After losing Somalia's cities to African Union forces and scores of fighters to defections, Islamic militants al-Shabaab lost their online platform today as Twitter suspended their account.
In its final day of Tweets the group had posted a link to a video of Kenyan hostages it is holding, threatening to kill them unless all Muslims held on “so-called terrorism charges were released”.
Since launching an account in December 2011, the militant group, which seeks to impose a harsh form of Sharia law in Somalia, has attracted thousands of followers. It has used the micro-blogging site to issue blood-curdling threats, claim responsibility for attacks and argue with journalists, including those of The Independent.
"The enemies have shut down our Twitter account," a spokesman for al-Shabaab told Reuters. “They shut it down because our account overpowered all the Christians' mass media.”
Following the suspension Twitter said it would not comment on individual accounts. There was speculation that the French government – which lost two commandos during a recent failed attempt to rescue a hostage held by al-Shabaab – had asked for the account to be removed.
The group used Twitter to announce it had killed the hostage, whom France claims died during the botched raid. The Kenyan government “emphatically” denied that it was behind the suspension. The militants' Arabic and Somali-language accounts appeared to still be working.
The Islamists, whose ranks include foreign Jihadists, have been on the retreat since August 2011 when they withdrew from Mogadishu.
Last year they also lost control of the port city of Kismayo but remain in control of tracts of southern and central Somalia where they are battling government and African Union forces.