Jihad on Twitter: Transnational Jihadi-Takfiri Media Outlet Sets-up Twitter Account

UPDATED (April 28 @ 4:51 P.M.)

-Christopher Anzalone (McGill University)

Jihadi Media Elite (Nukhba al-‘Ilam al-Jihadi; JME), a shadowy transnational jihadi-takfiri media outlet, has started a web site and a Twitter account, which they have recently begun to advertise in threads of its materials posted to militant Internet discussion forums.  The JME specializes in producing Arabic transcripts of media releases from Al-Qa’ida Central (AQC), Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and other affiliated and allied organizations.  It also occasionally publishes its own material.  The JME joins the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban) in setting up a Twitter account as well as a number of other independent “fans” and supporters of the jihadi-takfiri trend.

The JME’s Twitter account, “Al_nukhba,” was initiated on March 31 with the following message:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم … وبه نستعين … وعلى بركة الله نبدأ المسير

(Approximately: “In the name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful:  May He guide us to the correct path and with God’s blessing we begin…”)

As of this writing, the account has 17 Tweets, all of them either links to JME-produced translations and transcripts or original material together with a few short messages.  Material that is linked-to includes a translation of an article about a “mujahid’s widow” in the inaugural issue of Al-Shamikha (The Majestic Woman) Internet magazine, an interview with a member of the Islamic State of Iraq’s shura council, a transcript of a recent religious lecture by AQC preacher Khalid bin ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Husaynan, and advertising the JME’s new web site, http://www.nsheed.info/.  The last two Tweets, both on April 22, advertise an affiliated JME web site, http://www.sunh.info/.  It currently has eleven  followers (one appears to be a spam account).  As of April 28, when this post was updated, the account is now private and viewing its feed requires approval of a request.

One of the messages Tweeted urges readers that, “together we can build our [Muslim] nation’s glory, cut the constraints, break the silence, and achieve glory!”

معًا نبني مجد أمتنا…الهمة مهمة…لا تقف متفرجًا…اقطع صمتًا…اكسر قيدًا…كن قويًّا…واصنع مجدًا

The main JME web site, http://www.nsheed.info, remains at the time of this writing fairly bare bones but includes flashy graphic artwork from JME publications and a large version of the media outlet’s logo (see below).

The Afghan Taliban’s Twitter account, alemarahweb, has at the time of this writing 672 Tweets and shows that the movement has been quite active on a variety of new media platforms.  Its web sites and new media capabilities are extensive and it makes excellent use of them for propaganda and militant da’wa purposes.

The Ribat Media Center, a seemingly independent Urdu-language jihadi-takfiri media outlet also maintains a Twitter (and Facebook) account, ribatmedia2, as well as a web site.  It produces translations into Urdu of jihadi-takfiri texts from other languages and archives major Urdu-language jihadi-takfiri publications such as the Internet magazines Hittin, Nawa-i Afghan Jihad, and Al-Furqaan.  It also archives English-language publications such as Inspire and Jihad Recollections.  The center’s Twitter account currently lists an old, now-defunct URL for its web site.

Twitter has been credited (with a good deal of exaggeration) of being the “driving force” behind the popular uprisings in the Arab world and Iran since 2009.  The new media platform is now used by commercial companies, major corporations, politicians, celebrities, journalists, mainstream and fringe media outlets, and millions of private individuals to exchange news, spread views, and engage in a variety of virtual interactions.  The jihadi-takfiri trend has now also begun to make use of the communicative benefits that Twitter offers.  While these current accounts will likely be shut down, the trend’s media outlets and groups will surely keep trying to tap into the new opportunities that Twitter offers them for keeping in touch with their core audience as well as potential new followers.  This trend, while it should not be exaggerated, is worrying to say the least.

FURTHER READING

Scholar Nico Prucha, an expert in the transnational jihadi-takfiri trend, has written an excellent two-part post on jihadi use of Blue Tooth at the academic Jihadica blog.

Review of Manuel R. Torres Soriano’s “The Road to Media Jihad- The Propaganda Actions of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”

The most recent issue of Terrorism and Political Violence was released in January. As usual, it had an excellent collection of articles. In particular interest to me was the one written by Manuel R. Torres Soriano “The Road to Media Jihad- The Propaganda Actions of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss it briefly since it somewhat dovetails with the spirit of this website.

Soriano provides a descriptive analysis of Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) media strategy from 1998-2009. This article fills an important lacuna in the literature since many in the Anglosphere have not focused much on GSPC and AQIM. As such, it provides a solid foundation for future researchers to build off of it. One can divide GSPC/AQIM’s media output into three phases: (1) under the leadership of Hassan Hattab and Nabil Sahraoui following the break from Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), 1998-2004; (2) under the leadership of Abdelmalek Droukdal prior to the merger with al-Qaeda, 2004-2007; and (3) post-merger with al-Qaeda 2007-2009.

Soriano adroitly points out that following the GSPC split from the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), unlike the GIA who were producing a lot of materials through its networks in Europe, the GSPC did not sustain these efforts. This was because Hattab was more interested in consolidating leadership and acknowledging the break with the GIA due to its very toxic actions in the latter half of the Algerian civil war. Therefore, the media component of the organization was not important to him. The GSPC’s first media output was in 1999 when they released a poor quality VHS tape that showed an ambush of Algerian soldiers. In 2003, Hattab was removed as the leader and the reigns were given over to Sahraoui who was only in charge of the group for a short period (September 2003-June 2004). Sahraoui was more concerned with stemming fitnah (discord) within GSPC than building up a media arm.

The second phase of GSPC/AQIM’s media endeavors began with the ascension of Abdelmalek Droukdal as the amir (leader) of GSPC. According to Soriano, “[he] accorded to the Propaganda Actions of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb group’s propaganda actions. The organisation’s new head had a much more ambitious vision of the role of communication within the overall group strategy.” At first, Soriano points out that the media operation did not change much due to lack of skilled individuals. That said, in October 2004, GSPC created its first website jihad-algeria.net. There was a huge gap between these efforts and the explosion of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s, amir of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) at the time, online presence during the same time period. Soriano points out a plea online from Abu Yasser Sayyaf, GSPC’s web-master, for any type of help, such as, uploading content and using different programs, which shows how far behind GSPC was technologically. Further proof of this amateurism was GSPC’s second video release “Apostate Hell,” released in September 2004. The video was only three minutes long and due to its lack of know-how, the watermark of the software they used, Honestech, was glossed over the video. Sayyaf’s excuse for this dismal media output as well as others in video and audio form was due to their remote locations in the mountains of Algeria.

Soriano notes that 84% of GSPC/AQIM’s releases have been written communiqués and 85% of those have been less than two pages. Unlike other groups that wrote long doctrinal texts of their aqidah (creed) GSPC did not have much religious legitimacy or heavyweights in their group especially since traditional Muslim clerics like Yusuf al-Qardawi, Salmon al-Awdah and Safir al-Hawali produced fatawa (legal rulings) delegitimizing the jihad in Algeria. Furthermore, as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where there were actual “crusader” militaries those conflicts took the limelight away from the Algerian theater. One example Soriano provides is the lack of excitement over GSPC’s creation of an online magazine al-Jama’a (the group) attempting to follow the model of the successful Sawt al-Jihad (voice of jihad) magazine produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that at the time was strictly in Saudi Arabia and had yet to merge with al-Qaeda in Yemen, which occurred in January 2009. al-Jama’a was not highlighted by the key online jihadist websites. Soriano also points out that its biggest deterring factor was because the magazine mainly focused on Algerian issues versus the international problems of the ummah (Islamic nation) and other theaters of jihad.

Another issue was with the credibility of the messaging from GSPC. Sometimes the forums published content that purported to be GSPC propaganda that actually was not directly from GSPC’s media wing. Soriano expanded upon this by stating: “A lack of coordination and the problems of communication between the different cells, the lack of authority exercised over certain elements that had split from the group or ‘‘orbited’’ around it, and the repercussions of the ‘black propaganda’ waged by the Algerian intelligence services forced the group to issue public denials of the authenticity of content broadcast in its name on several occasions.” As such, although GSPC’s efforts during the second phase to broaden its media apparatus allowed it to release more content than in the first phase, they still ran into a lot of difficulties along the way.

GSPC’s media fortunes began to turn around when al-Qaeda central (AQC) officially announced a merger with GSPC and they became AQIM. Immediately, AQIM’s media apparatus produced more content with better quality. Soriano attributes this change to AQIM following AQC’s model of “untiring” media output. Another key factor was the influence of AQI. Soriano also surmises that more media production could have been compulsory for GSPC if it were to merge with AQC as an official branch. That said, the steep upward tick in production value might have also to do with AQIM outsourcing its media production to Europe similar to GIA in the 1990s since the above examples I am unsure completely explain the huge change in a relatively short period of time. Lastly Soriano says that it was also a way for leadership to assert its power over some dissention that was going through the ranks that were not consulted and were also against the merger with AQC.

Furthermore, AQIM started to cultivate relations with top online jihadist fora to release their content as well as the jihadist distribution company al-Fajr (dawn) Media. Nevertheless, AQIM was still plagued with issues of unauthorized messages being released under its name. As a remedy, in October 2009, AQIM created al-Andalus Institute for Media Production to better authenticate their content so individuals couldn’t post information that wasn’t directly from AQIM. Soriano concludes the article by drawing a comparison between AQIM and AQC when they created their own media production apparatus As-Sahab (clouds) Institute for Media Production, also as a way to breathe new life in their media efforts and communications strategy.

This article provided important descriptive insight into the nature of GSPC/AQIM’s media strategy between 1998-2009. There are some areas, though, where further research could build off of this by either Soriano or another researcher. To go a step further, it would be worthwhile for one to look deeper into the content produced by AQIM and provide a textual analysis of their variety of communications over the years. Another interesting project might also try and compare descriptive analyses of the media histories of AQC, AQAP and AQI and determine whether there are any tipping points for each groups emergence as a larger player in the jihad field as well as other metrics that could help researchers and governmental officials measure the importance or impact of a rising or fading jihadist organization. That said, overall, Soriano’s article “The Road to Media Jihad- The Propaganda Actions of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” is an excellent first step in developing more empirical research as it relates to the media jihad and further detail of AQIM in the English speaking world.