Jihadi Twitter Activism – Introduction

The posting with all links is available on the jihadica blog

Ali Fisher and I have recently exchanged thoughts and data regarding the increasing Jihadi use of Twitter. By taking an interdisciplinary approach of social-media analysis and cluster network assessment, we decided to start a series on Jihadica on the parts of the overall jihadi, primarily Arabic language propaganda resonating among the audiences online. We plan on delivering updates on the subject as we move along and kick-off the series with an overall introduction to the theme.

In future posts in the series, we will highlight and decipher some of the core content most often shared on Twitter, allowing conclusions to be drawn about the parts of jihadist propaganda which resonate with a wider audience (and hence shared over and over again).

Introducing the theme

The recent essay by Abu Sa‘d al-‘Amili on the state of global online jihad (discussed here) lamented a general decline in participation in jihadi online forums. Furthermore, al-‘Amili issued a “Call (nida’) to the Soldiers of the Jihadi Media” demanding that they “return to their frontiers (thughur)” elevating their status. Al-‘Amili himself is one of the high-profile clerics, a “prolific “Internet Shaykh” (Lia) on the forums, but is also quite active on twitter (@al3aamili).

Two interrelated causes identified by Abu Sa‘d al-‘Amili were the periods when forums were offline and the migration of users to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. This is exacerbated by the movement of “major [jihadi] writers and analysts” (kibar al-kuttab wa-l-muhallilin) from the forums to social media platforms. This has perhaps increased the momentum of members of tier-one jihad forums to expand onto twitter while twitter as a massive communication relay has become the basis for a new generation of sympathizers, posing another intersection. Twitter is a further medium of choice to (re-) disseminate propaganda material in general and is a platform where activists, sympathizers, and actual fighters upload audiovisual and other types into the jihadi hub.

Jihadists have aggressively expanded the use of twitter, in addition to Facebook and YouTube, especially since the outbreak of violence in Syria. During 2011 members of Jihadist forums issued media-strategies and advisory to fellow members prior, as for example is stated in this posting here of the al-Ansar forum. The posting, initiated by the member Istishhadiyya is basically a very elemental guide, comprehensive and for beginners, highlighting the effective and fast communication capability. The same posting was copy-and-pasted by Shumukh member Basha’ir shortly afterwards. A handbook, compiled by Twitter user @osamh ended up on the jihadi forums to further underline the importance of Twitter as well as its difference to Facebook, where jihadists already have a strong presence.

It took a while for jihadi activism to fully unravel on Twitter, and they have maintained a cohesive as well as detailed presence on this social media platform since the Syrian conflict turned violent in 2012.

Twitter, and as such social media in general, is in the meantime an integral part of jihadists’ media endeavors on the Internet, with the majority of jihadi forums having their official account advertised for on the main pages of the forums.

The role of the media activists, or in jihadist speak the “media mujahid” has since the death of Osama bin Laden in May of 2011 been promoted, highlighted and approved. AQ related documents have made this role model prominent. The role model of the “media martyr” any “media mujahid” can be become, is backed by the call to take the fight on a greater level on al channels online issued by al-Fajr in their response of the killing of bin Laden:

“The Internet is a battlefield for jihad, a place for missionary work, a field of confronting the enemies of God. It is upon any individual to consider himself as a media-mujahid, dedicating himself, his wealth and his time for God.” (Analysis here, Arabic original here)

At first, the strategies to promote Twitter among members of jihadi forums failed to develop substantial traction, but this changed drastically during 2012. When jihadists in and outside of Syria started to use and incorporate twitter as a medium to disseminate and re-post al-Qa’ida and other propaganda material.

Twitter activism and jihadi supporters

At first Syrian non-violent activists used, and continue to use, twitter as a medium to document human rights abuse and war crimes of the Assad regime, but jihadists quickly adapted that content and the platform for their propaganda.

Social-media smart and professional jihadists adopted this treasure grove for their propaganda. By rebranding and reframing the content created by civil society activists, jihadi propaganda used these grievances to support a key jihadist self-perception; the obligation to respond by force to defend and protect the Sunnites in Syria.

Due to the effect and success of the Syrian based Jihadi groups, other jihadi groups as well as the main forums are adopting the twitter activism, advertising official forum accounts on the main pages with users within the forums using twitter hashtags (#) or references to twitter users (for example: @al_nukhba). A list of “The most important jihadi and support sites for jihad and the mujahideen on Twitter” was recently posted on the Shumukh al-Islam forum, allowing users to identify key accounts they might wish to follow.

Individual sympathizers and all those feeling inclined to contribute to the media jihad re-disseminate authoritative files of al-Qa’ida on twitter on a larger scale. Now all major jihadi media departments, part of militant networks, have their own channels on Twitter, linking to content from the jihadi forums and other social media platforms, primarily YouTube, Facebook, and pictures in general.

Twitter has turned into a primary hub for the distribution of jihadi agitprop files. These Jihadi information sharing networks using Twitter coexist, autonomously, with the classical forums. These networks carry, for example, samples of the wide range of jihadi propaganda files, in some cases placed first on Twitter, posted via mobile phones from the front lines. As a brief overview, a few samples consisting of:


  • martyrs in general and martyrdom operatives (istishhadiyyun) announced and identified by their hashtag and Twitter account;
  • calls for donations with phone numbers and social media contact information; taking care of the orphans of the martyrs among other civil elements;
  • general material of incitement, and the impact of online attained propaganda files used offline are popular and gain plenty of traction,

What are they sharing?

In addition to disseminating their own propaganda, jihadi media activists repurpose content from social movements and non-jihadi groups for their own purposes, framing the non-jihadi actions or demonstrations as part of the global militant struggle. This has created another ‘grey area’ where analysts have to carefully monitor and decipher such content. The forum administrators and media-activists also are starting to incorporate and misuse Twitter for their purposes, in coordinated attempts to virtually infiltrate legitimate social movements by using the same hash tags and a similar rhetoric to create ideological cohesion – and placing extremist views and files in that virtual sphere while claiming to fight on the ground for the sake of the people.

To analyze jihadi media networks, their sympathizers and followers we have used a combined approach focused on a unique interdisciplinary analysis of the data acquired by technical means and the subsequent and immediate analytical process of its content.

Using these methods we have asked a range of questions, how have jihadi propagandists been able to gain traction and a foothold online? How do they disseminate propaganda content to a global, multilingual audience and what resonates most with that audience? What are the networks through which their content flows and what are the different roles users play within these networks? Ultimately do the different jihadi twitter accounts reach a range of different communities, or is it a small densely interconnected echo chamber?


Fatwa calling for the death of the director, producer, and actors involved in making the film”Innocence of Muslims”

With my dissertation coming to an end, I finally had some nerve and time to write a new posting at jihadica.com:


Here is the full text, the embedded links in the text may not work as I am copying and pasting it from my jihadica posting:

Yesterday, Ahmad ‘Ashush published a fatwa on the jihadist forums where he “decrees and calls on all Muslim youth in America and in Europa to fulfill this inescapable obligation. Namely, to kill the director, producer and the actors and anyone who helped to promote this film.” The fatwa was published by the relatively new al-Bayan media group that has established itself in the jihadist forums since the turmoil in Egypt. The media group acts in parallel to the al-Faruq media battalion, which has in the meantime published several videos showing Egyptian cleric Ahmad ‘Ashush with other renowned jihadist scholars in Tahrir, such as Muhammad al-Zawahiri or Marjan Salim (videos here and here). Ahmad ‘Ashush first surfaced in the al-Shumukh forum a while ago with a lengthy interview talking about the Hizb al-Nur (here) and established himself as an Islamic authority clearly adhering to the “jihadist torrent” while his – as of now – few writings are online over at al-Maqdisi’s Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad website (here).

This fatwa, however, is not unique and certainly nothing new from ‘Ashush. In July, the German GIMF department (probably courtesy of Austrian-Egyptian leader Muhammad Mahmud, aka Abu Usamah al-Gharib) posted a German translations of ‘Ashush’s article “an outcry… Supporting our prophet” (German). This was a direct reaction by ‘Ashush to events in Germany demanding the death of those who insulted the prophet by showing the Danish Muhammad Cartoons, attacking both the German government as well as demanding the beheading of the defamers in Europe. A violent clash preceded ‘Ashush’s reaction when salafist-jihadists in Germany clashed with police in Bonn and Solingen in May this year. ‘Ashush wrote: “There are free youth among the Muslims, living in Europe, who became angry for the prophet. They went out to defend his honor. The Germans beat, humiliated and arrested them. So, where are you in support of them?”

The German-language propaganda departments had plenty of new materials and produced videos and published reaffirming translations justifying violence in support of the prophet. Again, GIMF published a German translation of al-Maqdisi’s writing “The Drawn Sword against those who Insult the Lord, the Religion or the Messenger of God” (Arabic and German). This is based on the historical writing of Ibn Taymiyya, available on al-Maqdisi’s site here.

The protests that turned violent were directed against a German ultra-rightwing minority party “PRO-NRW” who succeeded in instigating the German salafists by showing the Muhammad cartoons on billboards. With the police in the middle, the salafists counter-demonstration turned violent and led to many arrests. In a video entitled “In Reih und Glied standen sie für Rasulullah” (They stood in a single file for the messenger of God – here, note the Arabic opening nasheed) violence to defend the honor of the prophet is further justified and sanctioned, depicting the salafists as ‘true’ believers and real men. Shortly after, Abu Ibraheem (Yasin Chouka), one of the German propagandists of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan called for the “death of Pro-NRW”, re-affirming the obligation to “kill those, who insult the prophet, no matter if they are Muslims or disbelievers.” (here)

Two similar writings of Ahmad ‘Ashush – the ‘Muhammad-movie-fatwa’

In his self-entitled fatwa yesterday, ‘Ashush repeats basic sentiments he had addressed as a response to the insult of the prophet in Germany. In both legal decrees, ‘Ashush cites the Qur’an (al-Ahzab: 6):

“The Prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than they have on themselves, and his wives are (as) their mothers.” (trans. by Shakir)

‘Ashush seeks to act as a high-profile ideologue, citing in length the hadith and drawing on Ibn Taymiyya. “Killing them [the movie affiliates] is a duty for every capable Muslim. The killing of the aforementioned is prescribed by Islamic law (…).” Stating two examples, Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, a Jew, that Ibn Taymiyya in detail analyzed and a woman who had insulted the prophet, ‘Ashush makes his case clear that “the prophet had commanded the killing of al-Ashraf” as well as the killing of a woman, as stated later. For ‘Ashush this serves as proof that anyone “offending the prophet, even Muslims, are sentenced to death for this.” Independent of Muslim or non-Muslim, man or woman, the blood of those insulting Muhammad must be shed. “For this is the ruling of the prophet”. ‘Ashush recounts the hadith of a female companion who on the account of a blind man insulted Muhammad and was subsequently put to death for her insults. The blind man had been her husband and he was the one who had killed her with his knife. He then stated to Muhammad the reason: “o messenger of God, I am her husband and she insulted you often (…) yesterday she insulted you and I took a knife and stabbed her in her stomach (…). The messenger replied: “so then witness her blood shed””.
This hadith, for ‘Ashush, provides enough argumentation to oblige Muslims to act accordingly, listing four key arguments:

As the man had been blind and a companion of the prophet most aware of the shari’a, the woman insulting the prophet had been killed. She had been his wife, killed by him.
Referring to the citation of the Qur’an, the prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than anyone else – even if this woman has children, or is the wife of a companion, she must be executed for her insult.
This accounts for no matter what standing of position her children have;
Or her position being a companion of the prophet, being in his service. “Killing her for insulting the prophet is pleasing for God, the Lord of the Worlds.”
Following a typical jihadist rhetoric, ‘Ashush repeats his statements of his writing in response to the insulting of the prophet in Germany, asking where the true scholars of Islam are, refuting the ‘state-owned’ ‘ulama’.