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Russian Prosecutor-General Orders Closure of Pro-IS Accounts On VKontakte

Despite recent shutdowns, a large number of pro-IS accounts remain open on the VKontakte social network including a public group with over 16,000 followers. (file photo)

Amid increasing concern in Russia over the threat of the Islamic State (IS) group, the Russian Prosecutor-General has ordered the closure of pro-IS accounts on the Russian social network VKontakte.

A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's office told the TASS news agency that seven Russian-language pages on the VKontakte network contained "calls for extremist and terrorist activities".

The pages were in the public domain, the spokeswoman said, and contained textual and video materials related to the activities of "international terrorist organizations and groups that call for participation in the Islamic State armed group" as well as "materials promoting and justifying the actions of illegal armed groups opposing government forces in Syria."

Some of the pages had called for donations to IS militants via the QIWI Wallet, an electronic payment system that allows users to make payments over the Internet.

The fact that Moscow has moved to ban IS propaganda on VKontakte is less interesting than the fact that the Prosecutor-General has publicly announced it has done so.

VKontakte, which is sometimes described as the "Russian Facebook," frequently bans pro-IS and other pro-jihad accounts. In August, in response to the publication by IS of a video in which the group showed the graphic beheading of American journalist James Foley, VKontakte removed a large number of pro-IS accounts as well as accounts supporting other extremist Islamist factions. As a result, many individuals and groups who support IS or other extremist groups in Syria, including the Chechen-led faction Jaish Al-Muhajireen Wal Ansar which is linked to the North Caucasus-based extremist group, the Caucasus Emirate, simply moved to Facebook.

Moscow's decision to make a public statement of the banning of these seven pages would therefore seem to be a response to increasing fears that IS ideologies could be taking hold among young Muslims in the Russian Federation. In announcing this ban, and the reasons behind it, Russia is showing that it is able to take steps to combat extremism on the Internet.

Yet a large number of pro-IS accounts remain open on VKontakte, including a public group with over 16,000 followers.

The issue of extremist groups, including those connected to IS, using social networks to raise money and to recruit new militants, is also not a new phenomenon, nor is it restricted to VKontakte. On Facebook this week an account linked to Jaish Al-Muhajireen Wal Ansar called for anyone interested in fighting in Syria to contact the account's administrator via private message.

In banning the accounts, the Prosecutor-General's office has done little, therefore, to stem the tide of pro-IS and pro-extremist social Russian-language media.

-- 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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