As Twitter Removes Some ISIS Accounts, Al-Qaeda’s Branch In Syria Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN) Thrives, Tweeting Jihad And Martyrdom To Over 200,000 Followers

By: Steven Stalinsky and Ruhama Sosnow*

May 22, 2015

The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.


Introduction

Over the past four years, beginning in 2011, MEMRI has published more than a dozen research reports on how jihadi organizations, from Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State (ISIS) and more, are using Twitter on a daily basis to promote their agendas, spread their messages, call for attacks against American and Western interests, recruit new members and build their audience of sympathizers, raise funds, and other purposes.


Congressional Leaders Send Letter To Twitter CEO Demanding Action On FTOs And Their Supporters Using The Service

There has been increasing pressure on Twitter to finally take action to prevent jihadi individuals and organizations from using its platform. Most recently, a March 6, 2015 Congressional letter to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, signed by Rep. Ted Poe, Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman; Rep. Brad Sherman, Ranking Member, Asia Subcommittee; Rep. Ed Royce, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman; and Rep. Eliot Engel, Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed concern over “designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) and their supporters actively us[ing] Twitter to disseminate propaganda, drive fundraising, and recruit new members.” It went on to “urge Twitter to treat all terrorist activity in the same way it treats other objectionable content” and to offer users “the option to report terrorist content in a streamlined manner, allowing Twitter to quickly block content and accounts that support terrorism, and Twitter should have a dedicated team to review such reports in a timely fashion.” It also pointed out, “As you know, there is precedent in the social media industry for such a response.”

Twitter CEO Snubs Congress; Twitter General Counsel Replies With Promises To Work Against “Threats Of Violence”

Twitter CEO Costolo did not respond to the Congressional letter. Instead, on April 16, 2015, Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde wrote in The Washington Post in response to the Members of Congress letter that the company was “expanding our definition of ‘abuse’ to ban indirect threats of violence,” adding, “While we have made significant progress, there is more we can do, and our commitment to ensuring safety for our users will continue to be a priority.” On April 21, the company wrote on its blog, “We are updating our violent threats policy so that the prohibition is not limited to ‘direct, specific threats of violence against others’ but now extends to ‘threats of violence against others or promot[ing] violence against others.'” On April 23, it was reported that in response to this letter, Twitter had introduced a feature allowing users to report accounts promoting terrorism and had added new language to its stance on abusive behavior, banning statements “threatening or promoting terrorism.” The report cited a Twitter spokesman as saying: “Unlawful use, violent threats and targeted abuse have always been violations of our rules, and we recently added language to our Abusive Behavior Policy to remind users of that… We will continue to review user reports and remove violent, abusive content that violates our rules.” The previous week, according to the report, Twitter had deleted a phrase from its policy banning “direct, specific” threats.

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Left: One example of a tweet from a JN account. Tweet:”#Jabhat_Al_Nusra, eight hours separate between releasing sister Jumana Humaid or carrying out the death sentence against the prisoner ‘Ali Al-Bazzal.” Image caption: “It is stupid for the Lebanese government to push the children of its sects into a lost war, [for] then, they will be [the ones] paying the price for the Iranian Hizb Al-Lat [derogatory for Hizbullah] entering Syria.” Right: JN logo. 


With Focus On Islamic State (ISIS), JN Is Left To Continue Tweeting Jihad, Child Recruitment Efforts, Religious Justification For Jihad, Martyrdom, And More

It should be noted that as Twitter’s removal of accounts on its platform linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) has gotten a lot of attention, accounts belonging to many other Designated Terrorist Organizations, notably to Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN), Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria that was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department in December 2012, have not received any attention, and its many accounts, which have a total of over 200,000 followers, are thriving. This is another reminder of Twitter’s failure to effectively address this issue and its lack of a true strategy for doing so.

More specifically, official Twitter accounts belonging to JN, under a distinctive blue circle logo, operate much like ISIS online. These accounts, in addition to pro-JN accounts and other accounts belonging to JN supporters, tweet content very much like that of ISIS and pro-ISIS accounts, but it is ISIS that receives the majority of the attention; despite the fact that when people focus on terrorist use of Twitter it is ISIS that comes to mind, many other jihadi groups are using it.

Highlighting how JN leaders are using Twitter for outreach and promotion was a May 8-10, 2015 question and answer session in English by Egyptian-Australian JN sheikh Mostafa Mohamed, better known as Abu Sulayman Al-Muhajir, who is a prominent spokesman and religious authority within JN and one of its main official voices. In his Q&A, he praises JN and its affiliation with Al-Qaeda, stating that they are genuinely Salafi-jihadi organizations, unlike ISIS, and denies that JN aims to end ties with Al-Qaeda; he discusses JN’s views on women immigrating to Syria to join JN; he states that ISIS is “certainly committing a whole lot of crimes in the name of Islam”; he discusses JN’s alliances with other groups; he shares religious advice and his own personal insights; he sets out JN’s plans for the period that will follow the removal of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad; and he encourages and advises jihadis in Australia.


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Abu Sulayman’s May 8 Twitter announcement of Q&A session and a reader’s question.

On its Twitter accounts, of which it is known to have at least 10 representing the districts under its control in Syria, JN documents its activity, inter alia, by disseminating images and videos of: floggings and public executions; jihad against Syria’s Shi’ites and Druze and their places of worship; military advancements and updates, including official communications documents; and its outreach to children.

The Twitter accounts include many photos of the group’s efforts to indoctrinate the next generation of JN – distributing sweets to children, conducting games and lessons for them and presenting them with achievement awards, providing them with military and religious training for jihad and martyrdom, and more. The accounts also tweet images of battles and combat situations and their aftermath, including of dead bodies, destroyed buildings, and captured prisoners.

Emphasis is placed on reliance on religious texts to justify the group’s actions, attaching quotes from these sources to images from local battles, tweeting excerpts from hadiths and more, such as “Allah said kill the polytheists where you find them…” and “Going through the day with the cause of Allah is better than the world and what is in it”; Some tweets show photos of jihadis just before they set out on suicide attacks, and of immigrant jihadis with rewards and enticements they have received. The accounts also issue threats, in Arabic and English.


JN’s Main Twitter Accounts

The JN Twitter accounts include:  

·  Dara’a (@JnDar3a_2) created February 13, 2014, with over 33,000 followers

·  Deir Al-Zor (@Deirzoor_Jn), created March 22, 2014, with over 13,500 followers

·  Damascus (@JN_Dimashq), created July 7, 2014, with over 27,200 followers

·  Homs (@JnHoms), created October 7, 2014, with over 20,000 followers

·  Al-Manara Al-Baida (@S_H_MM), created November 4, 2014, with over 41,800 followers

·  Aleppo (@JnHalab), created November 17, 2014, with over 25,300 followers

·  @qalamoon7, created January 13, 2015, with nearly 8,500 followers

·  Idlib (@JnEdlib_2), created February 27, 2015, with over 4,000 followers

·  Latakia (@JN_Latakia3), created March 11, 2015, with nearly 4,500 followers

·  Hama (@JnHama), created March 3, 2015, with over 4,500 followers.

·  Qalamoon (@qalamoon11), created March 17, 2015, with nearly 4,500 followers.

JN Twitter accounts.

Following are examples of tweets from the JN accounts:


Dara’a (@JnDar3a_2)

As of March 23, 2015, this account, created February 13, 2014, has 33,000 followers and has posted 496 tweets.

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Left: @JnDar3a_2 (6 November, 2014): “#JN | deputy general military [commander] for the South Abu Al-Mugheera Al-Ansari, may Allah accept him; he was martyred in clashes in the city of The Sheikh Meskeen #Dar3a.”Right: @JnDar3a_2 (9 July 2014): “#JN | Among the martyrs from the battle to liberate the Saraya Rasm Al-Halabi in the countryside of #Al-Quneitra (Jihad Salameh Al-Dumaini – Abu Al-Harith Al-Muhajir).

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