Somalia militants' Twitter account down after hostage threat

NAIROBI Fri Jan 25, 2013 3:30pm IST

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NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Twitter account run by Somali militant group al Shabaab was unavailable on Friday, days after the al Qaeda-aligned rebels used the social media site to boast about killing a French agent and threatened to kill several Kenyan hostages.

Al Shabaab often used its Twitter account to claim responsibility for attacks on African Union and Somali government troops, as well as senior officials in the Horn of Africa nation and other bombings in the region.

But the militant group's official Twitter account, which had thousands of followers, was offline on Friday with a message saying "Sorry, that user is suspended".

It was not immediately clear why the account, which was created in 2011 under the HSM PRESS Twitter handle, was suspended. The account was still unavailable as of 0930 GMT.

Twitter said it does not comment on individual accounts and the Kenyan government denied it had filed any request for the account to be taken down.

"It's an emphatic no. We would not try to negotiate or have anything to do with the Al Shabaab. We didn't even know the account was suspended," said government spokesman Muthui Kariuki.

Al Shabaab posted on the account on Wednesday a link to a video of two Kenyan civil servants held hostage in Somalia, telling the Kenyan government their lives were in danger unless it released all Muslims held on "so-called terrorism charges" in the country.

"Kenyan government has three weeks, starting midnight 24/01/2013 to respond to the demands of HSM if the prisoners are to remain alive," the group said.

Last week the rebel group said on its Twitter account that it had executed French agent Dennis Allex, who was held hostage since 2009, after a French commando mission to rescue him failed.

Al Shabaab wants to impose their strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, across Somalia. However, it has lost significant territory in the southern and central parts of the country in the face of an offensive by African Union troops. (Reporting by Drazen Jorgic and George Obulutsa; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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