Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel group is feuding with WordPress on Twitter

December 13, 2012

Screenshot of Jabhat al-Nusra's now-defunct WordPress blog

Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian rebel group whose name means "victory front" and which the United States designates as a terrorist organization for its alleged links to al-Qaeda's Iraq branch, is opening a new front in its war against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Its target: WordPress, the Web publishing platform that recently shut down Jabhat al-Nusra's blog. Its medium: Angry tweets.

The Syrian rebel group's WordPress blog, jbhatalnusra.wordpress.com, now returns an error message indicating that it has been "archived or suspended" for violating WordPress terms of service. Those terms include a prohibition against threats of violence or incitement to commit violence. A footnote on the terms of service indicates that the prohibition was changed a month ago to remove the words "towards individuals and entities," making any threat or incitement to violence a bannable offense. 

A Web cache of the Arabic-language blog shows that it mostly reported on Jabhat al-Nusra victories against the Syrian regime. It includes mentions of "martyrdom operations," some of them in Damascus, which might mean either deliberate suicide attacks or assaults from which the fighters were not expected to return. That would certainly seem to meet WordPress's definition of inciting violence, although it seems likely that the U.S. decision to declare Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist group just three days ago probably had something to do with the decision to shut down the blog.

Jabhat al-Nusra has not taken the decision well. The group, or whoever operates its 10,000-follower Twitter feed, broke into English for the first time -- all previous tweets have been in Arabic -- to protest the decision. The group called for "freedom of speech," a priority that one hopes it will maintain if it ends up with any power in a post-Assad Syria. Here are the angry tweets:

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Anup Kaphle · December 13, 2012