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A group of lawmakers has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to order Twitter to remove from the micro-blogging site the accounts of multiple U.S.-designated terrorist groups—and has warned that Twitter’s failure to do so could be a violation of U.S. law.
Twitter hosts scores of Muslim clerics and organizations, including al Qaeda, designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as “terrorists.” The groups use the micro-blogging site to recruit extremists and distribute radical materials, according to the lawmakers, who petitioned FBI Director Robert Mueller to crack down on these illegal virtual activities.
By providing material support to these organizations in the form of a communications platform, Twitter is illegally allowing a once-disjointed community of anti-American religious extremists to coordinate, recruit, and hone their terrorist activities online, potentially posing a risk to the U.S. and its interests abroad, the lawmakers and other experts maintained.
“Twitter maintains that it will take down any account requested by the FBI,” seven Republican members of Congress wrote to the FBI last month. “As of this writing, the FBI has not made a single request to Twitter to take an account down.”
These various extremist accounts have thousands of loyal followers across the globe.
“U.S. designated terrorists continue to use an American company to spread its propaganda to the world, encouraging violence and garnering new recruits to continue the cycle of violence that kills innocent civilians around the world,” states the congressional letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Ted Poe (R., Texas), a member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
Most puzzling to some observers is Twitter’s apparent apathy about the matter.
Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has not shut down a single “jihadi or terrorist organization’s account,” according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which tracks, translates, and codifies terrorist groups’ online presence.
“Not one account has been shut down, unlike on YouTube and Facebook,” Poe told the Free Beacon.
“Twitter is not going to take it upon themselves to shut them down,” which is why the FBI needs to take action, Poe said.
MEMRI also has failed to convince Twitter to remove accounts operated by multiple terror groups including al Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban, and others.
“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 group claimed in a September report on the matter.
Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser directed a Free Beacon reporter to the organization’s rules relating to “abusive behavior,” but would not answer a series of questions about radical groups and the various attempts to shut them down.
“There is not one publicly known case of a jihadi or terrorist organization’s account being shut down,” the MEMRI report states.
FBI Special Agent Jason Pack told the Free Beacon, “The FBI received the Congressman’s letter and will respond to it appropriately.”
Terrorist activity on Twitter has grown unimpeded, MEMRI reports.
“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.,” the report states.
In addition to notorious terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and Hamas, a slew of lesser known radical clerics and terror groups regularly promote extremism 140 characters at a time.
They include: al-Shabab, a Somali offshoot of al Qaeda; the Hamas-backed al-Qassam Brigades; Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, and other organizations affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, to name just a few.
Al-Shabab has roughly 14,000 followers, while Hamas and Hezbollah’s Al-Manar each boast more than 19,000 online devotees.
The U.S. government has designated many of these groups as terrorist entities, leading MEMRI to allege that Twitter is violating the law by allowing the accounts to exist.
It is illegal, for instance, “to provide a designated [Foreign Terrorist Organization] with ‘material support or resources,’ including ‘any property, tangible or intangible, or services,’ among them ‘communication equipment and facilities’,” MEMRI noted in a June report.
Despite these regulations, “there has been little evidence—at least in the public arena—to suggest that the U.S. government will force Twitter to follow U.S. law by closing accounts belonging to U.S.-designated terrorist groups,” MEMRI reported.
These groups and individuals use Twitter to give “religious justification for jihad and terrorist attacks”, to promote “al Qaeda media releases,” and for “training purposes for attacks against American forces,” according to MEMRI’s September report.
There is also evidence that terror-affiliated users have promoted “new terrorist and jihadi groups” that might not otherwise have received exposure to a wider audience.
Muhammad Al-Zawahiri, the brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, opened a Twitter account in August and has proceeded to justify violent jihad, according to MEMRI.
Walid Muhammad, a disciple of Osama bin Laden who served time in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, has also embraced Twitter, where he can be seen criticizing Jews and praising al Qaeda.
Twitter was used to stoke the tensions of the Muslim rioters who attacked the U.S. Consulate in Egypt on the eleventh anniversary of September 11, 2001.
Some reports have indicated that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Twitter account tweeted disparate messages during the embassy siege, intermittently apologizing for the violence in English and then encouraging the protestors in Arabic.
Poe speculated that one reason the Obama administration has not pursued the issue is because terrorists’ Twitter pages are a rich vein for the intelligence community to mine.
Poe, however, said that this is not a good enough reason to give these radical actors free rein on the Internet.
“If that’s [the administration’s] only way of knowing” what terrorists are up to, “we’ve got some serious problems with our intelligence service,” Poe said.
Twitter’s Washington D.C. lobbying team is comprised of several Obama administration confidants and former Democratic Hill staffers.
Adam Sharp, the site’s top government liaison, formerly served as deputy chief of staff for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.).
Its global public policy official, Colin Crowell, was a senior aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), while Twitter’s head of international strategy, Katie Jacobs Stanton, once worked with the Obama administration on new media strategies.
Since 2011, several individuals who list their employer as Twitter have donated primarily to Democrats, including the Obama campaign and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
Congress could hold hearings on the matter if the FBI fails to act, Poe told the Free Beacon.
“I’ll press the issue in the Judiciary Committee,” he said. “That would be the next step.”