Report Marks Second Time Awlaki’s Propaganda Re-uploaded to Platform
(New York, N.Y.) – On December 5, The Times (London) reported its discovery of over 100 radicalizing extremist videos from notorious al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki on Google-owned YouTube. The videos were identified by the news outlet using “obvious search terms” including “The Battle of Hearts and Minds”—which the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has previously noted to have been “used to rally supporters and lionise terrorists, whom Awlaki refers to admiringly as shaheed (martyrs). In December of 2013, The Battle of the Hearts and Minds was used by ISIS in recruitment and promotional materials.” After the newspaper publicized its findings, YouTube reactively removed the videos.
London Bridge attacker, Usman Khan, who murdered two people and wounded three others, was influenced by radical cleric Anjem Choudary and also watched Awlaki videos. Responding to The Times’ findings, CEP Executive Director David Ibsen voiced concerns over the real-world implications of Awlaki’s materials finding their way back online. He stated, “The London Bridge attack is yet another example of the consequences of inaction and negligence by online platforms. Somehow, eight years after his death, Anwar al-Awlaki remains a leading English-language jihadist recruiter. Either YouTube’s technology or its commitment is lacking.”
This incident marks the second such time in which Awlaki’s extremist materials were discovered to have been re-uploaded to YouTube, despite being previously removed. In November 2017, after a years-long CEP campaign, YouTube reversed its policy and removed thousands of Awlaki videos. However, 14 months later, a follow-up report by CEP researcher Joshua Fisher-Birch found dozens of radicalizing Awlaki lectures that were easily locatable, amassed tens of thousands of views and were nearly a year old. Then, Fisher-Birch stated that it was key for YouTube to ensure Awlaki’s “works never be widely disseminated ever again.”
In its report, Anwar al-Awlaki’s Ties To Extremists, CEP documents 99 extremists—56 U.S. extremists and 43 European extremists—who have had ties to Awlaki. Omar Mateen—perpetrator of the second deadliest gun attack on U.S. soil—had watched Awlaki’s videos, according to one witness in a July 2014 FBI investigation. Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2, 2015, San Bernardino massacre that killed 14, had reportedly spent hours alongside neighbor Enrique Marquez listening to Awlaki’s lectures and poring over directions on making explosives. Awlaki was in close contact with Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan (2009), underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (2009), and thwarted suicide bomber Minh Quang Pham (2012). Awlaki has reportedly inspired failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad (2010) as well as Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (2013), New York/New Jersey bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami (2016) and Ohio State University attacker Abdul Razak Ali Artan (2016).
To read The Times article in full, please click here.
To read the CEP report Anwar al-Awlaki’s Ties to Extremists, please click here.