Twitter closes accounts of Somali militant group Al Shabaab

As Twitter closes accounts, the group opens others

Twitter is continuing efforts to close the accounts of Al Shabaab after the Somali Islamic militant group used the site to threaten the life of the country's president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

The militant group said in a Twitter message that it attacked a presidential convoy last week, though the presidency denies such an attack took place. Twitter shut the account of the group, which then opened another account under a different name, @HSM_Press, according to press reports. That account, however, has also been shuttered.

Earlier this year, Al Shabaab used the microblogging site to link videos of Kenyan hostages, mock rivals and claim responsibility for several bombings in Kenya. The group also used Twitter to announce the killing of a French hostage.

This resulted in the closure of the group's first Twitter account.

Al Shabaab's first Twitter account, which had thousands of followers, was opened in 2011 after neighboring Kenya sent troops to help fight insurgents. The Kenyan troops backed by the African Union forces have been battling Al Shabaab and forced the group out of Somalia's main towns over the past two years but the group is still said to be controlling many parts of southern and central Somalia.

Al Shabaab wants to impose its strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law, across the East African nation.

Twitter has told media outlets that it has suspended the group's account but that it does not comment on individual accounts.

The closing of Al Shabaab's Twitter account comes at a time when many African governments are enacting laws that will regulate and in some cases ban the use of social media networks.

Social media networks are viewed by politicians in the region as tools for fueling instability, following social unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.

Analysts say the use of social media network by Al Shabaab to threaten violence and advance their agenda may give a stronger case for many African governments to impose restrictions on the use of social media networks.

"We are already grappling with ideas by many African governments to regulate or even block the use of social media networks. I'm afraid what is happening in Somalia might provide a stronger case for these governments to move even faster," said Amos Kalunga, telecom analyst at the Computer Society of Zambia.

Zambia, Gambia and Malawi are some of the countries in the region that are working to regulate the use of social media networks.

In Gambia, the National Assembly, the country's legislative body, has already passed a law that imposes stiff punishment on persons found guilty of using the Internet to spread false news. Under the law, offenders will be jailed up to 15 years or fined an amount of US$90,000. The Gambian government intends to use the law to silence critical Gambian Internet users, online activists, online newspaper and bloggers within the country.

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