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Russia Blocks Blogs By Western Analysts Tracking IS

A militant fires an RPG in this still image taken from an IS recruitment video that was uploaded to social media websites in June. Russia is blocking the work of Western IS analysts due to the presence of such videos on their blogs.

A number of blogs and websites written by Western analysts who track jihadi and extremist groups, including the Islamic State (IS) militant group, appear to have been blocked in Russia.

Pieter Van Ostaeyen is a Belgian analyst who tracks jihadi groups, including Belgian militants in Islamic State, and runs a blog on the Syrian war. He reported on December 1 that when users in Russia attempted to visit his site, they could only view a message that read, “This site has been blocked by order of the government in Russia.”

Van Ostaeyen said his site had posted an Islamic State video called "The Clanging Of The Swords."

An initial investigation by RFE/RL shows that other sites run by Western analysts tracking Islamic State and other jihadi groups have also been blocked in Russia.

The website, run by U.S.-based analyst Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is also no longer accessible in Russia. The Jihadology website makes it clear that it is intended for academic purposes only and does not endorse any of the jihadist content posted on it.

Van Ostaeyen told RFE/RL that it was “completely insane" for Russia to block his website, as well as Jihadology and likely others.

The development comes amid an apparent crackdown by the Russian authorities against sites that post material relating to Islamic State.

On December 1, Russia’s state communications agency temporarily blocked access to the Vimeo video-hosting website after an account on the site posted a video from the Islamic State group.

State broadcasting regulator Roskomnadzor said on December 1 that Internet service providers in Russia "banned access to video hosting [site] Vimeo" based on a request by the Russian prosecutor's office because of a video on the website from the IS militant group called "Flames of War."

A Roskomnadzor spokesman later said the block had been removed.

In October, the Russian prosecutor-general ordered the closure of a number of pro-Islamic State accounts on the Russian social network VKontakte, saying that the pages had contained “calls for extremist and terrorist activities.”

That move came after VKontakte itself had carried out a large-scale ban of pro-jihad groups in August, following reports that pro-Islamic State accounts had moved to the social network after being banned by Twitter.

While VKontakte continues to ban pro-jihadi accounts, including those run by a core group of pro-Islamic State supporters, the network still contains a large number of accounts supporting the Islamic State group. These accounts include those of Russian-speaking militants fighting with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Those behind the accounts simply reopen new accounts as their old accounts are banned.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world.


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