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US, UAE launch anti-IS online messaging center in Abu Dhabi

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. and Emirati governments launched a new Mideast digital communications center Wednesday focused on using social media to counter the Islamic State group’s propaganda efforts online.

IS supporters have deftly harnessed social media to spread the group’s slickly produced Hollywood-style film clips and other messages aimed at recruiting and drawing support from plugged-in young Muslims.

The Obama administration has urged Arab allies to do more to combat the media blitz, characterizing the fight on the communications front as a key pillar in the overall effort to defeat the group.

The new Sawab Center is one of the most concrete responses to that call yet in the region. Named for the Arabic word for “the right or proper way,” it will be based in Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates, a key American ally and a member of the U.S.-led coalition against the IS group.

The center released YouTube videos and Twitter messages Wednesday in Arabic and English announcing its launch.

Anwar Gargash, the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, and Richard Stengel, the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said the center’s aim is to support coalition efforts, challenge IS propaganda and “amplify moderate and tolerant voices from across the region.”

“Recent tragic events in the Middle East region and beyond have demonstrated once again the stark contrast between Daesh’s vision for the future and that of civilized people,” the diplomats said in a joint statement announcing the launch. Daesh is another name for the Islamic State group.

“Through the Sawab Center, we hope to lend a voice to all those people that stand united against terrorism,” the statement added.

Stengel, a former Time magazine managing editor, traveled to the Emirates for the launch.

Journalists were not allowed to attend the project’s unveiling or visit the center, which has been testing its operations and developing its branding over the past three months.

More work still needs to be done. The center does not yet have an active website of its own, and a planned Facebook presence and a dedicated YouTube channel are expected to take several more weeks to develop. Officials say they hope the center will eventually launch “proactive online messaging campaigns” to target IS propaganda.

The U.S. separately has been expanding an existing U.S. State Department division set up in 2011 and known as the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications that is designed to counter jihadist messages online.

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Online: Sawab Center launch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVPTv7UaJeE

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Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck

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