Twitter suspends account of Somali Islamist insurgents

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The Twitter account of Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents was suspended Friday, days after they posted photographs of a French commando they killed and threatened to execute Kenyan hostages.

A message from Twitter on the English-language @HSMPress account read that the account had “been suspended,” without elaborating.

However, the Shebab’s Somali- and Arabic-language accounts continue to operate, and the extremists used their Arabic account to denounce the suspension as censorship.

“This is new evidence of the freedom of expression in the West,” the message read.

On Wednesday the Shebab used the account to release a link to a video of several Kenyan hostages they said they will execute within three weeks if the Kenyan government does not release prisoners held on terrorism charges.

Earlier this month they posted graphic photographs of a French soldier killed during a failed bid to release a French agent whom the Shebab had held for more than three years. They later used Twitter to announce the hostage's execution.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault denounced the publication of the photographs as a “particularly odious display.”

Twitter warns that accounts can be suspended if they violate its rules, which include the publishing of “direct, specific threats of violence against others,” according to regulations posted on its website.

Users are also blocked if they use Twitter “for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities.”

Last year the Shebab used the account -- which was opened in December 2011, and most recently had more than 20,000 followers -- for a series of exchanges with Kenya’s army spokesman, taunting the Kenyans after they invaded southern Somalia to attack the Islamists.

Shebab fighters are on the back foot in Somalia, reeling from a string of losses as they battle a 17,000-strong African Union force as well as Ethiopian troops and Somali forces.

The Shebab would use their account to goad Kenya’s army spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir, calling the Kenyan military “inexperienced boys.”

And, after Chirchir warned that herds of donkeys were a potential target -- since they were viewed as Shebab convoys -- the Islamists retorted that Kenya’s “eccentric battle strategy has got animal rights groups quite concerned.”

In January 2012, during a live web chat platform that the U.S. State Department used to engage with international media, Washington’s senior advisor for innovation Alec Ross said terrorist organizations should be “dismantled and destroyed.”

“And so for me to think about whether they should have the right to use Twitter or not, I go to a more fundamental question, which is: Do they have the right to exist or not? And my answer to that is no. ... Shebab and other institutions that are purveyors of terror are going to get absolutely no sympathy from me, and they certainly aren’t going to see me advocate for their rights,” Ross said.

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