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Extremists plot assassinations of former U.S. national security officials

Frances Fragos Townsend (Courtesy CEP)

WASHINGTON — From 2004 to 2007, Frances Fragos Townsend, Homeland Security
adviser to President George W. Bush, targeted terrorists and led Bush
administration activities to capture or kill them. She’s continued her efforts
in
the private sector since leaving government. Now, she and a group of former
government officials are themselves targets of a potentially deadly, extremist
scheme to get back at them.

Townsend is president of the Counter Extremism Project, a non-profit,
non-partisan, international policy organization. The group is composed of a
venerable
list of globally recognized, international counter-terrorism thought leaders
who
served as U.S. National Security officials, members of Congress, ambassadors,
and
law enforcement officials. Their goal is to expose, degrade and stop violent
extremist organizations.

CEPTwitter


The Counter Extremism Project has launched a campaign to
shutdown extremist social media accounts that
incite violence and directly threaten others. The campaign involves the
Twitter
account @fightextremism and #CEPDigitaldisruption.

FranTwitter


As a result, the campaign has made Townsend and her colleagues
the primary
target
of extremists’ anger over being kicked off the site repeatedly.

After expressing her frustration in the media about how easily jihadists can
open
new Twitter accounts after being shut down, Townsend told WTOP, “One jihadi
tweeted, ‘Let’s keep her frustrated and behead her.'”

According to Townsend, another said, “They should return my body parts back
to God. They were threatening dismemberment.”

Townsend and her colleagues at the CEP understand that suggestions
such as those can lead to assassination attempts: There are numerous examples
of
evidence
on Twitter and other social media sites. The group’s concern is that
extremists
advocating such behavior are replicating at alarming rate.

The speed with which extremists evicted from Twitter can set up new accounts
is
stunning. “They can open up a new twitter account faster than I can get the
results of an at-home pregnancy test,” said Townsend.

Hamayun Tariq, also known as “Muslim-Al-Britani,” personifies Townsend’s
concern.
Tariq, a British citizen believed to be an ISIL explosives expert with
connections to the Taliban in Pakistan, has opened at least six Twitter
accounts
in recent days. The latest, @BritaniMuslim, was shut down Dec. 3 and was
active
for
less than 24 hours before being erased, like his previous accounts — but not
before he released disturbing and very suggestive messaging including claims
that
ISIL has acquired a dirty bomb.

dirty bomb tweet


He and other jihadists have urged others to acquire or make weapons
and
launch
attacks. A Twitter user named William, who went by the name @_AbuDawud,
offered a
bounty for a user he believed was living in New Jersey. “Anyone who
body’s
(Twitter user’s identity protected) in the next 24 hours gets £300,000 cash
money.” the tweet read.

The CEP has written several letters to Twitter explaining its concerns, said
Townsend.

“There were three letters. The first one was basically — let’s just
meet and have a conversation and that’s the one we got a form response to,”
she said.

Townsend said CEP has written two more letters.

“The second one was more
pointed
and said, ‘Look, you have a responsibility to engage.’ The third directly
quoted
the
threat to me and asked for a meeting with the CEO, and we’ve not gotten any
response to the last two letters.”

That upsets Townsend as well.

“It’s very disturbing; if I with my
former
position in the White House can’t get through, I don’t understand. It’s
mystifying
to me that they wouldn’t want to engage on this issue.”

Townsend pointed out that several layers of legal liability are involved,
including a
basic liability if someone is attacked and a link to Twitter is proven. But
she
said there is a second, more serious level of liability stemming from possibly
allowing the platform to materially support a designated terrorism group.

WTOP contacted Twitter regarding the concerns and received a short response as
well.

“We review all reported accounts against our rules,
which prohibit violent threats,” a spokesperson said.

Twitter also responded with some background information it felt might be
“helpful.”

“We have 284 million users worldwide sending approximately 500 million Tweets
per
day, and we do not proactively monitor content on the platform.

“Our rules outline content and conduct boundaries on the
platform, including a
ban
on direct violent threats.

“Users report potential rules violations to us, we review
them, and take
action
when appropriate.

“Our Guidelines for Law Enforcement explain what information we
have about
accounts, and how authorities can request it.

“Our most recent transparency report showed over 2,000 government requests
during
the first half of this year, including 1,200 from the United States.”

The CEP has vowed to continue the fight. Townsend says one way Twitter
could
fight back is to embed a “report extremist” button into their site.

Often social media platforms, including Twitter, are splashed with videos and
images of people, including some Westerners, who have been attacked, beaten
up,
stabbed,
shot and even run over by vehicles. Townsend and many intelligence and
national
security professional believe groups such as ISIL, al Qaida and others have
figured
out that social media platforms can help them plan and carry out killings of
their
enemies.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.



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