Twitter is the new frontier for jihadist propaganda, according to an extensive review of more than 75,000 tweets in a leading counterterrorism journal exclusively reviewed in advance of publication by Fox News.
The article, called "Tweeting for the Caliphate," was authored by independent academic investigators Nico Prucha and Ali Fisher. It will be available on Tuesday in the CTC Sentinel, a journal published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. It explored the Syrian opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra and its established links to Al Qaeda as a case study (in Syria, the Assad regime is said to allow social media activity, in part so that government officials can monitor the traffic).
"Twitter has become the main hub for the active dissemination of links guiding users to digital content," the report found, adding that a new generation of jihadists now engages in attacks after extensive exposure to online propaganda. "These jihadists decided to engage in physical violence after being active within the virtual dominions of al-Qa'ida where exposure to the media had an impact on their personal lives and understanding of religious conduct."
Increasingly, investigators found Al Qaeda web forums are buying into social media and promoting their official Twitter accounts on their main web pages. It is not uncommon for videos, linked to jihadist tweets, to get upwards of 5,000 views.
The report notes that Al Qaeda-linked groups are apparently learning from past mistakes, emphasizing that their operations allegedly avoid the loss of civilian life. One sequence uploaded onto YouTube was viewed 10,000 times.
Former U.S. intelligence officials have told Fox News that prior to 9/11, it was standard for a new recruit to meet one-on-one with a known jihadist -- in order to cross the threshold to violence. But in the last five years, social media has become the new driver of radical Islam. In some cases, there is no one-on-one contact at all.
Investigators conclude that Twitter is used "as a beacon for sharing" links to content across multiple digital platforms.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.