These events led to a flurry of debate on jihadi web forums that support Al-Qaeda. Many jihadists were quick to criticize AQI and began openly wondering
how an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, a group that is notoriously careful in crafting its messages, could commit such a blunder. However, jihadi forum moderators
suppressed commentary that criticized AQI, and the lack of free speech within Al-Qaeda's movement was unmistakable. Just several years ago it might have
ended there without any serious repercussions, but today's is a different Internet environment. The rise of social media platforms championing the power of
the individual has changed the online jihadi landscape. While the new model works to the benefit of Al-Qaeda so long as its proponents promote a unified
message, the new reality also magnifies dissent.
Soon after Al-Nusra refuted the merger with AQI, one of the most widely trusted jihadi political analysts on Twitter attacked AQI's integrity as an
organization. Abdullah bin Muhammad, as he identifies himself on his
account (@Strategyaffairs), criticized AQI's decision to carry out attacks during a recent period of Sunni
protests in Iraq, remarking that such actions
"do not serve [anyone] but the Iranian enemy."
Additionally, Abdullah bin Muhammad produced a document in which Ansar
Al-Islam, an old AQI ally from the days of the resistance against the American forces in Iraq, listed crimes that AQI operatives allegedly committed
against Ansar Al-Islam members. According to Abdullah bin Muhammad, Ansar Al-Islam asked him to intervene to end the feud. Armed with this
information, Abdullah bin Muhammad alleged that unknown parties had infiltrated AQI and were attempting to translate that effort into influence
over Al-Nusra in Syria. Such an open deviation from the prevailing AQI narrative on mainstream sites is historically very rare.
On a typical jihadi forum, Abdullah bin Muhammad's inflammatory accusations would not survive long before being deleted. But in the free market of ideas
that is Twitter, where Abdullah bin Muhammad has over 35,000 followers, his comments were re-tweeted hundreds of times as Al-Qaeda junkies across the web
discussed the spike in jihadist criticism of AQI. Additionally, agreement by Assad Al-Jihad2, a long-time
online proponent of Al-Qaeda's global jihad whose articles have been
by official Al-Qaeda media sources and who is nicknamed "The Spearhead of the Mujahidin" by his followers, only placed
more credibility on Abdullah bin Muhammad's allegations.
The ability of Abdullah bin Muhammad's Twitter accusations to travel far and wide was illustrated when his comments were re-posted on sites such as The Yemeni Council, a vibrant and largely moderate Arabic discussion forum where current events receive
spirited debate and where Al-Qaeda supporters are actively attempting to win the hearts and minds of the site's mostly Yemeni participants. Feeling
empowered by the legitimacy that comes with the endorsement of Abdullah bin Muhammad and Assad Al-Jihad2, a staunch supporter of Al-Qaeda on The Yemeni Council admitted to his own deeply held concerns about
AQI's trustworthiness. Interestingly, this Al-Qaeda ideologue also expressed regret over making a statement so critical of AQI on a mainstream site, but
remarked that he was sure that such a comment would not be welcome on a jihadi forum. As this post shows, the suppression of the allegations against AQI
pushed Al-Qaeda's supporters' criticism into more moderate areas of the online social media environment, a development that is at best an embarrassment to