June 15, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1310

WARNING: GRAPHIC Testing YouTube's 'Promotes Terrorism' Flagging Feature Part IV: Platform Features Videos Celebrating Martyrs And Martyrdom By Al-Qaeda, ISIS, And Other Jihadi Organizations And Supporters Worldwide

June 15, 2017 | By Steven Stalinsky, R. Sosnow, and Elliot Zweig*
Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestinians, Yemen | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1310


In January 2015, MEMRI researched and flagged YouTube videos of support for jihadi fighters and "martyrs" and "martyrdom," to test the platform's "Promotes Terrorism" flagging feature. The test was a follow-up to MEMRI research and testing of jihad and terrorism on YouTube beginning in 2009, and to a MEMRI series of reports on "YouTube – The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base."[1]

The Ongoing Controversy Over Google's Allowing Paid Advertising To Appear Next To Terrorist And Extremist Videos On YouTube Following the UK Terrorist Attacks

It should be noted that in mid-March 2017, major companies began halting or reducing advertising deals with YouTube owner Google because Google had allowed their brands to become intertwined with terrorist and extremist content on YouTube. These companies have, so far, included AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, the car rental company Enterprise Holdings, and drug manufacturer GSK. According to media reports, ordinary ads have been appearing alongside user-uploaded YouTube videos promoting hatred and extremism.[2]

Following the June 3, 2017 London attacks, Google came under even more pressure. On June 6, UK media reported that Google was refusing to remove from YouTube extremist, hate-filled videos that inspired the attackers.[3] The next day it was reported that Britain's three main political parties had pulled their campaign ads on YouTube because they were promoted next to extremist videos.[4]

The following report sets out the results of MEMRI's new round of testing of how effectively YouTube removes videos connected to jihad and terrorism.

MEMRI Flags Martyrdom Videos On YouTube, Observes Results

The phenomenon of jihadis posting on YouTube videos of fighters "martyred" on jihadi fronts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and elsewhere has been growing for some time. Among the martyrs featured in the videos are prominent sheikhs, well-known writers on online jihadi forums, and rank-and-file fighters from many different terrorist/jihadi organizations, originating from the Middle East and other countries, including some in the West. These martyrdom YouTube videos serve multiple purposes: publicizing the martyrs' last wishes, celebrating their actions, informing the martyrs' family and friends of their deaths, and – especially – inspiring others by depicting the martyrs as heroes who should be emulated. These videos are also being disseminated by jihadis, jihadi groups, and jihadi sympathizers on social media to promote jihadi organizations.

Among the martyrdom videos on YouTube examined by MEMRI over the last two years are those showing and celebrating martyrs from jihadi fronts. It should be noted that these martyrs are also celebrated on social media, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. MEMRI has published a number of reports focusing on such content on these platforms.[5]

YouTube remains a leading repository of such videos, and they number in the thousands on the website. It should be noted that YouTube's removal of jihadi content is spotty; in the past two years it has done a good job removing ISIS videos but has neglected to remove Al-Qaeda videos, such as those of and by Anwar Al Awlaki.

The videos flagged as part of this study included those focusing on martyrs from the Muslim world. In 2015, the MEMRI CJL flagged 115 videos of martyrs, and over the past two years, it has checked on the status of the flagged videos to see what, if anything, happened to them. The results are that after two years, 69 out of 115 videos remain active, highlighting the failure of YouTube’s flagging system.

  • As of December 4, 2015: Of the 115 flagged, 80 (69.57%) remained active online.

  • As of May 19, 2016: Of the 115 flagged, 77 (66.96%) remained active online.

  • As of February 27, 2017: Of the 115 flagged, 69 (60%) remained active online. 

MEMRI Research On Jihadi Content On YouTube Predates Spread Of Jihadi Content On Other Platforms

Within three years after MEMRI began releasing its reports on "YouTube – The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base," the problem had grown exponentially, to the point where YouTube finally began to address it. In 2012, MEMRI released a series of reports based on research by what was the precursor to its Cyber Jihad Lab project examining YouTube's claims that it removes jihadi videos from its platform, in particular ones that had been flagged.

This research, which predated the spread of jihadi content on Twitter, Facebook, and the encrypted messaging app Telegram, showed that YouTube had emerged as the leading website for online jihad, replacing and surpassing websites administered by jihadis themselves, primarily Al-Qaeda, which were previously the leaders in online jihadi efforts. At that time, MEMRI offered its assistance to YouTube for identifying videos that incite violence and terrorist acts, so that they could be evaluated for removal by YouTube.

MEMRI's tests of YouTube's flagging feature, as documented in a number of reports,[6] showed that the majority of the videos flagged by MEMRI were not removed and instead remained online.

  • Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 9/11 attack glorification videos – 100 were flagged, 58 remained online.

  • Yemeni-American Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki videos – 127 were flagged, 111 remained online.

  • Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri videos – 125 were flagged, 57 remained online.

Seven Years After MEMRI Began Its Efforts To Get Extremist Content Removed From YouTube, The Problem Has Only Gotten Worse

Seven years have passed since MEMRI first launched efforts to get jihadi content removed from YouTube. As documented by previous MEMRI reports, in 2010, MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky met with senior-level representatives from Google Inc. and YouTube, including Google's senior policy counsel and free speech attorneys from the company, to discuss the issue of jihadi videos and why they should be removed. Shortly thereafter, YouTube committed to introducing a flagging feature whereby users could flag videos to alert YouTube that they included content that "promotes terrorism."[7]

Also during this time, MEMRI worked with Members of Congress on this matter, resulting in a series of Congressional letters by Democrats and Republicans being sent to YouTube CEO Chad Hurley on September 29, 2010, and on October 24, 2010.


The following are the 115 videos of martyrs and martyrdom that MEMRI flagged on YouTube in 2015, with 69 of them remaining active as of February 27, 2017:


YouTube Martyrs – Non-Syria

  1. Title: A Martyr From the Taliban Laughs and Utters the Two Declarations [Of Faith] Before He is Martyred
    Date: July 5, 2011
    Views: 2,802,390

  1. Title: Al-Muhajireen Brigade- Special Release [Dedicated to] Abu Aisha Al-Dani-Marki
    Date: May 6, 2013
    Views: 15,228

  1. Title: Wonderful Song by Mujahid Abu Marya Al-Shishani in the Front Line
    Date: February 12, 2014
    Views: 4,695

  1. Title: Martyrs From Tunisia the Green [Land] in the Soil of Sham
    Date: March 16, 2013
    Views: 1,141

  1. Title: Strangers From Different Nationalities Who Had Been United By Islam and Jihad in Sham
    Date: March 15, 2013
    Views: 3,987

  1. Title: Martyrs From Lebanon in the Land of the Syrian Revolution
    Date: March 6, 2013
    Views: 155

  1. Title: The Moments When Abu Omar, the Leader of Amr Ibn Al-As Brigade was Martyred
    Date: September 8, 2012
    Views: 1,059,547

  1. Title: Why Muslims smile during the death
    Date: February 10, 2012
    Views: 79,296

  1. Title: Look
    Date: January 24, 2012
    Views: 3,652

  1. Title: Heart Touch Smile of Shaheed 
    Date: October 24, 2011
    Views: 21,969

  1. Title: Smile of Shaheeds 
    Date: October 24, 2011
    Views: 7,309

  1. Title: Mujahid smiling on Camera while he is martyred
    Date: October 23, 2011
    Views: 3,009

  1. Title: Allahu Akbar..Smiling Shaheed of Islam, Mujahid
    Date: September 26, 2011
    Views: 120,225

  1. Title: Shaheed Never Dies - Martyred Body after 22 years
    Date: January 2, 2011
    Views: 2,625,964

  1. Title: Death & Shahada
    Date: January 4, 2011
    Views: 786,352

  1. Title: Shuhada (Martyrs) Of Islam-Look They Are Smiling In Death!
    Date: September 22, 2009
    Views: 2,122

  1. Title: Look at the smile on the faces of martyrs
    Date: July 21, 2009
    Views: 9,279

  1. Title: Shaheed; sleeping smiles (Albanian Nasheed [Islamic song])
    Date: July 7, 2009
    Views: 3,568

  1. Title: Nice smile for a Shahid bi idhni allah
    Date June 26, 2007
    Views: 14,071

  1. Title: Martyrs From The Land of Two Holy Mosques in Sham
    Date: May 4, 2013
    Views: 115,609


  1. Title: Glimpse of some JN Martyrs From Tunisia
    Date: August 5, 2013
    Views: 241,516


  1. Title: Martyrs smile
    Date: April 1, 2011
    Views: 9,224


  1. Title: Nasheed [Islamic song] Don't Say We Have Lost The Smiles of Martyrs
    Date: May 1, 2010
    Views: 12,918


  1. Title: Idlib Martyr Abd Al-Hadi Hallaq as He Takes His Last Breath 2-3-22
    Date: April 15, 2012
    Views: 478,982


  1. Title: Doesn’t the Smile of These Martyrs Prove that Islam is True?
    Date: June 23, 2009
    Views: 398,862


  1. Title: Martyr Abu Ya Hya Al-Tunsi Martyred on 16 3 2013
    Date: March 18, 2013
    Views: 3,813


  1. Title: New Recording of a Chechen Mujahid While Dying and After Death
    Date: August 6, 2011
    Views: 162,419


  1. Title: Special Video Release The Falcon of Monotheist Mohammed Ganeeta
    Date: July 4, 2013
    Views: 3,731


  1. Title: The naughty [members of] Saiqa [forces] kill young men from Ansar Al Sharia in Libya
    Date: March 7, 2014
    Views: 47,762


  1. Title: The leader who stepped aside, Abu Hamza Al Maghribi
    Date: September 16, 2013
    Views: 254,289


  1. Title: Martyr Mohammad Marshood "Al-Quds brigades" covered with his blood and missing his index finger - very painful
    Date: September 25, 2013
    Views: 1,293


  1. Title: Martyr Mohammad Sino raises his index finger reciting the Shahada before taking his [last] breath
    Date: October 18, 2012
    Views: 416


  1. Title: The martyr dies and raises his index finger the sign of monotheism
    Date: March 6, 2011
    Views: 290


  1. Title: Martyrs of Ansar Al Sharia in Yemen
    Date: August 18, 2012
    Views: 5,365


  1. Title: Martyrs of Ansar Al Sharia/Yemen
    Date: July 16, 2013
    Views: 14,006


  1. Title: Ansar Al Sharia martyrs in Yemen, New
    Date: March 20, 2014
    Views: 10,074


  1. Title: Smiling martyrs.wmv
    Date: April 4, 2011
    Views: 24,323



  1. Title: At these moments you know the worthlessness of life
    Date: August 22, 2012
    Views: 68,418


YouTube Martyrs – Syria and Iraq

  1. Title: Martyr Abu Hajar Yasine Al-Maghribi who was martyred in Syria
    Date: February 11, 2013
    Views: 157,278


  1. Title: 8/11/2013 Very touching - martyrdom moment of one of the mujahideen and his recitation of shahada - Eastern suburb of Homs
    Date: November 9, 2013
    Views: 120,265


  1. Title: JN, Syria martyrs land of the two Holy mosques - Video of the Saudi martyrs who fought with JN in Syria
    Date: April 9, 2013
    Views: 101,264

  1. Title: Ras Al-Ain at death Brigade terrorists Alpha in Syria
    Date: December 22, 2012
    Views: 4,149


  1. Title: Nasheed: Shaheed Wara Shaheed fi Syria
    Date: February 12, 2012
    Views: 25,878



  1. Title: A martyr from the salifa of Gaza smiles as he is being interred in the grave - what is the secret?
    Date: June 27, 2012
    Views: 117,433


  1. Title: Martyr Allah willing - Abu Osaid a lion of ISIS
    Date: August 4, 2013
    Views: 4,298


  1. Title: Tabqah - Martyr Mohammad Al-Ghadban Adu Osaid - very touching
    Date: March 17, 2013
    Views: 301


  1. Title: Promo for hero martyr Anas Al-Mifa' field leader of Huthifa Ibn Alyaman Brigade
    Date: September 19, 2013
    Views: 1,523


  1. Title: This brother, an ISIS [fighter] martyr in Aleppo, was killed by Liwa-Al-Tawheed after being deceived and betrayed
    Date: October 19, 2013
    Views: 4,941


  1. Title: Why do martyrs smile?! Martyrs of Syria
    Date: June 30, 2013
    Views: 36,866


  1. Title: Syria's martyrs are smiling Allah Akbar
    Date: February 20, 2013
    Views: 34,698


  1. Title: Al-Kindi Hospital in Aleppo 01/06/2013 pulling out the body of martyr Abu Yahya Al-Masri
    Date: January 6, 2013
    Views: 2,016


  1. Title: FNN-Syria-Martyr (Mohammad Muwaffaq a'ashour) killed by an Assad sniper shot 31-1-2012
    Date: April 23, 2013
    Views: 174


  1. Title: FNN +21 WARNING GRAPHIC Syria Martyr Ali Khalaf of Mujahideen al Sham Brigade
    Date: October 27, 2012
    Views: 1,483


  1. Title: Syria, Idlib. A martyr killed by Syrian army 11.
    Date: August 10, 2011
    Views: 1,274


  1. Title: Syria, Martyr Ahmad Hamada Killed by Assad Brutal Gangs. 3-3-2012
    Date: March 9, 2012
    Views: 700


  1. Title: Martyr Ahmad Hamada Ali al Miqdad Abu Moutasem
    Date: November 9, 2012
    Views: 87


  1. Title: FNN-Syria-Martyr (Mohammad Fayyadh Al Sabbagh)
    Date: April 13, 2013
    Views: 1,746


  1. Title: FNN Syria The martyr Hmzeh Abdul Latif 9 8 2012
    Date: August 10, 2012
    Views: 256


  1. Title: Aleppo-Huraitan-Martyr Mohammad Suhaib raising his index finger while reciting the Shahada [declaration of faith] 6-4-2012
    Date: April 7, 2012
    Views: 256


  1. Title: Homs-jab Al-jandali, Martyr Abd Al-Hameed Al-Abrash 30 1 2012
    Date: February 1, 2012
    Views: 488


  1. Title: Nasheed [Islamic song] ISIS martyrs
    Date: May 26, 2014
    Views: 1,712



  1. Title: ISIS Martyrs who were killed by the Sahawat
    Date: January 16, 2014
    Views: 43,216


  1. Title: 18+ Martyrs of Al-Hijra to Allah brigades who were killed by ISIS in the suburb of Latakia
    Date: November 16, 2013
    Views: 6,335


  1. Title: ISIS martyrs - may Allah accept them
    Date: January 17, 2014
    Views: 10,506


  1. Title: "Where are our days" by the voice of one of the lions of ISIS
    Date:  March 2, 2014
    Views: 111,254


  1. Title: A martyr from ISIS in the mountains of Sinjar
    Date: October 24, 2014
    Views: 96,875


  1. Title: A martyr looking at paradise - ISIS
    Date: June 22, 2015
    Views: 20,882


  1. Title: A martyr, Allah willing, from ISIS
    Date: December 30, 2014
    Views: 24,936


  1. Title: A martyr from the Islamic State [martyred] in prostration to Allah
    Date: January 20, 2014
    Views: 6,356


  1. Title: EMOTIONAL | Mujahid meets Angel of Death ᴴᴰ | Dawah4Dunya
    Date: September 20, 2014
    Views: 13,797


  1. Title: From the miracles of mujahideen / a martyr's smile
    Date: January 14, 2011
    Views: 575,326


  1. Title: Martyr Physician Hussein Mohammad Al-Salibi
    Date: August 16, 2012
    Views: 1,343


  1. Title: Brave Martyr Ayman Al-Draji
    Date: August 4, 2013
    Views: 2,286


  1. Title: Story of the Martyr IA - Abu Hafs Al Pakistani 
    Date: May 18, 2014
    Views: 2,007


  1. Title: In The Hearts Of Green Birds [Martyrdom Stories of foreign Mujahideen killed in Bosnia]
    Date: March 3, 2013
    Views: 2,872


  1. Title: Shuhadaa ul Bosna 2 - Martyrs of Bosnia 2
    Date: March 5, 2013
    Views: 7,229


  1. Title: Shuhadaa ul Bosna 1 - Martyrs of Bosnia 1
    Date: March 5, 2013
    Views: 10,117


  1. Title: Syria, Homs, Martyr Jihad Atfih was killed in massacre was made by Assad's gangs, Feb 4, 2012
    Date: February 4, 2012
    Views: 1,329


  1. Title: (08-11-12) Areeha | Idlib | (+18) Martyr Jihad Adeeb Hammoud Murdered by Regime Forces
    Date: August 11, 2012
    Views: 2,787


  1. Title: [28] Martyr of torture Jihad Suleiman Ledi -Hims- 06/11/2011
    Date: November 19, 2011
    Views: 1,330


  1. Title: Promo (revised) Wonderful and Touching Clip of the Noble Martyrs of Soiida
    Date: September 8, 2012
    Views: 764



  1. Title: Caravans of Martyrs - The Knights of Islam
    Date: April 17, 2015
    Views: 5,136


  1. Title: Moroccan Martyrs
    Date: November 14, 2014
    Views: 44,755


  1. Title: Look at the Miracle of the Martyrs of the Islamic State
    Date: October 8, 2015
    Views: 30,132


  1. Title: Ma'arrat Al-No'man- Martyr Abu Mujahid Taking His Final Breaths
    Date: January 19, 2013
    Views: 185,240


  1. Title: To Allah's Paradise Escort the Martyr: Photos of Libyan Martyr in Land of Sham
    Date: April 28, 2013
    Views: 17,800



  1. Title: Martyrs of the Salafi Jihadi [group] in Gaza
    Date: April 18, 2013
    Views: 17,976 - The salafiya-jihadiya in Gaza Date: a 28:48 minutes video presenting its martyrs and its method



  1. Title: A Gazan Salafi Martyr Who Had Been Martyred in The Ranks of JN in Syria
    Date: March 14, 2013
    Views 15,961



  1. Title: Video of the Martyrs of the Al-Fajr Islamic Movement
    Date: January 31, 2013
    Views: 4,068



  1. Title: Shaheed Smile 
    Date: October 24, 2013
    Views: 34,994


  1. Title: Why Do These Men Smile at the Time of Death?
    Date: July 31, 2013
    Views: 1,876,097


  1. Title: Jihad in Chechnya…Allah Akbar - Video about Martyrs You Should Watch
    Date: March 24, 2009
    Views: 86,206


  1. Title: For the First Time - Lost Film (Shankay Battle) Led by Abu Al-Laith
    Date: June 29, 2012
    Views: 483,528


  1. Title: Martyrdom of Abd Al-Hakeem Al-Muwwahid
    Date: August 4, 2013
    Views: 154,260


  1. Title: Why Do the Members of Al-Qaeda Smile When they Die?
    Date: June 6, 2010
    Views: 211,458


  1. Title: Martyrdom Operation
    Date: February 23, 2012
    Views: 2,951


  1. Title: Mujahideen Message to the Imams of The Two Holy Mosques
    Date: September 9, 2013
    Views: 309


  1. Title: Photos From the Land of Epics
    Date: January 16, 2014
    Views: 16,799


  1. Title: Martyrdom Moment of Mujahid Mazin Haj Boikri
    Date: January 29, 2013
    Views: 50,275 views


  1. Title: Ansar Al Sharia Photos of Martyrs
    Date: April 13, 2014
    Views: 1,726



  1. Title: Ansar Al Sharia Martyrs (Libyan Rebels) May Allah Accept Them
    Date: August 29, 2014
    Views: 210


  1. Title: Died While Praying. Chechen Martyrs
    Date: June 22, 2012
    Views: 2,741


  1. Title: Moroccans in Syria. Photos From the Land of Epics
    Date: November 28, 2013
    Views: 117,642


  1. Title: Syrian smiling dead from free Syrian Army
    Date: February 18, 2013
    Views: 59,108


  1. Title: The Mujahid Sheikh Idris Sweyd Who Delivered the Friday Sermon Fought and Was Martyred
    Date: June 24, 2012
    Views: 2,946


  1. Title: Light and Fire Series
    Date: October 30, 2013
    Views: 27,467


  1. Title: The Golden Release - The Battle for Liberating 12 Alawite Villages in Latakia
    Date: November 4, 2013
    Views: 21,689


  1. Title: FNN Syria martyr Yaser Abu Bakr prayer in his last moments
    Date: August 12, 2012
    Views: 13,359


  1. Title: An ISIS Martyr
    Date: September 5, 2014
    Views: 944


  1. Title: ISIS Martyrs
    Date: May 3, 2014
    Views: 3,030


  1. Title: ISIS Martyrs Immigrants who Were Killed After Being Betrayed and Deceived
    Date: January 15, 2014
    Views: 32,343


  1. Title: A Number of Martyrs of the Islamic State In Iraq and Sham
    Date: August 18, 2013
    Views: 17,138


  1. Title: Photos of Smiling Martyrs of the Islamic State, Who Rebelled Against the International Order
    Date: September 23, 2014
    Views: 11,807


  1. Title: Martyrs of the Islamic State
    Date: May 30, 2014
    Views: 861


  1. Title: The Free Syrian Army and Jabhat Al-Nusra Kill and Disfigured Bodies of ISIS Martyrs
    Date: February 23, 2014
    Views: 824


* Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI; R. Sosnow is Lead Editor at MEMRI; Elliot Zweig iis Deputy Director of MEMRI. 

[1] See: 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, December 31, 2009; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 606, YouTube – The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base: Part II: A Look At Al-Awlaki's Followers' YouTube Pages, May 3, 2010; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 621, YouTube – The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base – Part III: Despite Removal Efforts, Taliban YouTube Page - Promising Terror Attacks on U.S. Cities Remains Active, July 1, 2010; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 632,  YouTube – The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base - Part IV: Young American YouTube Follower of Anwar Al-Awlaki on the Ground Zero Mosque and 9/11: 'America Reaps What It Sows'; 'You Pretend Like the World Trade Center and the Pentagon Was a Daycare Center or a Maternity Ward; If the People Who Did 9/11 Wanted To Kill Innocent People, They Would Have Bombed a School… Church… Daycare Center,' August 28, 2010; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 649, Part V: YouTube – The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base: One Year Later on YouTube – Anwar Al-Awlaki's Presence Expands, Al-Qaeda Goes Viral, Jihadists Post Thousands of Videos of Killing of U.S. Troops; European Jihadists Also Embrace YouTube, December 17, 2010; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 902, 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.

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