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
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
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
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.
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
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
"Anwar Al-Awlaki is NOT a terrorist,” wrote Jihadi Fan Club on his YouTube page. “He simply wants
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
The Jihadi Fan Club page still remains up on YouTube, as of Nov. 8.