An investigation has revealed that terror groups operating out of Syria have taken to Reddit, utilizing the online messageboard as a forum for individuals who support Islamic terror groups operating inside Syria. Disobedient Media has determined that the subreddit r/SyrianRebels lists at least one moderator who appears to support extremist-aligned groups in Syria and has recently announced that they will host an “Ask Me Anything” session with a senior Al-Qaeda militant in charge of media outreach for the terror group. Reddit has refused to remove the subreddit, claiming that it does not violate their site’s rules.
I. Subreddit Devoted To “Syrian Rebels” Supports Extremists, Syrian White Helmets
The front page of r/SyrianRebels sports a number of posts that are anti-Assad and support the contention that the Syrian government was behind the April 4th chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria. They also feature several articles from the Atlantic Council. Disobedient Media has previously noted that the Atlantic Council is a think tank which has in the past taken money from special interests in return for pushing specific policy objectives that benefit their donors.
Multiple members of the subreddit’s moderating team appear to be either supporters or members of groups within Syria who have ties to Islamic extremist groups fighting in the country’s civil war. Several moderators espouse support for the Syrian White Helmets, who Disobedient Media has tied to war crimes committed by rebel groups in Aleppo and other areas of Syria. Another supports the Al Bunyan al Marsous Operations Room, a coordinated organization of rebels in Daraa, Syria. Observers have noted that members of the Al Bunyan al Marsous Operations Room include Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, who have been described by BBC News as being Al-Qaeda’s latest incarnation in Syria. The subreddit has also linked to their own dedicated Telegram channel. Telegram has been reported to be a favorite medium of communication for jihadists due to its encrypted messaging system and has been criticized for hampering anti-terror units in their efforts to combat extremists.
On April 18th, 2017, the moderating team made an announcement that they planned to host an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on April 29th with Shaykh Abu Sulayman, the former media relations manager for Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, who U.S. intelligence officials say is merely another proxy for Al-Qaeda fighting in Syria. Shaykh Abu Sulayman, real name Mostafa Muhammed, has been described as the most senior Australian member of Al-Qaeda by the press and is labeled a terrorist by the United States Department of the Treasury. The moderators claimed that their reason for giving an Al-Qaeda propagandist a forum to spread his message was their desire to feature an “English speaker in rebel-held Syria who has first-hand knowledge of events there.” There was no explanation for why they chose an English speaking member of Al-Qaeda, or how they had been able to coordinate and schedule a question and answer session with him.
II. Reddit Administrators Refused To Remove The Offending Subreddit
When Reddit’s administration team was contacted about the content and nature of r/SyrianRebels, they refused to take action against the group, despite their clear promotion of Al-Qaeda affiliated groups and operatives. The administrators’ response claimed that they had checked the subreddit and decided it did not violate Reddit’s site rules. The administration team took this position despite the forum’s decision to allow an Al-Qaeda member to speak there. Their decision comes after both members of the press and U.S. politicians have clearly stated that there are no longer any “moderate rebel” groups fighting the government in Syria. The Guardian has further noted that even supposedly “non-aligned” groups of rebels responsible for retaking territory held by ISIS in Syria are little more than bands of mercenaries who have fought alongside jihadist groups in the past and will continue to in the future if the price is right.
Many of the members of r/SyrianRebels promote these very groups, despite the clear signs that they are affiliated with jihadist organizations responsible not just for acts of terror and war crimes in Syria and the Middle East, but Europe and the United States as well. By failing to curtail these groups and deny them a forum on their website, Reddit’s corporate team is in effect allowing terrorism to thrive and promote itself on their platform.
This would not be the first time that terror groups have tried to use the platform for staging operations. In March 2015, Mossad officials told the New York Post that they had found users on Reddit who were using hexadecimal characters and prime numbers to encode plans for terror attacks. Over the past few months, Reddit has also been forced to close down subreddits that promoted child abuse and so called “alt-right” political views after receiving complaints from various factions of the site’s userbase.