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Iraq blocks Twitter, Facebook, YouTube amid growing ISIS threat

Published time: June 13, 2014 22:48
Edited time: June 18, 2014 07:38
An image grab taken from a propaganda video released on March 17, 2014 by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)'s al-Furqan Media allegedly shows ISIL fighters recruiting volunteers at an undisclosed location in the Anbar province (AFP Photo)

An image grab taken from a propaganda video released on March 17, 2014 by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)'s al-Furqan Media allegedly shows ISIL fighters recruiting volunteers at an undisclosed location in the Anbar province (AFP Photo)

The Iraqi government has blocked access to top social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, reportedly to hinder the activities of militants formerly associated with Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, thousands are signing up to fight the jihadist insurgency in Iraq.

Numerous media reports citing journalists and open-internet advocates said that internet users in Iraq are getting block screens when trying to access top social media sites and Google.

The Kuwait News Agency cited a source in the Iraqi Ministry of Communications who said the agency was told to block access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as a number of pornographic websites.

The source did not specify why the sites were blocked, but it is believed to be a move to thwart militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) from posting videos and pictures of exploits in the nation’s northern and western regions. The group has captured major ground in those areas, including Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq.

Hayder Hamzoz, founder of the Iraqi Network for Social Media, spread word of the block, and Ammar Al Shahbander, the Iraq director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, offered a screenshot of error messages received by users in Iraq.

Cyber Arabs, an internet freedom monitor and cybersecurity training provider in the Middle East and North Africa, confirmed with Mashable that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were hampered across Iraq.

Martin Chulov, reporting for the Guardian, said the sites were all down due to Iraqi government fears that ISIS would use social media to “organise & mobilise.”

"We are disturbed by reports of access issues in Iraq and are investigating," a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable. "Limiting access to internet services – essential for communication and commerce for millions of people – is a matter of concern for the global community."

Twitter and YouTube spokespersons said the companies are looking into the reports.

There have been reports of users losing access to messaging services WhatsApp and Viber, as well.

Internet activists also pointed out that blocking connections to users across Iraq would likely not help in refuting ISIS-fueled rumors of their own victories.

Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqi civilians are signing up to fight ISIS – Sunni Arab jihadists that also have a major presence in neighboring Syria. ISIS has handily beaten Iraqi security forces in their advance through the nation, leading Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to announce that civilians would be armed for an offensive against militants.

The volunteer effort received a boost from words of encouragement from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a top Shiite cleric adored across Iraq.

"Citizens who are able to bear arms and fight terrorists, defending their country and their people and their holy places, should volunteer and join the security forces to achieve this holy purpose," Sistani's representative announced for the cleric.

"He who sacrifices for the cause of defending his country and his family and his honour will be a martyr," he added.