print
memri
December 22, 2011 No.
777

Twitter Continues To Evade Explaining Its Breaking of U.S. Law and Its Indirect Support For Online Jihad: The Case of Hizbullah and Al-Manar TV

Introduction

As part of its research, the MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor follows the multiple ways in which jihadi groups are using Twitter – "tweeting" news flashes, reporting attacks, battles, and other operational activities, and sharing videos, and more.

Jihadi groups' use of Twitter is part of their online media strategy of taking advantage of Western websites and technologies,[1] uploading videos to YouTube[2] and to the Internet Archive,[3] creating official Facebook pages,[4] and other methods. Jihadis have come to depend on free web hosting, where content can be uploaded anonymously, reliably, and at no cost.

Headquartered in San Francisco, California and with servers in San Antonio, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts, and New York, Twitter is increasingly being used by terrorist organizations and their media outlets. Their online followers are growing in number.

Twitter's Terms of Services Supposedly Ban Users "Barred From Receiving Services Under the Laws of the United States" – Yet Growing Number of Designated Terrorist Organizations Are Tweeting

The latest designated terrorist organization active on Twitter is Hizbullah (http://twitter.com/#1/almanarnews). Other jihadi organizations tweeting include the Somali Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahedeen,[5] the Taliban,[6] Jihad Al-Ansar Media,[7] Nukhbat Al-I'lam Al-Jihadi,[8] Ribat Media Center,[9] and many more, on which MEMRI will be reporting soon.

According to Twitter's Terms of Service, account holders may use the Services only if "you [the user] can form a binding contract with Twitter and are not a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction." [10] Its "Restrictions on Content" states "We reserve the right at all times (but will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services and to terminate users or reclaim usernames... We also reserve the right to... enforce the Terms, including investigation of potential violations hereof."[11] Twitter also provides readers with the option to report violations.

Jihadis' use of Twitter should not be dismissed. The terrorist organizations mentioned above, and an ever-growing cadre of online jihadi groups and bloggers supportive of Al-Qaeda, are tweeting 24/7. In fact, according to recent research on Twitter users, Arabic is now the fastest-growing language on the site; the number of Arabic-language tweets is 22 times greater than it was a year ago.[12]

Is Twitter Breaking the Law? The U.S. Government's Emerging Policy

Over the past month – as it has been reported that terror organizations, including the Taliban and the Somali Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahedeen, have been tweeting – there is increasing pressure on Twitter to act. A December 18, 2011 Washington Post report revealed that "U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about extremists' stepped-up activity on social media sites, citing cases in which Americans have been recruited online by terrorists overseas."[13]

As far back as April 2011, Twitter was asked by The Washington Times to comment on reports about the Taliban Twitter account and about the law prohibiting provision of services to designated terrorist groups – but refused to do so. The newspaper report did quote Senator Joseph Lieberman as saying that he believed that the Taliban's use of Twitter "would be violating the company's terms of use."[14]

Subsequently, the Los Angeles Times reported, on November 23, 2011, that after some Congressmen urged Twitter to stop hosting pro-Taliban tweets, Twitter executives told lawmakers that the micro-posts do not violate the website's terms of service because the Taliban is not listed by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. Such a designation would make it illegal to provide 'material support or resources' to the group.[15] On this occasion too, "Twitter officials did not respond to requests for comment."[16]

When it was discovered that Al-Shabaab – which was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the U.S. State Department in 2008[17] – had launched a Twitter account and begun tweeting on December 7, 2011, questions arose regarding whether the government – or Twitter – would take action. A State Department spokesman said, "We are looking closely at the facts of this situation to determine what the appropriate next steps might be."[18] According to a December 20, 2011 New York Times report, "some American officials said the government was exploring legal options to shut down the Shabaab's new Twitter account, potentially opening a debate over the line between free speech and support for terrorism... American officials said they were worried that the Shabaab might be using Twitter to reach potential recruits in the West."[19]

Again, just as Twitter refused to comment to The Washington Times and the Los Angeles Times, company spokesman Matt Graves told The New York Times on December 19, 2011, "I appreciate your offer for Twitter to provide perspective for the story, but we are declining comment on this one."[20]

Hizbullah and Al-Manar TV: Another State Department-Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations Using Twitter

The Lebanese-based Hizbullah terrorist organization has killed more Americans than any other terrorist organization except for Al-Qaeda; most recently, Hizbullah made headlines on December 16, 2011, when Ali Musa Daqduq, a Hizbullah commander, was handed over from U.S. custody to the Iraqi government.

In January 2007, Daqduq orchestrated a raid on American troops, in which Shi'ite militants, in American-style uniforms and carrying forged identity cards, killed five American soldiers in Karbala. One soldier was killed in the raid, and four others were kidnapped and their bodies were later found dumped by a roadside.[21]

The U.S. State Department designated Hizbullah a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 11, 2005. The group was previously designated an FTO in 1999, but the designation was rescinded in 2001 after it denounced the 9/11 attacks. Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV was designated a terrorist entity in December 2004 by the U.S. State Department. In 2006, Al-Manar was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity by the U.S., which declared that it was "owned or controlled by the Iran-funded Hizbullah terrorist network."

On March 23, 2006, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that pursuant to Executive Order 13224, Al-Manar was designated a global terrorist entity. The announcement cited earlier U.S. laws against Al-Manar which it called "the media arm of Hizbullah."

In response to the U.S. designation, Al-Manar vowed to continue broadcasting even though its assets were now frozen by the U.S. government.[22] A spokesman insisted that there was "nothing new" and added, "It doesn't change anything, and we will continue our work and will remain broadcasting everywhere in the world, including the U.S."[23]

Hizbullah's Al-Manar Twitter Activity – In Three Languages

Hizbullah's PR efforts can be described as sophisticated. The organization maintains a radio channel, Al-Nour. Another – and most important – front in Hizbullah's PR efforts is Al-Manar TV and its website, which is the center of conveying Hizbullah's activities to the world. The server that hosts the site, www.almanar.com.lb/, is located in London, and the company that owns the IP address to the site, Coreix.net, is Coreix Limited, registered at Third Floor, Refuge House, 9-10 River Front, Enfield, EN1 3SZ, telephone +44 207 183 1725.[24] The website has Arabic, English, French, and Spanish versions.

On November 16, 2011, Hizbullah began tweeting. In the 35 days since it launched its Twitter account, Hizbullah has posted 15,254 tweets – that is, over 400 tweets per day – and has 7,339 followers. The tweets are in Arabic, French, and English. They use Twitter tools including 'Add This,' which bills itself as "the world's largest sharing and social insights platform. AddThis helps you integrate sharing tools into your site, spread your content, and drive social traffic. In-depth analytics provide insight into your audience and their activity."[25]

For the most part, Al-Manar tweets included statements by Hizbullah officials as well as news stories from the Middle East. This past week, Al-Manar focused on following speeches by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; news about the Iranian government and military leaders; statements by Hamas; news from the U.S. Congress; and news about attacks on the U.S. military and NATO. It also tweeted news items regarding CIA-reported spying efforts on Hizbullah in Lebanon. Most of the tweets link back to Al-Manar's website.

Appendix: A History of the Banning of Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV In the West

Over the past decade, Al-Manar TV has also been branded a terrorist entity by many Western countries, including the U.S., thus banning its airing in the West. One way Hizbullah has gotten around such restrictions is by using Twitter.

Following its launch, which was backed and aided by Iranian ayatollahs, Al-Manar's first broadcast was of the 1989 funeral of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.[26] The Christian Science Monitor noted that the channel's budget grew tenfold between 1991 and 2001; some estimate its annual budget to be up to $50 million.[27] Al-Manar chairman Nayyef Krayyem, who also headed Hizbullah's information department, told the paper in 2001, "Al-Manar is an important weapon... It's a political weapon, social weapon, and cultural weapon."

The channel is used to spread Hizbullah's message in Lebanon and throughout the world. Al-Manar TV broadcaster Fatima Bari said that Hizbullah's activities have "enriched Al-Manar TV through its jihad, the blood of its martyrs, and everything it sacrificed," and that "Al-Manar TV waged an extremely harsh media war against the Zionist[s]."[28]

Ever since Al-Manar began broadcasting via satellite in 2000, it has been at the center of controversy throughout the West. In the U.S., Canada, France, Australia, Spain, and the Netherlands, the channel has been banned in various capacities.

Australia was first, in 2003, to censure Al-Manar. The Australian stated, "The channel incites to terrorism." During a Swedish parliament session on March 18, 2004, Mikael Oscarsson of the Christian Democratic Party asked Prime Minister Goran Persson to put an end to Al-Manar broadcasts in his country, describing them as "appalling propaganda of incitement" that "can only be compared with that of the Nazis."[29]

The French government banned Al-Manar in December 2004 for repeatedly violating the country's anti-hate laws. The U.S. and Canada followed just days afterward. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "We don't see why... a terrorist organization should be allowed to spread its hatred and incitement through the television airwaves."[30]

The Spanish government blocked transmission of Al-Manar on July 14, 2005. Charles Tannock, Member of the European Parliament for London for the Conservative Party, said: "Hizbullah uses Al-Manar to spread hatred and incite people to commit terrorist acts against innocent civilians... every effort must be now made by the E.U. to prevent further brainwashing of vulnerable young people by fundamentalist religious extremists." He said that Hizbullah ought "not be allowed to spread hate-filled propaganda on our continent."[31]

On January 26, 2006, Netherlands authorities blocked Al-Manar transmissions due to its spreading of hatred, noting that the channel encourages the radicalization of Muslims and glorifies terrorist attacks. Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner was quoted by the AFP as calling "for a European Union-wide solution to the problem of such television channels."[32]

*Steven Stalinsky is the Executive Director of The Middle East Media Research Institute.

Endnotes:

[1] For example, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 755, "Deleting Online Jihad on Twitter: The Case of British Jihadi Anjem Choudary – Tweeting for the Caliphate and the Conquest of the White House," November 4, 2011, Deleting Online Jihad on Twitter: The Case of British Jihadi Anjem Choudary – Tweeting for the Caliphate and the Conquest of the White House. See also MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 772, "Somali Al-Qaeda Affiliated Al-Shabaab Tweets Jihad and Martyrdom," December 13, 2011, Somali Al-Qaeda Affiliate Al-Shabaab Tweets Jihad and Martyrdom; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 4278, "UK Home Office Bans 'Terror Organization' Muslims Against Crusades; Group Spokesman Anjem Choudary Still Communicating Via Twitter, YouTube," November 11, 2011, UK Home Office Bans 'Terror Organization' Muslims Against Crusades; Group Spokesman Anjem Choudary Still Communicating Via Twitter, YouTube; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 755, "Deleting Online Jihad on Twitter: The Case of British Jihadi Anjem Choudary – Tweeting for the Caliphate and the Conquest of the White House," November 4, 2011, Deleting Online Jihad on Twitter: The Case of British Jihadi Anjem Choudary – Tweeting for the Caliphate and the Conquest of the White House; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 746, "Why Haven't the Taliban's Twitter Accounts Been Shut Down?" October 7, 2011, Why Haven't The Taliban's Twitter Accounts Been Shut Down? .

[2] MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis, "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," 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

[12] According to a report by the French social media research firm Semiocast conducted last month. See Washington Post, December 18, 2011.

[13] Washington Post, December 18, 2011

[14] The Washington Times, April 28, 2011

[15] The Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2011. While the Pakistani Tehreek-e Taliban was designated by the U.S. State Department as both a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Special Designated Global Terrorist Organization, in September 2010 (http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rm/2010/146597.htm), the Afghan Taliban has not been so designated.

[16] The Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2011

[18] The New York Times, December 20, 2011

[19] The New York Times, December 20, 2011

[20] The New York Times, December 20, 2011

[21] The Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2011

[22] Daily Star (Lebanon), March 25, 2006

[23] Steven Stalinsky, "Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV Should be Shut Down," National Review, April 4, 2006, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/stalinsky200604040821.asp, See Islam Online, January 2001

[26] Steven Stalinsky, "Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV Should be Shut Down," National Review, April 4, 2006, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/stalinsky200604040821.asp

[27] Steven Stalinsky, "Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV Should be Shut Down," National Review, April 4, 2006, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/stalinsky200604040821.asp

[28] Steven Stalinsky, "Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV Should be Shut Down," National Review, April 4, 2006, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/stalinsky200604040821.asp

[29] Steven Stalinsky, "Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV Should be Shut Down," National Review, April 4, 2006, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/stalinsky200604040821.asp

[30] Steven Stalinsky, "Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV Should be Shut Down," National Review, April 4, 2006, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/stalinsky200604040821.asp

[31] Steven Stalinsky, "Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV Should be Shut Down," National Review, April 4, 2006, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/stalinsky200604040821.asp

[32] Steven Stalinsky, "Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV Should be Shut Down," National Review, April 4, 2006, http://old.nationalreview.com/comment/stalinsky200604040821.asp