Thursday, March 22, 2012

Al-Shabaab takes media war to Twitter

By Mahmoud Mohamed in Mogadishu

March 20, 2012

Al-Shabaab, which officially merged with al-Qaeda in February, has been active on Twitter since December, a move security analysts say is an attempt to attract youths outside Somalia, spread propaganda and raise funds.
Al-Shabaab originally used websites to spread information, then branched out to local radio stations, such as al-Andalus, through which it spreads news of its activities and audio messages from its most prominent leaders. In 2010, it added the al-Kataib News Channel on television.
Analysts who follow al-Shabaab on Twitter say the terrorist organisation's activity is an attempt to counterattack and counterbalance Kenyan military spokesperson Major Emmanuel Chirchir, who regularly posts accounts of Operation Linda Nchi in Somalia. In concert, al-Shabaab's Twitter page content includes its own promotional accounts of field operations, often accompanied by pictures.
"Al-Shabaab's decision to enter the world of social media probably comes as an attempt to broaden the group's promotional activities and to use different media types and outlets," said Hassan Osman, a political analyst who follows al-Shabaab on Twitter.
"This is an attempt to disseminate its ideology and programmes to attract local followers and to spread its ideology and activities abroad," he said. "It is seen as a tight race among the various factions of the conflict in Somalia to win the minds of the public."
Osman says al-Shabaab is taking advantage of the prevalence of social media to spread its message to a broader audience. "With this move, al-Shabaab seeks to shed light on and to promote its propaganda activities so that it can win the propaganda war and control the minds of Somalis, especially youths who are avid users of social media websites," he told Sabahi.
"Al-Shabaab uses the Internet and social media websites, such as Twitter, for propaganda purposes as a means to recruit more fighters, raise money, and to promote its ideology and polish its public image," Osman added.

Al-Shabaab's use of English

Analysts and security officials told Sabahi that al-Shabaab's use of English indicates that the target audience is not Somalis, but youth outside the country.
"One cannot underestimate the intentions of al-Shabaab's use of electronic websites," said retired Somali National Army Colonel Ibrahim Ahmed.
Al-Shabaab has "started using websites to disseminate its propaganda and to circulate statements written in English, even though a few months ago, they banned teaching English in schools on the pretext that it is the language of infidels and spies," he told Sabahi. "Al-Shabaab's joining of Twitter means that terrorists feel the need to use this website to recruit more fighters and to convey their activities outside their region."
Abdullahi Yabarow, a social activist, says al-Shabaab's use of Twitter, which does not have a large Somali following, indicates that the group wants to communicate with a greater number of social media users, regardless of location.
"I think the Islamist al-Shabaab group's move to use social media websites is designed to reach a non-Somali audience, especially after the group realised the role played by these websites in the Arab revolutions as a simple means to reach a larger audience," he told Sabahi.
Ali Abdi, a psychology professor at a university in Mogadishu, says the use of social media websites by parties such as al-Shabaab has emerged as one of the most dangerous forms of deception.
"They have resorted to distorted information, falsifying facts and reporting events contrary to what is actually happening on the ground to defeat the other party psychologically," he told Sabahi.
On Monday, al-Shabaab turned to Twitter to counter claims by one of its own members.
Omar Hamami, better known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, posted a video on several Somali websites and YouTube on Saturday, saying that his life was in danger from his fellow militants.
Following the video release, al-Shabaab expressed "surprise" and denied that Hamami's life was in jeopardy.

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