of battles and combat situations and their aftermath, including of dead bodies, destroyed buildings, and captured prisoners.”
Twitter has come under counting pressure from advocacy groups and federal lawmakers to crack down on a flurry of jihadist Twitter accounts, which routinely use the service for fundraising and recruiting.