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‘We’re at war’ — Alabama mosque reports jihadist messages to FBI

(Photo: Edward Musiak)
(Photo: Edward Musiak)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A local Muslim leader has informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that members of his mosque have received “suspicious messages” on their social media accounts, including at least one message that mentioned “war,” according to an Associated Press report.

Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, told the AP that an unknown individual sent friend requests to members of his mosque, followed by messages. One of the messages said, “We are at war and we must stick together.”

Taufique says he informed the FBI out of fear that his mosque would be incorrectly associated with extremists.

“(I reported the messages) because of the special time we are in we didn’t want to take a chance,” he said.

One of the Birmingham Islamic Society’s former members left the United States to join ISIS last year, although the mosque’s leaders say she had withdrawn from the community long before radicalizing.

The girl, Hoda Muthana, a 20-year-old former college student from Hoover, was radicalized through social media and ultimately abandoned her family to move to ISIS-controlled Syria.

A recent study by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism identified Muthana as one of ISIS’s most active recruiters online.

Here’s how the group operates on the Internet, according to the study:

ISIS Activists and sympathizers are active on a variety of platforms — open forums, private messaging apps, and the dark web — but Twitter is by far the platform of choice. The Program on Extremism identified and monitored approximately 300 American supporters of ISIS on Twitter, including some individuals now in Syria and Iraq. These accounts can be divided into three categories: noes, amplifiers and shout-outs.

NODES:
Nodes are the leading voices in the ISIS Twittersphere. They enjoy a prominent status and are the primary content creators for the network. A group of two or three clustered users will often swap comedic memes, news articles and official ISIS tweets, allowing them to pool followers and more easily spread content both to new audiences and throughout their network.

AMPLIFIERS:
Amplifiers largely do not generate new content but rather retweet and “favorite” material from popular users. Ultimately, because they post little, if any, original content, it is often unclear whether these accounts correspond to real-life ISIS sympathizers or are programmed to post automatically.

SHOUT-OUTS:
Shout-out accounts primarily introduce new, pro-ISIS accounts to the community and promote newly created accounts of previously suspended users, allowing them to quickly regain their pre-suspension status. A unique innovation of the online ISIS scene, they tend to have the largest followings in the Twitter landscape and play a pivotal role in the community’s resilience, despite frequent account suspensions.

CHARACTERS:
— Nearly 1/3 of the tracked accounts are purportedly operated by women.
— Most American ISIS supporters online communicate in English.
— Many accounts use avatars of black flags, lions and green birds (a symbol of martyrs).
— Increasingly avatars feature Americans arrested on terrorism charges, killed waging jihad abroad, or committing attacks in the U.S.

Muthana is reportedly one of the Islamic State’s “nodes.”

Her father, Mohammed, and his wife moved to the United States from Yemen in 1992. All of his children were born here and are American citizens. He told Buzzfeed in an in-depth report that he “controls his kids” like “every family,” but that ISIS “found somehow, some way to (get) through” to his daughter.

More details on their story can be found here.