The Dagestani Vilayyat’s Arabic-Speaking Audience

Posted: 07/03/2013 in Observations

It’s interesting to see that VDagestan.com, the “official” website of the Caucasus Emirate’s Dagestani Vilayyat (Province) launched an Arabic version of its website on 1 March. This follows the group’s launch of an Arabic-language Twitter account (@VDagestan_Ar) on 28 September 2012.

Sadly, I don’t speak Arabic, making it hard for me to assess the content of either the website or the Twitter account. However, the mere existence of the two suggests that Dagestani insurgents (or at least their sympathisers responsible for their cyber operations) identify Arabic speakers as a key audience. A statement on the Russian-language version of the website claims that the Twitter account “has enjoyed great success among Arabic-speaking Muslims [as of 7 March, it has 6,395 followers] and demonstrated the demand for a fully functional Arabic version of our site, in order to communicate reliable information about the Jihad and events in Dagestan in the Arab world.” One thing that is particularly interesting is that the Twitter account precedes the creation of a Russian-language Twitter account by more than five months (one was launched at the same time as the Arabic version of the website). Kavkaz-Tsentr, the most prominent North Caucasus insurgent website, has of course run an Arabic mirror site for years, so it’s not the first time that a North Caucasus website has sought to reach out to Arabic speakers. But at the very least it suggests a growing interest.

Even without language capabilities, it appears that up until now the Arabic Twitter site has mainly been used as a self-contained propaganda medium: most tweets do not link to other websites or interact with other users, instead consisting of text and hashtags. If my counting is accurate, in 259 tweets (including the occasional retweet) before 1 March, there are only 59 links to external websites; apart from 16 to YouTube, 17 were to PicTwitter, 8 to Twitlonger, 7 to Justpaste.it, and 5 to Twitmail. The use of things like Twitlonger and Justpaste.it suggests the accounts administrators were struggling to say all they wanted in 140 characters. Posts since 1 March point to an expected change: Of the 10 tweets, six link to the new website and another announces its launch.

Arabic-language websites also pose an interesting challenge to counterterrrorism analysts monitoring the websites. Many of the people interested in the activities, physical or cyber, of Dagestani insurgents will, like me, be unable to speak Arabic. Analysts organized geographically face a challenge in ensuring that such websites do not go unmonitored.

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