After pressure from British and American officials YouTube says it has taken down some videos of the Al Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki was born and raised in America, but now lives in Yemen. He is believed to be linked to the recent package bombs, the Ft. Hood shootings, the Christmas day "underwear bomber," and the plot to detonate a car bomb in Times Square. The New York Times quotes YouTube spokeswoman Victoria Grand.
Ms. Grand said that Google, YouTube’s owner, sought to balance freedom of expression with averting calls to violence. “These are difficult issues,” she 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.”
Awlaki has hundreds of videos on the site. Videos that British authorities say have already resulted in people turning to violence, including one young woman who stabbed a member of parliament.
Scotland Yard detectives who investigated the attack on the legislator said outside the court that 21-year-old Roshonara Choudhury, a theology student, watched YouTube videos that showed sequences from sermons by Mr. Awlaki in Yemen in which the preacher urged Muslims everywhere to join in a worldwide holy war against the West. In a transcript of her interrogation published by The Guardian, she spoke of watching hundreds of hours of his videos. She said her motive was to “punish” the legislator, Stephen Timms, for voting in 2003 for Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq.
One of the things that worries authorities the most is people like Ms. Choudhury or Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter. They're what they call "lone wolf" terrorists. They aren't part of any organized group, but they get radicalized over the internet and then lash out. Because they are plotting alone it is much harder to stop them.
This is not the first time YouTube has been asked to take down terrorist recruitment videos. But the company has tried to walk a fine line between taking down videos that incite violence and those that are acceptable free speech. There are hundreds of Awlaki videos still up, many of them on the nature of jihad, but also on the nature of marriage, the story of Lot and other religious themes.