March 23, 2009

Part Five: Internet Jihad
By Kathy Shaidle
RightSideNews Copyright © 2010
 (First published in 2009)
During the Islamic terror attack in Mumbai, India last year, tech-savvy terrorists used BlackBerries and Google Earth satellite-imaging to plan and carry out their atrocities.

Once again, the West’s enemies were employing 21st century technology to spread its dangerous 8th century ideology. Since September 11, 2001, experts have been increasingly concerned about the rapid growth of the “internet jihad.”

The SITE Intelligence Group monitors YouTube, which has become a favorite platform for the disseminate Islamist propaganda and terrorist how-to videos.

For example, a password-protected forum run by Fursan Ghazawat Alnusra (“Knights in Support of the Invasion”) offered step-by-step instructions to radical Muslim sympathizers on how to post videos to YouTube. The same radical group has called for an “invasion of Facebook”, the hugely popular social networking site.

Facebook and YouTube have strict terms of use allowing them to remove videos and sites that advocate violence, racism and the like. However, given that Facebook’s membership is over 175 million and rising, constant monitoring is simply impossible. Banned users can set up replacement websites under false names. By stripping out trigger words like “terrorism” that will get their sites banned, they can outrun the YouTube and Facebook monitors a little longer.

The web’s international reach means that online jihad has no boundaries, making it even harder to police. A recent study by the UK’s Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), called “Virtual Caliphate,” revealed that British Muslim radicals are using Internet tools for recruitment, training and propaganda.

Particularly revealing was the revelation that well-known spokesman Asghar Bukhari of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, a regular media guest and “moderate” Muslim,  was using Facebook to “openly glorify terrorism” and post anti-semitic screeds.

Other experts warn of Hezbollah’s use of Israeli soldiers’ Facebook account information as a source of intelligence, and a possible way to trick soldier’s into meeting a Facebook “friend” in person who turns out to be a Hezbollah terrorist.

Meanwhile, a pro-Israel Facebook group page called “I Wonder How Quickly I Can Find 1,000,000 People Who Support Israel,” was hacked and defaced by a pro-Hizballah group calling itself “Lebanese Shee’a Hackers.”

Because Facebook is so ubiquitous, it has actually been used by investigators to track down jihadists. Earlier this month, the FBI looking for a group of Somali immigrants to who left Minneapolis to join an overseas terrorist group were tracked down through their Facebook pages.

As one expert told, sites like Facebook can help spread radicalism, but that shouldn’t “overshadow all the ways it has helped to stop radicalism. The benefits far outweigh the risks, and we are doing all we can to [mitigate] the risks.”

Marc Lynch agrees. The author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today) blogs at Foreign Policy Magazine online, and is an expert on the use of modern information technology by Islamic terrorists.

He believes that the same information technology trends that enable terrorists to carry out attacks – as occurred in Mumbai – can also diminish their ability to spread their propaganda, because the technology is available to its enemies: that is, us.

Lynch also points out that debates between radical Muslim members on online forums and chat rooms can actually “undermine moral or turn into open dissent, to the dismay of movement leaders.” (“Plus,” Lynch adds, video download sites “often feature ads for pornography (…) while you’re waiting… I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a glitch or a feature for the jihadists downloading their bin Laden videos.”)

Perhaps to get around these and other drawbacks, Hamas actually tried to start their own version of last fall.

The site, called AqsaTube, came complete with a ripped off version of the American site’s famous red logo. But instead of the cute cat clips and stealth campaign videos you’ll find on YouTube, however, AqsaTube was “devoted entirely to propaganda and incitement,” according to the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (IITIC).

As the IITIC report explained, “the new AqsaTube website is another example of how Hamas, like other terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, have learned to exploit the information revolution to wage the battle for hearts and minds.”

Israeli journalist Amir Mizroch noticed the troubling fact that AqsaTube was generating revenue by selling ad space through Google’s ubiquitous AdSense program – including ads for Israeli companies. He confronted Google via email and a few days later, Google removed its ads from the Hamas site.

Then, after Mizroch’s story eventually appeared in the Jerusalem Post and was picked up by other news outlets, AqsaTube website, then reappeared online looking very different indeed, its violent videos (and its stolen YouTube logo) nowhere to be seen.

Yet for every site that is pulled down by its service provider, many other Muslim terrorist websites remain online. In fact, those same websites and chatrooms were rife with speculation that the FBI had been behind the AqsaWeb takedown, when the real culprit was one curious Israeli blogger and his subsequent newspaper story.

Terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere “don’t exist without the Web and the Net,” explained Naval Postgraduate School professor John Arquilla in Technology Review. “A networked insurgency doesn’t have anything like a traditional leadership. Most of the leadership they get is by going on websites, where they share information very quickly” – especially, it should be emphasized, among populations in which illiteracy is rampant.

Similarly, the Virtual Caliphate report also maintains that “extremists are shifting their operations away from high-profile mosques” and placing “increasingly emphasis on attending private study circles” and holding meetings in private homes, restaurants and community centers. “This development,” says the report, “may make it increasingly difficult for [British] security services to monitor extremist networks and teachings.”

As well, sites like Islambase emphasize the need to “pass on extremist interpretations of Islam to” children, through “home schooling and after school classes, and training them to love martyrdom and to hate non-Muslims.”

So what, if anything, can be done to counteract online jihad?

Robert Spencer of told RightSideNews that counterjihadists, including bloggers and mainstream journalists, need to keep “shedding light on what [the online jihad] is, so as to try to alert people to the reality and magnitude of what is going on.”

John Arquilla has a particularly interesting suggestion. He told Technology Today that since the United States is,

“…spending so much on military affairs, maybe some of that should be directed towards technologies that will break our opponents’ communications. In World War II, there was an investment in creating the first high-performance computers, for that very purpose. Today, it may be an investment in creating the most effective quantum computing or figuring out how to structure the vast ocean of data that masks the movements of al-Qaeda on the Net and the Web. We need a new Bletchley Park [the country house where the German WWII codes were broken], if we’re going to win this war.”

Kathy Shaidle blogs at Her new book, The Tyranny of Nice: How Canada crushes freedom in the name of human rights – and why it matters to Americans, features an introduction by Mark Steyn. Shaidle is also an advisor for the International Free Press Society