YouTube's Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base: Despite Removal Efforts, Taliban YouTube Channel Promising Attacks on U.S. Cities Remains Active

By: Steven Stalinsky, MEMRI

"We have had great success in raiding YouTube…" Al-Falluja message board [1]

Introduction

On May 17, 2010, YouTube marked its fifth anniversary. As part of the celebration, its parent company, Google Inc., released statistics showing the growth of the site's importance. YouTube's viewership now exceeds the primetime viewership of all three major American networks combined; over 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and YouTube is now the second most popular search engine in the world, after Google.
YouTube also announced that it receives over two billion page views per day. Millions of these clips viewed and posted are in fact jihadist videos, Parts I and II of this series document these statistics, as well as how terrorists and their sympathizers are using the site daily.[2]

Anwar Al-Awlaki Videos on YouTube Continue to Incite Terrorists

The recent press coverage of YouTube's fifth anniversary virtually ignored the fact that it has also become an integral tool for jihadists worldwide. A case in point is the latest Anwar Al-Awlaki video, posted directly to YouTube on May 23, 2010. In it, he calls on Muslims throughout the world to "participate in this Jihad against America." This video can now be seen on hundreds of YouTube pages.

Parts I and II of this series also highlighted how Al-Awlaki has thousands of videos posted on YouTube, which have influenced, among others, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be Christmas Day airplane bomber; Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter; the 7/7 London bombers; would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad; and the "Fort Dix Six" would-be bombers.

New additions to this list include the two young New Jersey men, Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, who reportedly were viewers of Al-Awlaki's YouTube videos. They received training in Somalia and were arrested last month on their way to kill U.S. soldiers.[3]
Another addition is Texas resident Barry Walter Bujol, arrested June 3 at the Port of Houston while boarding a ship bound for the Middle East. According to reports, he began an email correspondence with Anwar Al-Awlaki in 2008. Al-Awlaki sent him among other things his article "44 Ways to Jihad" (cited and discussed in Part II of this series).

The text of "44 Ways to Jihad," which has been made into hundreds of videos posted throughout YouTube, includes a list of instructions for Muslims to follow in order to support jihad, including: "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."


YouTube Outlines its 'Flagging' Tool to Deal with Jihadi Videos

While the media and U.S. government have mostly ignored how YouTube has become the Internet's primary and rapidly expanding jihadi base, a group of bloggers, many of them former members of the U.S. military as well as concerned American citizens, have been monitoring the issue over the past few years. They have flagged thousands of the site's jihadi clips, albeit with limited success.

Two years ago, Senator Joseph Lieberman criticized YouTube for allowing the proliferation of "terrorism video." In response, YouTube issued an official press release on its blog, titled "Dialogue with Sen. Lieberman on Terrorism Videos," which stated, "Last week, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) contacted us to voice his concerns about seeing videos from several Islamic terrorist organizations on YouTube. We appreciated our dialogue with Senator Lieberman and his staff and wanted to explain to the YouTube community how we responded to his concerns. First, some background: hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube every day. Because it is not possible to pre-screen this much content, we have developed an innovative and reliable community policing system that involves our users in helping us enforce YouTube's standards. Millions of users report potential violations of our Community Guidelines by selecting the 'Flag' link while watching videos."

The YouTube press release added, "Senator Lieberman's staff identified numerous videos that they believed violated YouTube's Community Guidelines. In response to his concerns, we examined and ended up removing a number of videos from the site, primarily because they depicted gratuitous violence, advocated violence, or used hate speech. Most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines…

"We appreciate Senator Lieberman alerting us to videos that violated our policies -- and encourage our users to continue to do the same through the flagging tool. And while we disagree with him about the details of our policies, we respect his views and thank him for giving us the chance to respond to his concerns."[4]
 
It should be noted that the top YouTube reader comment responding to this official press release, which has been on the site since May 19, 2008 – states "F*** Lieberman."

"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" details the attempts to flag and remove "objectionable" videos from YouTube. In particular, it follows the case of Taliban videos, flagged two months ago, which call for attacking U.S. cities and take responsibility for the attempted Times Square Bombing – but which have not been removed and are still being viewed daily, despite the fact that major media outlets have reported on this and letters have been sent to both YouTube and Google Inc. on the matter.


 

YouTube Terms of Service For Flagging and Removing Objectionable Clips

YouTube's terms of service states that videos "…inciting others to commit violent acts…" can be flagged and that to do so viewers should follow these steps: Go to YouTube's home page, www.youtube.com; using the "flag" button beneath the video player, flag the objectionable video (you must be a YouTube member to flag a video); once you have "flagged" the video, a drop-down menu will allow you to select the "reason" you flagged it; click "submit."

Taliban Creates YouTube Page with Videos Calling For Attacks in the U.S. – May 2, 2010

On May 2, 2010, a new YouTube page was created by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, titled "TehreekeTaliban's Channel." The page's profile states that the group's location is Waziristan, Pakistan; for "occupation" it states "Jihad in the path of Allah Subhanahu Wutala," Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan lists its "hobbies" as "Jihad, Caliphate, and Shariah."

Soon after the Taliban created its YouTube page, three videos were posted, all of which included English subtitles. The first, titled "Hakeemullah Mehsud is Alive and Healthy and Delivering News about Attacks on USA" (2:17), shows a still satellite image of North America with a still image of Hakimullah Mehsud. Speaking in Urdu and stating that the date is April 19, 2010, he threatens bombings in U.S. "states & cities"; as he speaks, explosions are shown taking place across the map.




The second video, also titled "Hakeemullah Mehsud is Alive and Healthy and Delivering News about Attacks on USA" (8:42), shows Hakimullah Mehsud sitting surrounded by masked, armed men. Speaking in Pashtu, he discusses coming attacks on the U.S.



In the third video (1:06), Qari Hussain Mehsud, a key leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and a close lieutenant of Hakimullah Mehsud, speaks against a backdrop of still images to claim responsibility for the May 1, 2010 failed car bomb plot in Times Square.

Major Media Outlets Report on Taliban YouTube Page and Videos, May 3, 2010  

Major media outlets in the U.S., including CNN, FOX News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters all reported on the Taliban's YouTube videos. A day after the Taliban posted these videos on YouTube, MEMRI released a report focusing on YouTube's emergence as an online jihadi base, and detailed how jihadist groups worldwide are increasingly using it to take responsibility for terrorist attacks and post footage of attacks for propaganda and recruiting purposes.[5]

Six Days After Taliban Threatens America Via YouTube, Google Spokesman Tells New York Daily News: Our Company Works 24/7 to Respond to Objectionable Content Flagged by Users

On May 8, 2010, The New York Daily News wrote in an editorial titled "TerrorTube: Internet Video has become a Nest of Jihadi Propaganda," stating "Radical Islamist fanatics are turning YouTube into their personal broadcast platform with disturbingly accelerating frequency. Their videos illustrate how jihadists are exploiting the Internet to inspire violence, and they demand increased vigilance by the Google-owned company. The Middle East Media Research Institute this week flagged postings by, among others, America's Jihad Jane and Anwar Al-Awlaki." The editorial concluded with a quote by Scott Rubin, a spokesman for Google, who said that his company reviewers work 24/7 to respond to complaints and delete content that violates the rules.[6]

MEMRI Flags Taliban Videos Threatening U.S., Notifies YouTube and Google

On May 3, MEMRI sent YouTube and Google letters notifying them of the Taliban page and videos, and also flagged the videos, in accordance with YouTube's instructions, as follows:

Step 1: "Flag" Icon Clicked



Step 2: YouTube Automatically Notes Video Marked As Inappropriate



Step 3: YouTube's Response to Flagging of Taliban Videos

Two months after MEMRI flagged the Taliban's website and videos, the page remains active. The videos on this page have been viewed over 30,000 times – approximately 1,000 times for every day – on the original page. Meanwhile, over 50 other YouTube channels have reposted these clips, and they have been viewed thousands of times on those channels.

YouTube Makes it Easy for Jihadists to Share Videos

It should be noted that in addition to being reposted within YouTube, these and other videos are downloaded from YouTube and posted on jihadi websites.
YouTube facilitates this action with its "own share" function, making it easy for users to download the clips, as well as to repost videos to user blogs, share them on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, and email or instant-message links to them.

As mentioned, the videos calling for attacks on U.S. cities remain, although they were flagged two months ago. However, to view the videos visitors must now log in and are notified that "This video or group may contain content that is inappropriate for some users, as flagged by YouTube's user community. To view this video, or group, please verify you are 18 or older by signing in or signing up."


Jihadis’ Reliance on Social Media Outlets Expected To Increase

In view of the fact that in recent years major jihadi websites and forums, such as Al-Ikhlas and Al-Hesbah, have been shut down by Western counterterrorism agencies, and many smaller (but still important) such websites are now disrupted daily, with users experiencing increasing difficulties in posting material on these websites, it is expected that the jihadists’ use  of reliable and well-established social media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook to spread their message will significantly  increase. This trend is reflected by the activities of, for example, a group named the Internet Jihad Brigades Invasion, whose mission is to transfer material to such social networking outlets when difficulties are encountered in posting it on jihadist websites and forums.

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Falluja, December 5 and 8, 2008.  
[2] See: MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 576,  "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" by Steven Stalinsky, December 30, 2009,  http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/3871.htm , and MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series No. 606; "YouTube – The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base: Part II;" By: Steven Stalinsky; http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4133.htm.
[3] The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2010.
[4] "Dialogue with Sen. Lieberman on Terrorism Videos;" http://youtube-global.blogspot.com/2008/05/dialogue-with-sen-lieberman-on.html; May 19, 2008.
[5] MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series No. 606; "YouTube – The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base: Part II;" By: Steven Stalinsky; http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4133.htm
[6] New York Daily News, May 8, 2010.



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