The War on Twitter
December 15, 2011 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Did you know that Al-Shabaab, the Islamic militant group currently fighting for control of southern Somalia, has a Twitter account?

As reported on recently in the New York Times and the Guardian, the militants use social media both to promote their propaganda and trade barbs with their enemies, including the Kenyan military's spokesman Major E. Chirchir.
posted by Aizkolari (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it is #followfriday...
posted by rhymer at 5:54 AM on December 15, 2011

JeromeTaylor: @gerardvanmourik Need to keep it under wraps until piece is published but it's an indication of how media savvy @HSMPress have become | 2 hours ago via Twitter for Android

gerardvanmourik: @JeromeTaylor @hsmpress It is good when extremists or perceived extremists come out and talk. Can we have a coffee with them too? | 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPad

HSMPress: @gerardvanmourik @JeromeTaylor A caramel macchiato would do! | 2 hours ago via web


waqaca44: @MajorEChirchir hello mr chirchir | 11 Dec via web

MajorEChirchir: @waqaca44 am good bro... | 11 Dec via Mobile Web


MajorEChirchir: #Operationlindanchi With Al Shabaab joining tweeter, lets take fight to their doorstep, lets follow them for a week then unfollow. | 9 Dec via web


Are these accounts real or is all East African politics this informal? (Or GASP! Are we westerners wasting huge sums of money on PR and Social Media 'Experts')

posted by Seiten Taisei at 6:15 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Displaying the photo IDs of dead soldiers from AMISOM doesn't seem likely to win hearts and minds.
posted by exogenous at 6:39 AM on December 15, 2011

Here at the MIT Center for Civic Media, this has been a recurring topic of conversation over the last week.

Our director Ethan Zuckerman has blogged about it: "Welcoming (?) Al-Shabaab to Twitter". It's a detailed post with lots of links and a good comments discussion.

There’s always an argument to be made that the account in question is not, in fact, Al Shabaab… there are several Al Qaeda accounts that appear to be fakes (including a very funny one retired on 9/11/11). Heck, there’s even a parody Major Chirchir account.


I’ve made the argument that corporations who make possible the digital public sphere need to support people’s right to speak freely, even when that speech is unpopular.
posted by honest knave at 6:41 AM on December 15, 2011

Ike: @Fuhrer OMG stormin' ur beaches #dday
posted by joinks at 6:44 AM on December 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

Displaying the photo IDs of dead soldiers from AMISOM doesn't seem likely to win hearts and minds.

Depends on whose "hearts and minds" you're talking about.
posted by three blind mice at 7:18 AM on December 15, 2011

I believe they started it in response to the Kenyan army's tweeting.

In an exciting twist of events, Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahedeen (HSM) which means the movement of the youth and commonly referred to as Al-Shabaab have joined Twitter, the popular micro-blogging social network.

Al-shabaab's entry into Twitter comes more than a month after Kenya's military moved into the country in an effort to contain militia incursions into Kenya. Al-shabaab is widely considered as a terrorist group with alleged ties to Alqaeda, the group behind the 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-shabaab is being fought by an African Union led force, comprising of forces from several East African countries including Uganda, Burundi and Kenya, in an effort to restore rule of the country to an Internationally recognise Transitional Federal Government. Ethiopian forces are also present in the country.

Kenya's entry into the war saw new communication strategies with the army surprising many people in the world by releasing updates on social media through the Twitter account of the military spokesman, Major Emannuel Chirchir . Major Chirchir has been known to issue warnings of impeding attacks exclusively on his Twitter account and updates of combat between the army and the militia.

Al-shabaab's account shows that it was created at approximately 19.00 hours East African Time (+3 GMT) on Wednesday December 7th 2011. By Thursday midday, the account had sent out 14 updates including combat updates and movement of Kenyan and Somali Transitional Federal Government Troops.

Major Chirchir currently has 9545 people following his updates while Al-shabaab have 378 followers. Major Chirhcir's account can be seen at!/MajorEChirchir while that of HSM at!/HSMpress

posted by infini at 7:35 AM on December 15, 2011

I keep saying how popular twitter is amongst Kenyans but does anyone listen...noooo just call me Rodney
posted by infini at 7:37 AM on December 15, 2011

Didn't the Taliban have a twitter for a while?
posted by delmoi at 7:55 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fighting for an Islamic Khilaafa,

Trained By Northrup Grumman

posted by CitoyenK at 8:03 AM on December 15, 2011

CitoyenK, I think that document was taken from the body of one of their opponents, like the photo IDs. Probably the idea is to show US backing. Northrup Grumman seems to be a contractor providing the training.
posted by exogenous at 8:08 AM on December 15, 2011

@exogenous You are right and i'm an ass.. . Religion : Catholique should have given me a clue.
posted by CitoyenK at 8:15 AM on December 15, 2011

If this account is real, I think it must be a UK jihadi at the helm. Since there are no Starbucks in Mogadishu, the caramel macchiato joke seems suspiciously well spelled, and suspiciously haraam. The way the definite and indefinite articles are dropped to fit into 140 characters, without ever compromising the meaning, also seems like it must have a native english speaker writing.
posted by roofus at 8:22 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

suspiciously haraam

posted by jsavimbi at 8:38 AM on December 15, 2011

There are plenty of al-Shabaab supporters in the US, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East ... all of which have Starbucks.

You can bet Twitter is providing the IP address of the poster to intelligence agencies. I wonder if they use Tor or anonymous proxies to avoid this.
posted by miyabo at 8:40 AM on December 15, 2011

I think it must be a UK jihadi at the helm

US apparently, according to this link

Al-Shabab's tweets, written in fluent English, mocked an earlier Twitter posting by Kenya's army spokesman, Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, that threatened to bomb concentrations of donkeys that might be moving weapons for the insurgents.

"Your eccentric battle strategy has got animal rights groups quite concerned, Major," the al-Shabab posting said.

The Associated Press has determined that both Twitter accounts — HSMPress and MajorEChirchir — are legitimate. It's not clear who is writing the al-Shabab tweets. Several Americans, most of Somali descent, have in recent years joined the group that Washington has designated a terrorist organization.

posted by infini at 8:48 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Al Shabbab! Yo, J!
posted by klangklangston at 10:26 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

CitoyenK, you're not an ass - it took me an embarrassingly long time to piece together a good reason for the Twitter account to have that image posted. My first thought was that they were touting their credentials!
posted by exogenous at 11:42 AM on December 15, 2011

Re: Didn't the Taliban have a twitter for a while?
posted by delmoi at 7:55 AM on December 15

Yup - still do:
posted by at 11:47 AM on December 15, 2011

American officials say they may have the legal authority to demand that Twitter close the Shabab’s account, @HSMPress, which had more than 4,600 followers as of Monday night.

Twitter, based in San Francisco, has about 100 million users. A company spokesman, Matt Graves, said on Monday, “I appreciate your offer for Twitter to provide perspective for the story, but we are declining comment on this one.”
U.S. Considers Combating Somali Militants’ Twitter Use
posted by infini at 12:40 AM on December 24, 2011

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