The Wall Street Journal, Political Diary - "In the name of God and praise be to Allah and peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of God, we preach to our Muslim nation through Twitter, bringing us what pleases the believer and vexes the infidel." So proclaimed al Qaeda's North African franchise in an opening tweet last week, as best your correspondent and a couple of online-translation sites can tell. Somehow all that comes to less than 140 characters in Arabic.
The "Andalus Media Foundation," the publicity arm of al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), tweeted earlier in March from an account that's since been deleted. After relaunching last week, the group has garnered more than 4,500 "followers" and, per Twitter custom, been greeted by its off-line associates. "We welcome our brothers @Andalus_Media to Twitter," tweeted HSM Press, posting for Somalia's al Shabaab terrorists. "May Allah guide your actions and enrage the hearts of the Kuffar with your tweets."
Along with al Shabaab, the AQIM tweeters subscribe to a handful of feeds claiming to represent other jihadists in Syria, Tunisia and the Caucasus. By far the most popular, per its 45,868-strong Twitter following, is that of the al Nusra Front, which posts regular combat updates and footage from Syria. The U.S. State Department lists al Nusra as an alias of al Qaeda in Iraq.
AQIM's feed has been less dishy so far, though the group certainly has been active on it. A post late last month links to an extended plea for freedom of expression on the internet. "A lot of corruption and oppression in the bloody area on the planet is result of hiding the truth from free people," Andalus writes, apparently having published its English-language "message to media journalist" unedited from a machine translator.
Its other tweets include a link to the latest, lengthy public threat against AQIM's hostages. The feed also presents a months-old video of AQIM's Algerian leader talking tough to France and warning African governments against helping the "Zio-crusader alliance." First posted in February, the 26-minute, all-talk YouTube offering had fewer than 600 views as of last Friday, which might explain why AQIM is still advertising it.
In a short and mostly pointless online exchange last weekend with one "Shaiba Alhamad," who says he is "working with" Andalus Media, I asked why AQIM isn't also following "Mostafa Ahmedi," a well-trafficked Twitter presence of the Afghan Taliban. "Is the jihad in Afghanistan not as important?"
"Surely jihad in Afghanistan is important but is this account formally to Taliban?" replied Alhamad. Illustrating his own point, he ignored questions about how a journalist might verify his or the Andalus account's affiliations. Instead, he fumed that the Taliban's previous account had been deleted: "Why? Is this democracy?"
After some more huffing about "freedom of opinion" and the unfairness of Twitter, Alhamad admitted his big worry: "We think they will delete our account Alandalus Media."