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Thursday, November 4, 2010

YouTube's War on Awlaki: So Far, So-So

One day after YouTube said it would ban videos by Anwar Awlaki that incite violence, a search of the site in Arabic showed dozens of videos still available.

A search of the Arabic version of YouTube for the name "Awlaki" yielded 429 hits. Two of the top three results were official media releases from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which were posted along with links to top jihadist forums.

A number of Awlaki audio lectures which do not directly advocate violence remain on both English and Arabic versions of YouTube.

Most of these audio recordings -- such as "The Journey of the Soul" -- were originally published commercially and may be covered by valid copyrights, despite their wide availability in pirated form online.

Others, which do not primarily relate to violent topics, nevertheless discuss and justify violence and violent conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims. For instance, in a series on "The Hereafter" which is still available on the English version of YouTube, Awlaki says:
The only justified war is jihad. Because that is the only fight that is happening for the sake of Allah Subhan Allah. Everything else is happening for the sake of dunya. [Non-Muslims] attack jihad in Islam, as if their wars are justified. What are they fighting for? Sometimes they would cover it. They would mask it with the goal of human rights. We’re fighting for human rights.

Hundreds of other radical videos remain on YouTube as well. A search for videos under the keyword "mujahideen" yielded 5,000 hits in Arabic and another 5,000 in English. Videos included propaganda from the late leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, known for his ultraviolence.

Footage also included Abu Mansour Al Amriki, aka Omar Hammami, an American citizen who has joined the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab insurgency in Somalia. In the video featured, Hammami directly encourages Muslims to join the fighting in Somalia.

A search under mujahideen also yields footage of overtly terrorist groups and activities in Algeria, Palestine and Chechnya, and footage of the war in Bosnia. Searching for "jihad" in Arabic produced videos of lectures by Osama bin Laden, London radical preacher Abu Hamza Al Masri, virulently anti-Semitic preacher Muhammad Hussein Yaqub and jihadist fighters in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman Al Zawahiri was represented by more than 2,600 videos on the Arabic version of YouTube, including a substantial number of official Al Qaeda releases which should, in theory, be easily identified as objectionable material.

It's not clear what strategy YouTube is using to eliminate problematic videos, or whether they have a subject-matter expert working on the problem. While some content will certainly fall into a gray area, it doesn't look like they have eliminated the low-hanging fruit yet.

Searches were conducted Nov. 3-4, 2010.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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