Taliban Android app latest example of group's growing tech savvy

The fundamentalist group released its own app on the Google Play marketplace, expanding its digital reach. The app was removed from the store this weekend.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters
A 3D printed Android logo is seen in front of a displayed cyber code in this illustration. The Taliban this weekend released their own app on Android's Google Play store.

The Taliban released an application on Google Play, the Android app store, this weekend, adding another digital component to the jihadist group's ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan. 

Although Google Play deleted the Pashto-language app within days, its creation suggests that the fundamentalist group, known for their propensity to attack civilians, may be trying to appeal to new recruits in Afghanistan. 

"The app will help Taliban to further psychologically weaken Afghanistan by their propaganda reports," Kabul-based security analyst Jawid Kohistani told Bloomberg. 

SITE Intelligence Group reported Friday that the Taliban had released its own app, called Alemarah, on Google Play in an effort to broaden its influence worldwide and connect users to its multilingual website and official Taliban videos and statements.

Alemarah was developed as "part of our advanced technological efforts to make more global audience," [sic] Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told Bloomberg. Mr. Mujahed said the app had been removed to fix "technical issues."

Google does not comment on individual apps, but did explain that it takes down those that violate community regulations. Google Play policies prohibit apps that "depict or facilitate gratuitous violence or other dangerous activities," including terrorist attacks and bomb-making. 

"Our policies are designed to provide a great experience for users and developers. That's why we remove apps from Google Play that violate those policies," Google said in a statement.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that Google also plans to fight extremism-related searches on its platforms by providing advertising credits to anti-radicalization groups.

The push by the Taliban to become more recognized online could be inspired by a similar Internet-based approach that has helped the Islamic State (IS) gain prominence. The Taliban's website runs in several languages, including English and Arabic, and they now have Twitter and Facebook accounts that promote their activities in a similar manner to IS.

The Monitor reported in December that IS had developed its own Android app as well, although that software remained closed to public downloads. The app is available through Telegram, an encrypted chat program.  

Despite the parallels with IS social media methodology, the Taliban has openly renounced the militants' advances in Afghanistan, where it hopes to regain power unopposed. Mujahed told Bloomberg in February that IS was "a scruffy and uncouth production" of the Middle East that "has no place in our community."

"That the app was launched in Pashto indicates that the local Pashtun population is the main audience and it could thus be perceived as an attempt to bolster its support in eastern Afghanistan where IS — especially in Nangarhar and Paktika — is pushing for control," Tore Hamming, who studies militant Islam at the European University Institute, told The Guardian.  

Following their fall from power in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban have regrouped into organized insurgency, and still appear to be a growing power. Although an estimated 20,000 to 35,000 jihadists were killed over the last decade, the Taliban maintained a 60,000-strong force as of 2014, as Voice of America reported, an all-time high for the group.

More than 3,500 Afghan civilians were killed last year alone, with 62 percent of all casualties caused by "Anti-Government Elements," according to a United Nations report. 

Despite repeated efforts to begin peace talks with Afghanistan’s government, a solid start to such a process has not yet materialized. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a religiously-motivated Easter day bombing in Pakistan that killed more than 70, mostly women and children, and most recently executed a Sunday night ambush that left at least six Afghan police dead.

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