What can social media tell us about the suspected terrorist from Ariel?

In retrospect, should security forces have heeded the signs from al-Karim's online persona more seriously?

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February 6, 2018 09:06
3 minute read.
What can social media tell us about the suspected terrorist from Ariel?

A screenshot of Abed al-Karim Adel Asi's Facebook profile, February 2, 2018. (Facebook screenshot). (photo credit: FACEBOOK SCREENSHOT)

Abed al-Karim Adel Asi – suspected of and being sought for the cold-blooded murder of  Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal on Sunday – is a 19-year-old from Jaffa, the son of an Israeli mother and a Palestinian father from Nablus. According to Ynet, he spent his youth moving from one facility for troubled teens to the next, never managing to stay in one institution for longer than a few months.

A Ynet interview with the head of the “Shanti House Home for Underprivileged Youth” where al-Karim stayed for several months in 2016, suggests that although his frequent visits to his father in Nablus raised some cause for suspicion among the staff, his blue Israeli ID card and “relevant sources,” who reassured them that there was no cause for concern, convinced them that he did not pose any danger.

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Despite this, the staff didn’t feel comfortable having one of their teenagers journeying between Nablus and Tel Aviv so often, and decided to impose a limit on the number of times they let him travel to the West Bank to once every couple of months. After a while, Al-Karim decided to leave the “Shanti House” of his own volition.

After the Shanti House, he went on to find assistance through different non-profits in Israel, none of which found further reason to suspect anything of the Israeli teen.

Nevertheless, he allegedly ended up murdering a man and destroying a family.

The question remains to be asked: How could someone spend so long in the care of state institutions without anybody realizing he had the potential to commit such an act of terror?

What can social media tell us that the IDF did not tell the “Shanti House?” And, in retrospect, should security forces have heeded the signs from al-Karim’s online persona more seriously?

Al-Karim’s Facebook page has now been removed from the site, but if you were to look back at his page from August 2017 when he first entered the “Shanti House,” you would have seen that it was riddled with posts praising and mourning Palestinian “Shaheeds.” Shaheed, the Arabic word for martyr, is often used to refer to those killed as a result of terrorist attacks carried out against Israelis, though it is applicable to anybody killed in armed combat.

Three months later, in November, he wrote a post in Arabic saying things such as “Zionists disappear” and “Zionists burn.” In the comments section he proceeded to curse Israelis in fluent Hebrew.

The rest of 2016 and early 2017 were filled with a combination of anti-Israel rhetoric, selfies and photos at the beach.

But then, around the time of Trump’s Jerusalem announcement and the days leading up to it, his Facebook page took a sharp turn. His posts became much more frequent, and besides applauding Ahed Tamimi – the female teenage Palestinian activist whose video showing her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral – he also praised and mourned Saddam Hussein.

On December 25, he changed his cover photo to that of an M16 gun, and five days later posted a photo with a caption in Hebrew that read: “I was born in the darkness and grew up here, and I don’t care about anyone.”

The relationship between lone-wolf terrorism and social-media presence has been a hot topic since the “stabbing Intifada” began in 2015. Social media is used as an effective catalyst by terror organizations to incite and spur young followers to action. Likewise, in the echo chamber of social networks, those influenced by such ideas will echo them back, leaving radical footprints that can theoretically be traced by cyber analysts.

The Shin Bet and other security forces know this – so how did al-Karim slip through the cracks? Were his posts not deemed radical enough to demand additional attention from Israel’s security forces?

Perhaps the reality is that these security forces maintain their focus mainly on Palestinians and non-Israelis, enabling them to overlook Arab (or Jewish) Israeli citizens – like al-Karim – who also pose a security threat.




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