Terror Tweets

A person claiming to be an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist uses Twitter, YouTube

Omar Hammami / YouTube
December 21, 2012

Twitter and YouTube accounts claiming to be operated by a suspected al Qaeda terrorist who is listed on the FBI's most wanted list have been disseminating jihadi propaganda, according to terrorism experts.

A user claiming to be Omar Hammami, an American citizen who joined forces with the al Qaeda-aligned al-Shabaab terror group in 2006, has been tweeting about "martyrdom" and U.S.-led operations against terror cells in Africa via his Twitter account, "abu m."

The 102 users who follow the virtual Hammami, who is also known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, have access to an ongoing stream of unfiltered radical thoughts and possible tips about clandestine U.S. operations taking place in Somalia, where al-Shabaab is based.

Users are also directed to view a YouTube page, which features videos about jihad starring Hammami sitting before al-Shabaab’s black war flag and an automatic weapon.

Hammami’s purported social media presence has raised red flags among terrorism experts who cite both YouTube and Twitter for promoting such radical figures.

"It’s pretty outrageous that someone on the FBI’s most wanted list can communicate on a Twitter page and a YouTube account and no one has removed it," said Steven Salinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser told the Washington Free Beacon that the organization does not "comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons."

He also cautioned "against reporting an account's ownership with such certainty unless you've independently verified it with the supposed owner themselves or they have a Verified account," meaning that Twitter has confirmed the user’s identity.

Critics of the social media sites said that even if the account in not operated by Hammami, the sites should proactively take steps to remove users who post terror-related material.

"If you look at the words, it’s singular voice of ‘I’ when referring to questions and he has a long history of being on these jihadi forums," Salinsky said. "He definitely communicates and even if it’s not him, it’s pretending to be a terrorist. So are they afraid to remove the page of someone who says they’re a terrorist, who a few months ago was put on the FBI most wanted list?

"It says a lot about a company when they will close a user account for violating some vague notion of political correctness or criticizing the excesses of militant Islamism, but will open their floodgates to calls for genocide and incitement to mass murder," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser who has written extensively on terrorists.

The Twitter user claiming to be Hammami routinely engages with a wide variety of Twitter users who reach out to him for insights or advice about al-Shabaab and its terrorist activities. He was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list in mid-November.

Al-Shabaab also has an official and highly active Twitter account.

As of Friday afternoon Hammami’s supposed account was still active, with his last tweet being sent out on Monday.

MEMRI has reported extensively on Hammami’s sophisticated social media use.

Twitter has long treaded a fine line between free speech and the promotion of terror-related activities.

Critics have accused the social media site of enabling terrorist entities such as Hamas and Hezbollah by providing them a prominent and unfiltered virtual perch from which to disseminate their propaganda and recruit new troops.

Since its creation Twitter has become a fertile grounds for terror-related communications, said Salinsky.

"One thing about Twitter, when we started telling people these jihadi groups were there, it was a problem. But it has proliferated," he said. "Every day there are new jihadi sheiks and groups opening Twitter accounts. A year ago this wasn’t the case. It’s such a tool for online jihad. They’ve really taken to it."

Twitter has specific rules governing spam and abuse, but does not specifically refer to terror-related activities. However, users can report an account if they feel it may be violating the site’s terms of use.

YouTube has grappled with similar issues as terror groups increasingly bring their messages to the online world, where the provenance of a communication is more difficult to track.

The account claiming to be Hammami, for instance, has posted at least seven videos since opening under the pseudonym "Somali muhajir warrior" in March.

While recent reports indicate that Hammami and al-Shabaab are on the outs due to certain disagreements, Hammami remains an important propagandist given his American background.

YouTube has adopted a user-regulated policy against terrorism.

Any viewer can flag a video that he or she believes promotes terrorism. YouTube then reviews the clip and makes a final determination.

MEMRI told the Free Beacon that it has repeatedly flagged Hammami’s videos, yet they remain active.

A YouTube spokesperson did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment about Hammami’s account.

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have complained that social media sites have not gone far enough in the fight to silence radical extremists.

Other experts told the Free Beacon that Twitter and YouTube continue to bolster terrorists despite their policies.

"Reports have been floating around for years about Jihadists using U.S. servers and recruiting via YouTube and Facebook, or communicating via Twitter," Rubin said. "Jihadists crave an audience. Terrorism loses its effectiveness when terrorists are cut off from the wider audience."