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Twitter account of al Shabaab Somali militant group is closed

Closure comes at a time when African nations consider laws controlling and monitoring social media sites

The Twitter account of Somali Islamic militant group al Shabaab has been closed following the group's use of the microblogging site to link to videos of Kenyan hostages, mock rivals and claim responsibility for several bombings in Kenya.

Al Shabaab's Twitter account, which was opened in 2011 after neighboring Kenya sent troops to help fight the insurgents, has thousands of followers but has been offline since Friday last week.

Earlier this month, the group used Twitter to announce it would kill a French hostage after French commandos tried to rescue him, and later said it had done so.

After posting link to a video of two Kenyan civil servants held hostage in Somalia last week, the group sent a Twitter message telling the Kenyan government that the lives of the Kenyans were in danger unless the government released all Muslims held on terror charges in that country. Al Shabaab gave the Kenyan government three weeks beginning last week to respond to their demands.

So far the Kenyan government has not publicly responded to al Shabaab's demand and it seems unlikely it will release prisoners held on terrorism charges in that country even if it means risking the lives of the two Kenyans.

"We have no single time to negotiate with Al Shabaab," Kenyan government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said in a phone interview Monday.

Kenyan troops backed by African Union forces have been battling al-Shabaab and forced the group out of Somalia's main towns over the past 18 months but the group is still said to be controlling many parts of Southern and Central Somalia.

Al-Shabaab wants to impose its strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law, across the East African nation.

Twitter has told media outlets that it does not comment on individual accounts and the Kenyan government denied it filed any request for the account to be shutdown.

However, a search for al-Shabaab on Twitter returns a page that says "Account suspended -The profile you are trying to view has been suspended. "

Over the past few years, there have been series of bombings carried out by al-Shabaab that have claimed hundreds of lives and forced the Kenyan government to send troops to fight the group.

The closure of al Shabaab's Twitter account comes at a time when many African governments are drafting laws that will regulate and in some cases ban the use of social media networks.

Social media networks are viewed by politicians in the region as tools for fueling social unrest or antigovernment action, which has led to the fall of a few governments in the region.

Zambia and Malawi are among the African countries that are drafting laws to regulate the use of social media and closely monitor the use of online media.

"The issue of al Shabaab using twitter to threaten violence is likely to give impetus to most African government to work even harder to control the use of social media networks in the region," said Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at African center for ICT Development.

"But I think," Mwale said, "social media is unstoppable at this point as it has become a way of life for millions of people in the region."


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