Jihadists' Twitter presence becomes more sophisticated

Ayman al-Zawahiri An unofficial Twitter account has been created in the name of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

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Jihadists and their sympathisers' presence on Twitter is limited, rather sophisticated and increasing.

That's what I found after spending more than a month-and-a-half following their tweets.

The micro-blogging website Twitter, which attracts more than 100m users, allows people to create a list of Twitter users they follow.

You can observe a stream of tweets for people in that list.

I created a list for more than 35 accounts which explicitly affiliate themselves with jihadist movements.

Some of these Twitter accounts have thousands of followers.

By the end of May, Shabakat Ansar al-Mujahideen (Partisans of Mujahideens' Network) had announced its presence on Twitter.

The web forum is a famous site that disseminates jihadist propaganda and serves as a means of communication for jihadist sympathisers,

Also the al-Midad Network of Yemen-based Ansar al-Sharia joined Twitter recently.

But these were not the only official incidences of jihadists on Twitter; the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Shabab in Somalia also have a strong presence on the site.

The Lion of Jihad

Other al-Qaeda-affiliated media outlets such as The Jihad Media Elite, which specialises in reproducing selected materials of jihadists, also has an account on Twitter.

These official accounts mainly use the site to promote links to jihadist material and update followers as soon as the content is broadcast on the jihadist forums.

Another Twitter account is dedicated to promoting jihadist poetry and hymns.

Some "tweeple" - a jargon term used to describe people who use Twitter - have created accounts for well-known jihadist figures including the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the late American-Yemeni cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, and others.

Despite using them to tweet their writing, speeches and messages, they have stated clearly that these are non-official accounts.

Recently, jihadist sympathisers welcomed Assad al-Jihad 2's arrival on Twitter.

Twitter logo The use of Twitter to spread ideology is growing among Jihad sympathisers

Assad al-Jihad 2 (the Lion of Jihad 2) is a pseudonym of a regular contributor on jihadist web forums.

His articles, which are highly regarded by their users, show that he is an authority who speaks on behalf of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.

His tweets are attracting followers.

The other type of jihadist presence on Twitter is represented by jihad sympathisers who do not represent official affiliation but they explicitly support the jihadist movements.

They use Twitter, in addition to promoting what officials produce, to encourage jihad, advocate causes and also to defend their ideology.

Saad al-Khathlan, a Saudi cleric and professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University, tweeted on 3 June criticising al-Qaeda.

He wrote that al-Qaeda does not represent "right Islamic jihad", arguing that they have not shot even a bullet at "Zionists in Israel," nor on "the Nusayri regime in Syria", another name for the Alawite sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

These tweets brought Khathlan a huge amount of criticism from jihadist sympathisers.

Assad al-Jihad 2 asked him for public debate on the internet, while jihad sympathisers on Twitter hashtagged him.

To hashtag is to use the # symbol to mark a keyword or a topic which allow it to appear in a single stream of related tweets, and make it easier to find in a search.

Jihad sympathisers defended al-Qaeda, accusing Khathlan of being a mouthpiece of the Saudi regime, and insisting that al-Qaeda and its affiliates have attacked Israel and have a presence in Syria.

Campaign tool

Syria is one of the topics dominating jihad sympathisers' Twitter activities.

They are encouraging donations for the uprising against the Assad regime, and are using Twitter to promoting their channels for such donations after Saudi Arabia banned fundraising for Syria in June.

Jihadist sympathisers are also campaigning via the site to release clerics - including jihadist supporters - from Saudi prisons.

Their Twitter timelines are full of stories about prisoners' biographies, their families' activities to support them and allegations that they have been tortured by Saudi authorities.

I tried to check what Twitter is doing to monitor such tweets and what its policy is regarding this.

My emails have not yet been answered - email is the only method to reach Twitter, as even if one calls, an automated message asks you to send an email.

The nature of Twitter, which is a wide open public forum, means that the presence of jihadists on the site is expected to increase.

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