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Al-Shabab starts tweeting

Photo by ReutersBy Nazanine Moshiri

@HSMPress which stands for Harakat Al-Shabab Al Mujahideen is not following anyone on Twitter, yet. In a week, however, it has accumulated 2,500 followers and that number is certain to grow.

That al-Shabab is on Twitter isn't a surprise; just about everyone tweets these days. It is their use of language and tone that has become a subject of discussion. Not only are the tweets in English, they are quite formal, as opposed to the conversational tweets many are familiar with on the social media platform.

Through Twitter, what has so far been an actual battle between Kenya and al-Shabab, seems to be turning into a war of words.

A few days ago, al-Shabab posted this, referring to the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF): "Unable to foot the bill, the young & temperamental #KDF joins the fatigued &timid #AMISOM in a turbulent marriage of convenience."

Kenya sent thousands of troops into Somalia in October to fight al-Shabab, and it will now be joining the African Union, or AMISOM forces in Somalia.

Major Emmaneul Chirchir, the KDF's spokesman, is also on Twitter (@MajorEChirchir). When Kenyan forces went into Somalia, he tweeted the names of the Somali towns which would be targeted, warning people to leave.

"Any large concentration and movement of loaded donkeys will be considered Al Shabaab activity," he wrote.

@HSMPress responded: "Like bombing donkeys, you mean! Your eccentric battle strategy has got animal rights groups quite concerned. Major. "

The Major, clearly rattled, responded: "Life has more meaning than denying women to wear bras..RT in support of Somalia women."

This online banter is humorous, some of my Somali friends find it hilarious, but there is a more serious side.

Late on Monday, @HSMPress released what it claims are ID card scans of eight missing Burundian peacekeepers. According to the Twitter account, al-Shabab was "responding to pleas of ten families in Burundi."

It asked them to contact its War Statistics Office, the first time I or any of my colleagues have heard of this al-Shabab department.

I have been to Somalia many times. When I am there, I can barely get mobile phone reception and internet access is a luxury. If the group is indeed tweeting from the depths of Somalia, this shows how sophisticated an operation it must have developed.

It is common knowledge, that al-Shabab has young, Western-educated members among its ranks. Last year, it released an online recruitment video appealing to fellow Muslims in various languages, including English, Swedish, and Swahili.

Such technological savvy must come from this new generation of al-Shabab fighters, which is helping the group take its fight into cyberspace.

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