Revealed: the radical clerics using social media to back British jihadists in Syria

April 15, 2014


Two radical Muslim clerics have been identified as influential online cheerleaders for fighters seeking to topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in a pioneering academic study published on Wednesday. Researchers based at King’s College London reveal how social media is being harnessed by a network of radical preachers to inspire and guide British and other western Muslims waging jihad in Syria. By examining tweets and Facebook postings used by certain rebels, people who follow the conflict from abroad and the two clerics, the academics say they have been able to provide a “unique and unfiltered window into the minds” of western and European foreign fighters in Syria.

The information allowed the analysts to identify a “set of new spiritual authorities” who have the largest followings. The report says they are the American-based cleric Ahmad Musa Jibril and the Australian preacher Musa Cerantonio. Both speak English and are based in the west. Although there is no evidence to suggest these individuals are physically involved in facilitating the flow of foreign fighters to Syria, or that they are co-ordinating their activity with jihadist organisations, they are playing the role of cheerleaders. “It is clear that they are important figures whose political, moral and spiritual messages are considered attractive to a number of foreign fighters,” the researchers conclude.

Though they do not openly incite their followers to commit violent acts they do tweet support for the Syrian rebels. Neither of them has a mosque or a traditional constituency in the way that a radical preacher like Abu Hamza used to have who still had a base to operate from, having become virtually borderless as virtual clerics who operate solely more or less through the internet and on popular media, Youtube, and in the case of Cerantonio, through international TV stations as well.

Shiraz Maher, of the ICSR, said the report represented the first empirical analysis of “what’s important for foreign fighters” in the Syrian context. Cerantonio and Jibril represented a new breed of “virtual” preachers, he said. “We never intended to write the report in the way it was written, we just crunched the numbers and these two came out top and the evidence suggests that these two people are very important to people in their 20s who are invested and interested in the Syrian conflict.


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