Al-Shabaab takes media war to Twitter

By Mahmoud Mohamed in Mogadishu

March 20, 2012

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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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Reader's Comments

  • NELSON
    May 16, 2012 @ 05:10:35AM

    IF U CAN'T DEFEAT THEM JOIN THEM! AL-SHABAB IS GOOD FOR NOTHING GANG OF TERRORISTS.

  • katenga
    May 5, 2012 @ 10:28:09AM

    DO YOU THINK YOU CAN TAKE OVER KENYA ....? THINK TWICE WE ARE ON YOUR NECK YOU FUCKING DOGS.

  • Tee
    May 5, 2012 @ 05:13:16AM

    Why do we discuss about this cheap good for nothing little cockroaches..........?

  • Emma
    April 30, 2012 @ 07:57:38AM

    Stop killing its beyond God laws you will asked when the creater coming.

  • alla amin2009@ho[email protected]
    April 24, 2012 @ 03:45:38AM

    as i think al shabaab is a worlords so thay want to distroy our country so we donot neeed any kind of al shabaab and torrorist and we will fight them we need beace and instability if allah say

  • AbdullahI Mohamed Abdirahman
    April 1, 2012 @ 05:55:11AM

    Al-shabab are using rel[gion as a tool for political mobalisation which is contrary to the teachihg of islam. it is the highest time for the international communities to intervene and stop these phantoms and possibly indite their masterminds.

  • Tambo
    March 30, 2012 @ 07:33:17AM

    This is tough times for Somalia, more effort should reinforced to flush out Al-shabab from Somalia..congrats to Kenya forces and AU

  • susan
    March 28, 2012 @ 07:00:15AM

    me am feeling for women and kids.please Al-shabab should leave Somali in peace so that women and kids have peace and enjoy education too

  • suleiman simba
    March 25, 2012 @ 03:32:37PM

    alshabab is agroup that shpuld be made away with .should be finished completely forgoten and leave somalis live ahappy and ademocratic life.

  • خالد
    March 24, 2012 @ 06:26:42AM

    Cursed be the Al-shabab movement, its Takfiri methodology and its extremism which is to be blamed for all the crimes perpetrated by Al-shabab and its terrorist and criminal followers. I curse Al-shabab terrorist movement and its activities which affect innocent citizens. May god curse those who murdered our children, women and youth. May god curse this movement aiming at the proliferation of thankless ideologies that have gone astray in our society. May god curse those who lead our beloved Somalia to this agonizing condition.

  • chirchir
    March 23, 2012 @ 02:07:02PM

    The whole inhabitance of Somalia, especially the militia should find diplomatic ways to solve their differences rather than fighiting.

  • JOH MOMANYI
    March 22, 2012 @ 11:00:46AM

    SOMALIA IS BIGGER THAN AL-SHABAAB. FOR MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS THAT SOMALIA HAS REGRESSED IN THE NAME OF SOME FUNNY ANTI PROGRESSIVE DUNDERHEADS LIKE THEM. WHY CANT THEY BE MEN ENOUGH TO BUILD THERE NATION WITHOUT THE GUN? LET THEM SURRENDER AS THEY'RE ALREADY VANGUISHED. ONLY THAT THEY'VE NOT BEEN BURRIED.

  • Roy
    March 22, 2012 @ 03:19:11AM

    yah l do concurr with you but "IF YOU CAN'T BEAT THEM JOIN THEM" so Alshabab should surrender their weapons and abandorn their militia activities to save the face of Somali country.

  • mokaya vincent
    March 22, 2012 @ 03:17:56AM

    let them do their thing. after all they are mens

  • معتصم عبد الرحيم
    March 21, 2012 @ 08:07:58PM

    The Al-Shabab movement is committing acts of hatred, violence and crime in order to distort the image of Islam in front of world and paints as religion of Islam hs violence, crime, murder, brutality, bloodshed and persecution in order to advance their own financial and material desires.

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