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Somalia's al-Shabab launches 'Twitter war'

Published: 12-08-11

Somalia's al-Shabab launches 'Twitter war'

Al-Shabab fighters photographed in October 2009 Al-Shabab is estimated to have up to 9,000 fighters

Somalia's militant Islamist group al-Shabab has launched an account on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The feed has attracted dozens of followers since it was created on Wednesday.

The account might be an attempt by al-Shabab to counter Kenya's military spokesman, Maj Emmanuel Chirchir, who regularly tweets about operations in Somalia.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October to fight the militants.

Its parliament voted on Wednesday to integrate the troops into the 9,000-strong African Union (AU) force backing Somalia's weak interim government.

Al-Shabab - which means The Youth in Arabic - controls most of southern and central Somalia.

'Sober up'

The first al-Shabab tweet was a koranic phrase in Arabic, meaning "In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful".

After that, al-Shabab switched to English and got down to the serious business of military propaganda.

Al-Shabab at a glance

map
  • "The Youth" in Arabic
  • Formed as a radical offshoot of the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006
  • Affiliated to al-Qaeda
  • Killed 76 people in double attack in Uganda during 2010 football World Cup
  • Estimated to have 7,000 to 9,000 fighters

The first tweets gave a hint of what was, within a few hours, to become the most intense fighting for several months between the Islamists and government troops backed by African Union (AU) troops in the capital, Mogadishu.

The tweets spoke of an attack by al-Shabab on an AU base in the north of the city.

This was despite the fact that al-Shabab in August announced that it had withdrawn from Mogadishu - something the transitional government described as a massive victory.

The tweets then launched into what the group described as the utter failure of Kenya's military intervention in Somalia.

One quoted the BBC story about the plan for Kenyan troops to join the AU force.

It said this was proof that Kenya had run out of money to pay for the military operation, so it now needed the AU to pay for it.

The advice to the Kenyan soldiers was put into one word, in capital letters - "FLEE".

There was also a tweet referring to the need for Somali government soldiers to sober up, accusing them of being intoxicated by the narcotic leaf, khat, which has been banned by al-Shabab.

The al-Shabab Twitter site has attracted dozens of followers since it was launched a few hours ago. At the time of writing, al-Shabab is following nobody.

The Islamist movement has in recent months become increasingly adept at communicating its activities and messages to a non-Somali audience.

It writes sophisticated press releases in excellent English, complete with photographs.

And now it has a Twitter account. Perhaps this is in response to the highly active Twitter account of Kenya's military spokesman.

He issues a steady stream of information about what he says are Kenya's military successes in Somalia.

So far, he appears to be winning the Twitter war. He has nearly 10,000 followers.

Al-Shabab has 400, but its site has only been active for a few hours, and that number increases every time I look at it.