Social media – chosen tool of terror?

The newly elected British government is setting up a “Commission for Countering Extremism” to work on everything from creating new criminal offences to fostering better social integration. The common-sense measures will likely include things such as internment; tagging; denying internet access; and the right to confiscate a passport. But the harder nut to crack remains the non-cooperation of the “social media moguls” – why?

Salman Abedi, the British-born bomber of Manchester Arena was not sufficiently on the radar of the intelligence services; partly due to the encrypted social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, which terrorists use.

The problem is that “civil libertarians” defend such privacy with the same vehemence as the American gun lobby – too many “civil rights” and not enough “social responsibility”; but what I find totally unacceptable is the way the social media companies are happy to watch our online activity and send details to third parties for cash, while they refuse to open encrypted information to the security services about the online activity of dangerous people.

Salman Abedi was the son of a Libyan refugee family, which fled Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya to settle in Manchester (now the biggest Libyan community in Britain). Sadly his school teachers apparently knew Salman to be ‘none-too-bright’, ‘lazy’ and generally ‘dislikeable’ – i.e. another lost soul with the typical profile of a home-grown terrorist.

Salman’s slide into the “moral sewer” of Islamism started as he dropped out of university; attended wild parties; drank heavily; smoked marijuana; listened to rap and grime music; and had links with local gangs.

As the Gaddafi regime fell, Salman’s father Ramadan re-joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) – an affiliate of Al Qa’eda – returning the family to Tripoli in 2008 when Salman was an impressionable teenager who subsequently came under the thrall of the mad ravings of Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq wa al-Sham (i.e. nick-named Da’ash in Arabic) and known in English as the so called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria’ (ISIS).

While a teenager in Libya Salman turned against western culture and came to despise it by the time the Abedi family returned again to Manchester in 2014.  Salman – now a student –began to exhibit unhinged behaviour wearing black; putting the black ISIS flag in his bedroom window for neighbours to see; chanting the Qur’an in public and arguing with elders at his local mosque who eventually banned him from the premises and reported him.

The internet also features in the criminality of Salman’s brother Hashim who studied IT at Manchester College and used it to learn the craft of bomb-making online. The Telegraph newspaper used a fact-checker (Henk van Ess) of the investigative website Bellingcat to recover posts from Hashim Abedi’s deactivated Facebook account.

It was found that he had “liked” a picture of the planes flying into New York’s World Trade Centre and said he admired Osama bin Laden and frequently corresponded with Junade Hostey, the younger brother of Raphael Hostey – probably the most avid ISIS recruiter in Britain until he went to Syria and was killed in a drone strike in 2013. Such social media accounts apparently reveal a terror network spread across Britain including Manchester, Cardiff and Portsmouth.

The point is that the descent into Islamist insanity is going on in plain sight of the social media companies

They have so far been reluctant to cooperate with the security services in their effort to thwart terror plots. Any online jihadi (when known) should be placed high on the government list of “people of interest”; a point being made by Security Minister Ben Wallace, who openly accuses the social media companies of being:

‘…ruthless and duplicitous money-makers who have deceived the government about tackling terrorism online. Social media bosses sit on bean-bags wearing tee-shirts posing as freedom-loving hippies while the reality is they are pandering to share-holders and loving their super-yachts more.

These companies survey how you and I live our lives online, then take that data and sell it around the world to anyone – for everything from pay day loans to soft porn; however they have a lukewarm attitude to sharing important encrypted data with security investigations – arguing that it amounts to “surveillance”.’

Wallace insists that data encryption is allowing Islamist cells to emerge undetected. Wallace rightly demands that social media companies should spend more of their billions on developing mechanisms which automatically take down jihadist sites which are used to radicalise young, idealistic but impressionable Britons.

Steve Bell is the National Director at Interserve GB & Ireland. A mission leader, analyst, trainer and author, Steve is a recognised cross-cultural communicator with 35 years’ experience in 100 countries. Steve is author of Friendship First, Grace for Muslims and Gospel for Muslims and co-edited Between Naivety & Hostility. Steve is married to Julia, a senior teacher and they are “owned” by a mentally deranged Siamese cat called Izzy.

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