MEMRI Tests YouTube's Flagging Feature For Videos Of Yemeni-American Al-Qaeda Leader Anwar Al-Awlaki, One Year After His Death - The Results: 111 Out Of 127 Remain Active

November 30, 2012


Over the past three years and on the basis of MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor project, we have determined that YouTube has emerged as the leading website for online jihad. It has replaced - and surpassed - websites administered by jihadis themselves, which were previously the leaders in online jihadi efforts.

During this time, we have offered our assistance to YouTube in identifying videos that incite violence and terrorist acts for possible removal.

Our research revealed that the use of YouTube by terrorists worldwide is a grave security threat; this is proven by the fact that videos of U.S-born Yemeni Al-Qaeda Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki have been at the center of many terrorism cases over the past two years.

In a six-part series of reports,[1] MEMRI has focused on the continued use of YouTube by Al-Qaeda, its affiliates, and Islamist groups in the West, and on the growing numbers of young Westerners who have been inspired to acts of terrorism by viewing jihadi clips on YouTube - particularly those related to Anwar Al-Awlaki.[2]

On December 20, 2010, MEMRI staff met with four senior Google representatives at Google's Washington, DC office to discuss MEMRI research on YouTube and jihadi videos. Much of the meeting focused on the videos of Al-Awlaki, and on which videos should be removed from YouTube. As an example of videos being considered for removal, MEMRI staff screened "Soldiers of Allah by Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki," a sermon by Al-Awlaki. The YouTube staff stated that since the video included nothing specifically related to jihad, it would not be removed, and added that "it is a legitimate religious video" - regardless of the fact that it is by Al-Awlaki.

In the meeting with MEMRI, YouTube staff explained that they would not remove many of the videos of Al-Awlaki because they were not "necessarily" related to jihad. However, many of these videos included Al-Qaeda-related images and links, and other Al-Qaeda videos were featured on the same page (for an example of one such page devoted to Al-Awlaki, click here).

Additionally, many of these videos referred to by Google staff as "religious, legitimate Al-Alwaki videos" include Al-Qaeda imagery and flags, as well as the nasheeds (religious songs) of jihad and martyrdom at the beginning of the videos (for an example, see Anwar Awlaki - Last Moments Of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) - Emotional).

One specific video discussed at the meeting with Google officials was "Allah is Preparing us for Victory"; the officials said the video was not problematic. To view this video, visit .

Following the publication of MEMRI's reports about jihadis on YouTube, and the subsequent meeting on this issue, YouTube committed to introduce a flagging system whereby users could flag videos to alert YouTube that they included content that "promotes terrorism."

On September 11, 2012, MEMRI released a report titled "Testing YouTube's 'Promotes Terrorism' Flagging Feature For Videos Of Osama Bin Laden, 9/11, Al-Qaeda - The Results: 58 Of 100 Remain Active." The report examined the process and results of MEMRI's research into the effectiveness of YouTube's flagging procedures in removing these videos. As of this writing, nearly two months later, only three more videos have been removed, leaving 55 out of the original 100 flagged.

As Parts I-IV of this research series highlighted,[3] in 2010 alone over 2,000 clips of Anwar Al-Awlaki's lectures and sermons were found on YouTube by MEMRI staff. At that time, his videos had been viewed more than 3,000,000 times, and that number has increased daily ever since. Some of these clips include Al-Awlaki calling on Muslims to wage jihad, expressing support for martyrdom attacks, encouraging the killing of American soldiers, and more (see examples below). Between August and October 2010, an additional 250 videos of Anwar Al-Awlaki were posted. Now, two years later, many of these videos, listed below, remain active.

Examples of Clips of Al-Awlaki and His Supporters Highlighted in 2010 MEMRI Reports

Al-Awlaki Instructs Mujahideen To Fight The West

On November 8, 2010, Anwar Al-Awlaki appeared in a video instructing the mujahideen to fight the West. He added that there is no need for a special fatwa or for consultation to fight and kill Americans - since "killing Satan does not require any fatwa." The 23-minute video was posted on the Shumoukh Al-Islam jihadi web forum, and Al-Awlaki spoke in Arabic throughout. The title of Al-Awlaki's speech, "To Make [The Truth] Clear to the People and Never To Conceal It," is from a Koranic verse. The video was re-posted almost immediately on multiple YouTube pages.

Al-Awlaki Supports "The Blessed Operation" of Fort Hood

On August 14, 2010, the TheSecretNews YouTube page posted an interview with Al-Awlaki by the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) media foundation Al-Malahim, in which Al-Awlaki called on American Muslim soldiers to engage in acts of jihad and terrorism. In it, Al-Awlaki said: "Yes, Nidal Hasan was a student of mine, and I am honored by this. I am honored of the fact that the likes of Nidal Hasan are from my students. What he did was a heroic act, a wonderful operation... I support what he did, and I call upon anyone who claims to be a Muslim serving in the US army to follow in the footsteps of Nidal Hasan. Good deeds erase bad ones. In addition, I call upon all Muslims to follow in his footsteps and wage Jihad by speech or by action. Nidal Hasan set a wonderful example..." Since August, this video has been posted on dozens of other YouTube pages. In addition, some YouTube users have created videos on this topic in compliance with Al-Awlaki's call.

The AIMMedia YouTube page posted a video of an unnamed Muslim American justifying the Fort Hood attack and expressing sentiments identical to Al-Awlaki's. His user comment states: "Al salaam alaykum, everyone has heard by now of the shootings that took place in Fort Hood, Texas. How should Muslims view this event? Is what many of the Muslim organizations in the US saying correct in that this is murder? Was this in fact as some Muslims have stated: 'A treacherous attack on those soldiers who protect our country?'"

The comment continues: "The wanted [Fort Hood shooter] Hasan has been said to be against these two wars... Perhaps his intention was to stop other forces, additional forces, from reaching the battlefields and killing more Muslims because that is exactly what happened..." He continued, "Is it okay to attack the enemy when they are still in their own home country because this was a processing center for soldiers going to Afghanistan and Iraq."

As earlier parts of this series highlighted, several of the thousands of Anwar Al-Awlaki audio, video, and other assorted clips have been highly significant in terrorism cases. Many Al-Awlaki followers have put his best known writings, sermons, and teachings into video format and uploaded them to YouTube. One of these is "44 Ways to Jihad," a document penned by Al-Awlaki on January 5, 2009; it has been posted on dozens of YouTube pages.

This document, as well as the videos made with it, includes a list of instructions for Muslims to follow in order to support jihad: "praying to Allah to award you with martyrdom"; "fundraise and finance for mujahideen"; "encourage others to jihad"; "preserving the secrets of mujahideen"; "follow news of jihad and spreading it to scholars and Imams"; "raising children on the love of jihad"; "joining groups that work for jihad"; and "translating jihad literature into other languages."

"44 Ways to Jihad" also calls on Muslims to support "," that is, "establishing discussion forums that offer a free, uncensored medium for posting information relating to jihad," including the following - all of which are methods currently used by Al-Awlaki's followers on YouTube:

  • "Establishing email lists to share information [related to jihad] with interested brothers and sisters.
  • "Posting or emailing jihad literature and news.
  • "Setting up websites to cover specific areas of jihad, such as: mujahideen news, Muslim POWs, and jihad literature."

After "44 Ways to Jihad," the second most significant jihadi lecture associated with Anwar Al-Awlaki is his now-infamous six-hour lecture titled "Constants on the Path to Jihad," which has since been removed by YouTube; the lecture was authored by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Uyayree, translated into English by Al-Awlaki, and subsequently posted on YouTube multiple times. For example, a video of the lecture on Shani985's YouTube page is divided into 25 parts. The lecture has been cited in numerous cases of homegrown terrorists. According to The New York Times[4] and The Christian Science Monitor,[5] Zachary Chesser, Paul and Nadia Rockwood, Major Nidal Hasan, Mohamed Alessa, and Carlos Almonte (see below) all viewed and were influenced by clips on YouTube of Al-Awlaki's "Constants on the Path to Jihad." This video is also referenced in proceedings in the U.S. District Court - New Jersey, in United States of America v. Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte.[6]

Sheikh Al-Uyayree, the author of "Constants on the Path to Jihad," was a Saudi who left his studies at age 18 to train at the Al-Farouk camp in Afghanistan. He was a personal guard to Osama bin Laden and spent four months in Sudan with him. He also fought Americans in Somalia. He has written other books, including The Role of Women in the Jihad Against the Enemy. He was killed by Saudi authorities in June 2003. Al-Awlaki translated Al-Uyayree's teachings into English and disseminated them extensively via YouTube.

As Of November 2012: Of 127 Newly Flagged Al-Awlaki Videos, 16 Removed

On September 26, 2012, MEMRI flagged 127 YouTube videos of Anwar Al-Awlaki, as well as tributes to him. To date, 16 out of 127 flagged videos have been removed. In all cases of removal, a message appeared stating that the removal was "because its content violated YouTube's Terms of Service" or "The YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement."[7]

Tributes To Al-Awlaki

The following are videos on YouTube that are not of or by Anwar Al-Awlaki, but are tributes to and in memory of him:

1. Title: "Sheikh Anwar Al Awalki may Allah have mercy on him Part I." Posted on YouTube on December 20, 2011; as of October 4, 2012 had 1,431 views. Still active as of October 18, 2012.


* Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI; Eliot Zweig is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Part I - Deleting Online Jihad and the Case of Anwar Al-Awlaki: Nearly Three Million Viewings of Al-Awlaki's YouTube Videos - Included Would-Be Christmas Airplane Bomber, Fort Hood Shooter, 7/7 London Bomber, and Would-Be Fort Dix Bombers, December 30, 2009.

[3] See above.
[7] Note: All grammatical and spelling mistakes and non-standard English in the clip titles are in the original.

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