An official al Qaeda website that is restricted to members of the terrorist group opened its first Twitter account this week in what U.S. officials say is an effort to resolve a major split over Syria’s Islamist rebels.
The Shamukh al-Islam website, used as an official clearing house for al Qaeda members to communicate and issue propaganda statements, started its first Twitter account on Tuesday.
The first posts on the account focused on divisions between two al Qaeda rebel groups in Syria, al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The account, @shomokhalislam, issued 29 tweets, followed one account, and attracted 1,532 followers as of Friday afternoon. U.S. officials said among its followers are several high-profile digital jihadists.
Counterterrorism analysts view the new account as another indicator that terrorist groups are stepping up their use of social media over traditional Internet sites.
The official al Qaeda account also highlights the view among Islamists that Twitter is fast becoming an essential tool for online jihad, or holy war.
“We’ve seen terrorist groups make increasingly effective use of social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, in recent years,” said Patrick Poole, a counterterrorism expert. “Not only is this important for propaganda purposes but also recruitment.”
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