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Twitter blocks multiple accounts of Somali al Qaeda group during Kenya attack

• September 23, 2013 3:43 pm


The social media giant Twitter is fighting to prevent the al Qaeda terrorist group al Shabaab from using its service to spread propaganda and has blocked six accounts linked to the group, including at least three created in the past two days, according to U.S. officials.

A day after the group’s official Twitter account was blocked, U.S. officials said al Shabaab created two other accounts that were subsequently blocked.

By Tuesday morning, Al Shabaab re-emerged with yet another account, @HSM_PR that stated in a propaganda post at 10:12 EDT, that the attack in Nairobi is a "new dawn."

Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing individual accounts.

Twitter's terms of service prohibit threatening language and behavior. "You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others," the terms state.

Al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s Horn of Africa affiliate, launched a deadly attack Saturday at a Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall that killed at least 68 people, and wounded more than 200.

According to officials who monitor terrorist groups on the Internet, the group’s new account set up Monday gathered more than 1,300 followers, including media and government agencies, before it too was shut down.

Analysts say the use of social media like Twitter and Facebook by terrorist groups is increasing, as Islamists seek to exploit social media for propaganda and recruitment.

The official account of the group, @HSM_PressOffice, was stopped Sunday and its follow-on account, @HSMPROffice, sent messages about the ongoing terror attack for a short period Monday.

The group revealed that its attack on the Westgate Mall was proceeding. "As the operation gathers momentum inside #Westgate, the Mujahideen [holy warriors] are for the 3rd day still in full control of the situation on the ground."

Subsequent Tweets stated that the group’s press office had made contact with the terrorists inside and they claimed the plan was proceeding "with a surprising degree of accuracy."

"The #Westgate Warriors informed HSM Press that they’ve successfully repelled a joint Kenyan-Jewish offensive and eliminated 13 Kenyan forces," a third Tweet stated, referring to Israeli security assistance to the Kenyan forces battling the terrorists at the mall.

Al Shabaab’s Twitter account continued, stating that the terrorists had large stocks of ammunition.

The group also threatened to conduct wider attacks.

As of Monday night, security forces had been unable to end the siege.

News reports from Nairobi said it was not clear that government forces had ended the standoff with al Shabaab.

"Taken control of all the floors. We're not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them," Kenyan police Inspector General David Kimaiyo said on Twitter, CNN reported.

A second unverified account, @HSM_Press2 that claimed to have links to al Shabaab, was also blocked. That account falsely disseminated the names of people it said were behind the attack.

The official al Shabaab account was knocked offline after it issued a claim of responsibility for the Westgate attacks.

Two earlier accounts associated with the group @HSMPress and @HSMPress1 were blocked on Jan. 25 and Sept. 5 respectively.

In one post, the group urged journalists to contact the HSM press office for verification of information related to the attack.

It also issued its demands that the Kenyan military "must get out of Somalia."

Kenyan military and security forces have been conducting operations against the al Qaeda group, with U.S. assistance, for several years. The low-key operations have received little news media attention.

U.S. special operations forces are also said by U.S. officials to be operating in and around Somalia and its capital Mogadishu, as part of the operations.

In addition to the English-language Twitter accounts, al Shabaab has set up an Arabic account that was created Sept. 22. Twitter also suspended that account, @HSM_PRESOFFICE2.

The Arabic account identified itself as the official account of the al Shabaab Mujahidin movement. One of its tweets on Monday claimed that Ahmad Abdi Godane, the leader of the Somali Islamists, had ordered the terrorists to kill all the hostages within the next 24 hours.

It also stated that the hostages had been outfitted with bombs.

Al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab told Al Jazeera Online on Monday that the group carried out the attack on the mall because of its international and official shoppers.

"The place we attacked is Westgate shopping mall," Abu Muscab said. "It is a place where tourists from across the world come to shop, where diplomats gather. It is a place where Kenya's decision-makers go to relax and enjoy themselves. Westgate is a place where there are Jewish and American shops. So we have to attack them."

According to CNN, the Interior Ministry said Monday that three terrorists were killed since Saturday, and 11 Kenyan soldiers were wounded.

More than 200 civilians were rescued.