Australian terrorist “resigns” via Twitter
Last month, Australian national Mostafa Mahamed, 32, also known as Sheikh Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir, officially resigned via Twitter from his role as spokesperson for the listed terrorist organisation Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Al-Nusra Front.
Born in Egypt and raised in Sydney, Mahamed left Australia in 2012 to join the conflict in Syria. His rapid rise through the ranks of the Al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra raised serious concerns among Australian counter terrorism agencies about the influence of Al Qaeda in Australia. In 2013, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri hand-picked Mahamed as part of a team of religious scholars tasked with negotiating with ISIS after the proclamation of ISIS’s so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq, ultimately leading to ISIS severing ties with Al Qaeda.
Earlier this year, Mahamed oversaw the re-branding of Jabhat Al-Nusra as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (which translates to “Front for the Conquest of the Levant”), a transition that supposedly signals a split from Al Qaeda and an attempt to claim legitimacy among other major forces opposing the Assad regime in Syria.
As spokeperson for Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, Mahamed presented himself as part of this professional re-branding of terror. Online and in public interviews, the well-spoken Mahamed presented himself as eloquent, educated, intelligent, proud of his position and proud to be representing a terrorist organisation whose vision he clearly, wholly endorsed.
Not unlike ISIS’s online terrorist application forms Mahamed’s measured and calculated letter of resignation has the bureaucratic tone of a public service announcement. It is as if he wants us to believe the role of terror spokesperson is a legitimate profession, and that Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham implements policies and procedures for orderly recruitment and termination.
"The fact that Mahamed used Twitter to announced his resignation points to another problem, which is our own role in promoting a sense of legitimacy for the propaganda pushed out by terrorist organisations like Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham."
Except, of course, that this terrorist organisation is responsible for killing anyone who doesn’t agree with its political and religious views. An ‘organisation’ that looks to enforce an extremist agenda, with a mandate to kill anyone who does not fit its exclusive membership criteria. An ‘organisation’ that actively persecutes Shi’aMuslims, expropriates land and shelter from Druzecommunities, and executes Alawites. An ‘organisation’ that kills innocent civilians who do not comply with its ideology.
It’s preposterous to think that an organisation that so easily condones the killing of innocent people can also claims to fight for the people and future of Syria. For thousands of years, Syria has been a hub of trade and commerce for a diverse array of cultures and religions. For the most part, these communities have co-existed in relative peace. If Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham is serious in its motives for a better Syria, then why does it enlist terrorists committed to killing those who do not comply with its beliefs?
The fact that Mahamed used Twitter to announced his resignation points to another problem, which is our own role in promoting a sense of legitimacy for the propaganda pushed out by terrorist organisations like Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham.
There is no denying that social media is the propaganda machine of choice for terrorist organisations the world over. Every video ISIS puts out ends up on Facebook feeds; demands for ransom issued by Boko Haram result in counter-hashtags and ‘clicktivist’ trends; Al Qaeda tweets its claims for acts of terror; and global media networks report on all of it without proper citation or source verification.
A prominent terrorist writes a professional resignation letter and posts it on social media, knowing full well that we will lap it up. Mahamed’s post has been liked, retweeted, shared, and published by internet news outlets. Every interaction with his tweet – even the critical and incredulous – is a further promotion and legitimation of his actions and what he stands for.
Like all marketers, terrorists know there is no such thing as bad publicity. It is a dangerous game in which we are all complicit.
Last month, Australian national Mostafa Mahamed,officially resigned via Twitter from his role as spokesperson for a listed terrorist organisation