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YouTube Removes Videos From Radical Islamic Cleric al-Awlaki

Anwar al-AwlakiYesterday, YouTube suddenly purged its site of hundreds of videos featuring Anwar al-Awlaki, a high-profile Islamic cleric who used the video-sharing platform to issue calls for jihadist violence against the U.S. The American-born al-Awlaki is currently based in Yemen, and has been tied to Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, Christmas Day bomber Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab and Faisal Shazad (the man behind the attempted Times Square bombing).

Political figures from both the U.S. and Great Britain had been pressuring YouTube to remove the videos, and began doing so with even greater urgency after authorities uncovered and thwarted a mail-bomb attack on Friday. "Hundreds of al-Awlaki videos are currently available on YouTube, with a combined total of over 3.5 million views," reads an open letter to YouTube, from New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. "In these videos, al-Awlaki preaches violence against Americans, and actions back up his online message." During a speech last week in Washington, D.C., British security minister Baroness Neville-Jones urged President Obama to "take down this hateful material" from U.S.-based servers. The videos, Neville-Jones argued, "incite cold-blooded murder," and would "categorically not be allowed in the U.K."

In an e-mail to the New York Times, YouTube spokeswoman Victoria Grand said that Google, the site's parent company, initially hesitated to remove the videos because it didn't want to unnecessarily impede free speech on the site. Ultimately, however, it ceded to political demands. "These are difficult issues," Grand wrote, "and material that is brought to our attention is reviewed carefully. 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."

We understand why Google would feel compelled to pull the videos, especially in light of al Qaeda's recently burgeoning activity in Yemen. Yet we can't help but worry that the move may set a dangerously slippery precedent for online free speech. Yes, al-Awlaki may have been calling for violence, but then why hasn't YouTube removed Osama bin Laden's videos?

Tags: AlQaeda, AnwarAl-awlaki, censorship, extremists, FreedomOfSpeech, google, islam, jihad, politics, terrorism, top, video, youtube