politics of cyberspace
Israel's Maariv newspaper reported Nov. 24 that deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely met with representatives of YouTube and Google to discuss cooperation in what she called the fight against "inciting violence and terrorism." She told Maariv that she especially sought to establish a joint working mechanism to monitor and prevent publication of "inflammatory material" originating in the Palestinian territories. Middle East Monitor writes: "Since the latest escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israeli security services that erupted at the beginning of October, many people have been sharing videos depicting Israeli aggression towards Palestinians to highlight the Palestinian perspective of the conflict." Activists and Arab newsmedia have "expressed concerns that the meetings suggest moves towards censoring Palestinian material on the part of the Israeli state."
Bangladesh opposition figures Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid were hanged together at Dhaka Central Jail Nov. 22 for war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence. In the prelude to the executions, the government ordered all ISPs to block Facebook and other social media in a bid to head off protests. In the electronic chaos that followed the order, the entire country lost Internet access for over an hour. Protests were effectively suppressed, but a reporter from Mohona TV was shot and wounded when his car was sprayed with bullets by roadside assailants while returning to Dhaka from covering the funeral of Chowdhury in Chittagong district. (Dhaka Tribune, Gizmodo, Al Jazeera, Nov. 23; France24, Nov. 22; AFP, Bangladesh News, Nov. 21)
At least 32 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a Nov. 17 blast at a crowded vegetable market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Yola, capital of war-torn Adamawa state. Yola was also the scene of an Oct. 24 mosque bombing that left 27 dead. These are but the latest in a relentless campaign of terror attacks by Boko Haram that has left over 1,600 dead in Nigeria and neighboring Chad and Cameroon over the past four months. (Al Jazeera, Nov. 17) The new attack comes just as a Nigerian online activist has won acclaim in his country for calling out Facebook's double standards on which terrorist attacks warrant attention. Activst Jafaar Jafaar in a popular post noted the prodigious attention Facebook is devoting the Paris terrorist attacks that have left 130 dead—with a "Safety Check" feature for residents of the city, and a campaign by users to superimpose the French tricolor over their profile pictures. Jafaar especially made note of the January attack at the town of Baga, in Nigeria's northeastern Borno state, in which an estimated 2,000 were killed—eliciting no such response from Facebook. (News24, Nigeria, Nov. 17)
The Pentagon announced on Oct. 29 that the US State Department has approved a $70 million sale of "smart bombs" to Turkey—one day after the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress that the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) systems would be sold. Lawmakers have 15 days for any block. The package to be sold to Turkey includes BLU-109 "bunker-busters" as well as 900 "smart bomb kits," 100 laser kits and 200 warheads. "It is vital to the US national interest to assist our NATO ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability," the DSCA stated on its website. (Hurriyet Daily News, Oct. 30)
Five Ethiopian bloggers on Oct. 16 were acquitted of terrorism charges relating to publications on their Zone9 website. The publications, critical of the government, landed nine bloggers in court, with one charged in absentia, in April 2014, for violation of Ethiopia's broad anti-terrorism law. In July five bloggers were unexpectedly released after being cleared by the court. In the new decision, the court announced that documents provided by prosecutors were insufficient to prove terrorism, leading to the release of four bloggers. Although cleared of terrorism charges, one blogger remains detained on charges of inciting violence. The releases come as a surprise for a nation ranked as one of the world's least free.
The aftermath of the Oct. 10 Anakara massacre—in which some 100 were killed in a double suicide attack on a peace rally—has been a study in the Orwellian. Authorities have arrested at least 12 sympathizers of the Kurdish PKK rebels, who are accused of tweeting messages indicating foreknowledge of the attack. But the actual tweets indicate they were warning of a potential ISIS attack on the rally. "What if ISIL blows up?!," one tweeted. Another voiced fear of an ISIS "intervention" at the event. This was an all too legitimate speculation, given the similar terror attack on a gathering of leftist youth in the southern town of Suruc just three months earlier. In fact, Turkish police have named one of the Ankara bombers as Yunus Emre Alagöz, the brother of Sheikh Abdurrahman Alagöz, the ISIS operative who blew himself up in the Suruc attack. (The Guardian, Oct. 15; Anadolu Agency, Oct. 14)
We don't know if this is true, but the claim sheds some light on Russia's motivation (or at least justification) for its intervention in Syria. The Long War Journal reports Oct. 3, citing social media postings, that a small group of Crimean Tatars and other militants from the Russian-annexed peninsula, calling themselves the Crimean Jamaat, has pledged bayah (allegiance) to the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise. The pledge was apparently announced by Nusra sympathizers on Twitter, and on the official social media site of Nusra's Sayfullah Shishani Brigade, which is largely comprised of Chechens. "Kataib Crimean Tartars under the leadership of Emir Ramadan al Krim [Crimean] pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in Sham and joined the Al Nusrah Front," read a statement on White Minaret, the Sayfullah Shishani site. The page is said to also include pictures of the group, reportedly based in Hama governorate.
Crimean Tartars earlier this month launched an ongoing blockade of food deliveries to Crimea from Ukraine in protest of Russia's annexation of the peninsula. Refat Chubarov, a Crimean Tatar leader who was banned from the peninsula by Russia after its March 2014 take-over, told the New York Times no trucks would be allowed through border crossings after barricades went up on Sept. 20. Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed prime minister of Crimea, said the blockade would have little effect, as only about 5% of the goods consumed in the region come through Ukraine. "The trade blockade of Crimea begun by Ukrainian activists with the support of a number of Kiev politicians will not affect food supplies in the region," he told Russia's state-run Rossiya 24 satellite TV. "Crimea will not notice this."