Al Qaeda offshoot in Mali takes to Twitter to mount a charm offensive

Digital Content

Battered by a French-led military campaign in Mali, al Qaeda's North African arm is trying something new to stay relevant: Twitter. The PR campaign by the terror network seeks to tap into social grievances and champion mainstream causes such as unemployment, all in bid to reverse decline and win new followers.

The hearts-and-minds approach echoes an outreach program the group had been trying for years in Mali, where it provided food, services and cash to win over the locals. This new campaign is more ambitious: It aims to allow al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, to move the fight at least partly off the battlefield by appealing to widespread concerns, such as the repression and a sense of injustice that galvanized the Arab Spring revolts.

"This is our only means to communicate with the international public opinion, since we are terrorists according to the dictionary of America and its agents in the region," AQIM's media arm, Al-Andalus Media Foundation, said last week as part of an unusual question-and-answer session on Twitter. The remark came in response to a question about its choice to go virtual, one of dozens from journalists and others.