Internet jihad: A world wide web of terror

Al-Qaeda’s most famous web propagandist is jailed, but the internet remains its best friend:
… Nevertheless, the capability of the internet to promote terrorism is worrying intelligence agencies. According to America’s National Intelligence Estimate in April 2006, “The radicalisation process is occurring more quickly, more widely and more anonymously in the internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.”Past technological innovations, such as telephones or fax machines, have quickly been exploited by terrorists. But the information revolution is particularly useful to them. To begin with, encrypted communications, whether in the form of e-mail messages or, better still, voice-over-internet audio, make it much harder for investigators to monitor their activity. Messages can be hidden, for instance, within innocuous-looking pictures.More important, the internet gives jihadists an ideal vehicle for propaganda, providing access to large audiences free of government censorship or media filters, while carefully preserving their anonymity. Its ability to connect disparate jihadi groups creates a sense of a global Islamic movement fighting to defend the global ummah, or community, from a common enemy. It provides a low-risk means of taking part in jihad for sympathisers across the world.The ease and cheapness of processing words, pictures, sound and video has brought the era not only of the citizen-journalist but also the terrorist-journalist. Al-Qaeda now sends out regular “news bulletins” with a masked man in a studio recounting events from the many fronts of jihad, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya or Palestine. Jihadi ticker-tape feeds provide running updates on the number of Americans killed (about ten times more than the Pentagon’s death toll)…. The internet’s decentralised structure, with its origins in military networks designed to survive nuclear strikes, now gives jihadi networks tremendous resilience. Jihadi websites constantly come and go, sometimes taken down by service providers only to reappear elsewhere, sometimes shifted deliberately to stay ahead of investigators. As one expert put it: “It’s like the old game of Space Invaders. When you clear one screen of potential attackers, another simply appears to take its place.”The number of extremist websites is increasing exponentially, from a handful in 2000 to several thousand today. Some are overtly militant, while others give jihad second place to promoting a puritanical brand of piety known as “salafism”, that is modelled on the earliest followers of the Prophet Muhammad and regards later developments as degenerate. Most are in Arabic, but some have started to translate their material into English, French and other languages to reach a wider audience…. Many jihadi websites put their most inflammatory information and discussions in password-protected areas. Here participants can be gradually groomed, invited to take part in more confidential discussions, drawn into one-on-one chats, indoctrinated and at last recruited to the cause.But the very anonymity that the internet affords jihadists can also work against them; it lets police and intelligence agencies enter the jihadists’ world without being identified. Many postings to web forums are filled with (rightly) paranoid postings about who is watching…. For many who study the jihadi websites, however, the bigger danger is indoctrination. The Dutch domestic intelligence service, the AIVD, regards the internet as the “turbocharger” of jihadi radicalisation.

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