SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – YouTube has yanked videos featuring calls by Yemen-based radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaqi for a holy war, The New York Times reported.
The American-born Awlaqi has been cited as a catalyst for terrorist attacks and was charged Tuesday in absentia in Yemen with incitement to kill foreigners under the banner of Al-Qaeda.
The move by Yemeni prosecutors came several days after parcel bombs destined for Chicago were traced to suspected jihadists in Yemen.
Removal of some of Awlaqi’s hundreds of videos at YouTube follows complaints from American and British officials, according the Times.
US Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, dubbed Awlaqi the “bin Laden of the Internet” in a letter sent last week demanding removal of the videos.
“We are facilitating the recruitment of homegrown terror,” Weiner said in a message posted at his website.
“There is no reason we should give killers like al-Awlaqi access to one of the world’s largest bully pulpits so they can inspire more violent acts within our borders, or anywhere else in the world,” he said.
Awlaqi, a citizen of both Yemen and the United States, has appeared in more than 700 YouTube videos that have logged a combined total of 3.5 million views, according to the congressman.
Awlaqi has been connected to several terrorist plots and reportedly met with the 9/11 hijackers prior to the infamous attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
“I understand that YouTube is a clearing house for ideas and that your company aims to not infringe on free speech, but al-Awlaqi’s message, promoted via YouTube, has caused violence and is a threat to American security,” Weiner said in his letter to the head of the video-sharing service.
“I request that you remove this man and his hateful rhetoric from your website, as he poses a clear and present danger to American citizens.”
Google-owned YouTube declined to comment specifically on Awlaqi sermon videos.
The San Bruno, California-based firm said that it has removed a significant number of videos that violated guidelines prohibiting dangerous or illegal activities such as bomb-making, hate speech, and incitement to commit violent acts.
YouTube told AFP that it removes videos and terminates accounts registered by members of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations or officially used to promote interests of those groups.
“We’re now looking into the new videos that have been raised with us and will remove all those which break our rules,” said a spokesperson for YouTube, which received complaints about Awlaqi videos from several members of Congress.
“We will continue to remove all content that incites violence according to our policies. Material of a purely religious nature will remain on the site.”
YouTube reviews snippets based on complaints and then removes those violating its terms of service.