|November 14, 2012
Source: Huffington Post
The website's headlines trumpet al-Shabab's imminent demise and describe an American jihadist fretting over insurgent infighting. At first glance it appears to be a sleek, Horn of Africa news site. But the site – sabahionline.com – is run by the U.S. military.
The site, and another one like it that centers on northwest Africa, is part of a propaganda effort by the U.S. military's Africa Command aimed at countering extremists in two of Africa's most dangerous regions – Somalia and the Maghreb.
Omar Faruk Osman, the secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists, said Sabahi is the first website he's seen devoted to countering the militants' message.
"We have seen portal services by al-Shabab for hate and for propaganda, for spreading violence. We are used to seeing that. In contrast we have not seen such news sites before. So it is something completely unique," Osman said.
But although he had noticed prominent articles on the site, which is advertising heavily on other websites, he had not realized it was bankrolled by U.S. military.
The U.S. military and State Department, a partner on the project, say the goal of the sites is to counter propaganda from extremists "by offering accurate, balanced and forward-looking coverage of developments in the region."
"The Internet is a big place, and we are one of many websites out there. Our site aims to provide a moderate voice in contrast to the numerous violent extremist websites," Africom, as the Stuttgart, Germany-based Africa Command is known, said in a written statement.
Al-Shabab and other militants have for years used websites to trade bomb-making skills, to show off gruesome attack videos and to recruit fighters. The U.S. funded websites – which are available in languages like Swahili, Arabic and Somali – rely on freelance writers in the region.