YouTube Removes Some Al Qaeda Videos from Website

YouTube started removing some video sermons by Al Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki from its website last week, after being pressured to take action by U.S. and British officials.

A former imam at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Virginia, the American-born Al-Awlaki has been using social media as a recruiting method for would-be jihadists over the past few years, leading terrorist-watchers to dub him the "[Osama] bin Laden of the internet" and the "sheikh of YouTube."

Al-Awlaki has been tied to the Sept. 11 hijackers, the Christmas Day bomber and the Fort Hood shooter. This past spring, President Obama ordered that the cleric be killed on sight, but the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on Aug. 30 to prevent the military from targeting the U.S. citizen without a trial.

According to the Middle East Media Research Insitute (MEMRI), more than a dozen terror suspects have been radicalized through Al-Awlaki's online presence. This list includes Paul and Nadia Rockwood (an Alaskan couple who made a "hit-list" of U.S. officials who "desecrated Islam"), Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, Time Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and Sharif Mobley (a 24-year old American who is charged with killing a Yemeni soldier).

The news that YouTube is removing some of the sermons comes in the wake of the high-profile trial of a 21-year-old Muslim woman who stabbed a British MP after allegedly being radicalized by online videos.

Several U.S. government officials – including Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) – have filed complaints with YouTube, asking it to remove the thousands of Al-Awlaki's sermons on its site. The company is reviewing these complaints, and says that it has taken down a couple of hundred videos that violated its current policy.

According to YouTube spokeswoman Victoria Grand, the policy prohibits videos which promote “dangerous or illegal activities such as bomb-making, hate speech, and incitement to commit violent acts” as well as videos posted by members of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

“We're now looking into the new videos that have been raised with us and will remove all those which break our rules,” she said. However, the company has no plans to change its current policies.

Some terrorism experts say that removing radical Islamic videos and websites won't solve the problem of online radicalization, and might even be counterproductive.

“I think in a way it's kind of futile,” said Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, a researcher at the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization. “It's not going to prevent [Al-Awlaki's] material from being available.”

Meleagrou-Hitchens said that many radical Islamists “see it as their Islamic duty” to post videos and create extremist websites calling for jihad, and they are not likely to quit.

And while the proliferation of Islamic websites is certainly contributing to the radicalization problem, there might be some incentives for intelligence organizations to keep them up. Meleagrou-Hitchens said that these websites bring many of the extremists to one location, allowing British government officials to track the IP addresses of these web surfers.

But there's no denying that online radicalization is a growing problem that needs to be dealt with more effectively.

“We speak to quite a few security people. Almost all of them have said that the internet is now basically the biggest problem when it comes to homegrown radicalization,” said Meleagrou-Hitchens. “Slowly we're waking up to it, but we're way behind. There's so much to deal with and it's really, really difficult to mitigate it or slow it down. It may already be too late.”

In September, the Media Research Center reported on a young American Muslim who had set up a "Jihadi Fan Club" page on YouTube. MEMRI called this case “a clear example of a young American convert radicalized by YouTube.”

"Anwar Al-Awlaki is NOT a terrorist,” wrote Jihadi Fan Club on his YouTube page. “He simply wants America to change its unjust foreign policy. He does NOT call for fighting out of hatred for America, he call for fighting in the name of self defense. Anwar Al-Awlaki tells the sincere Muslims to fight against the U.S. troops and all the oppressors of the Muslims.”

Underneath one video in support of the Ground Zero mosque, Jihadi Fan Club posted a shout-out to Al-Awlaki and Abu Monsour Al-Amriki - an American-born member of terror group Al-Shabab who posts his own rap videos endorsing jihad on YouTube - thanking the terrorists for their "inspiration."

In another post, Jihad Fan Club argued that the Americans murdered on Sept. 11 were not innocent civilians, and that they deserved the attack because they supported the U.S. economic and foreign policies. And the page also featured videos by the American-born Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, and praise for terror leader Osama bin Laden.

The Jihadi Fan Club page still remains up on YouTube, as of Nov. 8.

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