Jihadist groups are increasingly turning to American social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to disseminate videos and statements, communicate with their followers, and recruit new members, rather than using private online forums, according to a new report released Tuesday.
Groups in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen have turned to social media sites as the online forums they have traditionally relied on experience continual and lengthy disruptions, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports.
"Both Twitter and Facebook are full of unofficial accounts bearing the names of jihadi media foundations. However, even though they are unofficial, they can still be linked to one or more groups. In fact, some accounts clearly state that they are unofficial, in order to avoid suspension by the social media as officially linked to designated terrorist organizations," the report states.
For example, @Almalahem_media is an unofficial Twitter account for al-Malahem, the media arm of the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Intercepted communications between top al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and AQAP head Nasir al-Wuhayshi recently revealed potential terrorist plots that spurred the United States to close several embassies in the Middle East and Africa.
The al-Malahem account features videos of people burning U.S. flags, messages critical of U.S. drone strikes, links to jihadist leaders advocating terrorism, and tweets promoting the English-language AQAP magazine Inspire.
The Washington Free Beacon previously reported that jihadist groups have shifted communications, fundraising, and training materials to the publicly-funded Tor Network in the wake of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about the agency’s online surveillance programs.
Tor, which receives about 80 percent of its funding from federal agencies, encrypts data linked to its users and was originally designed as a secure network for whistleblowers and dissidents of repressive regimes.
"Terrorists use email, cell phones, web browsers, web forums, Twitter, instant messaging, Skype, Facebook, and all the same technologies you use daily," Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project, told the Free Beacon. "The moral compass of good or evil is in the human using the technology, not the technology itself."
Organizations such as the al-Bayan Media Foundation — the media wing of the Egyptian branch of the jihadist group Ansar Al-Sharia — maintain Facebook accounts to store previously published content. However, most opt for Twitter as a means of communication and interaction because of that site’s more lenient suspension policy, the report suggests.
While Facebook suspended the official account of Syria-based Jabhat al-Nusra last year, Twitter accounts for al-Nusra and Somalia-based al-Shabaab remain active despite initial suspensions. The al-Nusra Front is the main al Qaeda-linked rebel group in the Syrian civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and become a breeding ground for as many as 6,000 foreign terrorists.
Al-Shabaab’s account was suspended in January after the group tweeted a link to a video of two Kenyan hostages and threatened to kill them unless the Kenyan government released all Muslim prisoners in its jails. Twitter declined at the time to comment on the account’s suspension or its reinstatement weeks later.
The account @HSMPRESS1, linked with al-Shabaab, features a number of tweets extolling jihadist activities.
"True to the covenant, some have sacrificed their blood for the sake of Allah & attained Martyrdom while others are still on the battlefield," one tweet from Tuesday reads.
"SH: I advice [sic] you to continue your Jihad and continue to terrorise the enemies of Allah so as to safeguard the honour of Islam & the Muslims," another tweet from July 30 reads.
Despite Twitter’s rule that, "You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others," dozens of accounts maintained by media foundations affiliated with terrorist groups continue to post content daily.
Twitter did not respond to multiple requests for comment.