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[ISN] Electronic jihad: Web sites featuring calls to arms, video of attacks
By Sarah El Deeb
June 14, 2004
MANAMA, Bahrain - Web sites featuring videos of the beheading of
Americans or captives pleading for their lives have become part of an
electronic war of incitement, humiliation and terrorist outreach,
experts say, providing a window into the minds of militant Muslims who
hate the West.
The latest dramatic Web posting came Saturday, a short video that
showed no faces but included a voice yelling in English: "No, no,
The video showed a shot fired, then the scene of the falling body of
what appeared to be a Western man -- identified as Robert Jacobs, an
American killed by suspected al-Qaida militants in Saudi Arabia last
week. Two gunmen then fired at least 10 more shots, before one of them
kneeled and motioned as if he was beheading the fallen man.
An earlier video showed the beheading of American Nicholas Berg in
Iraq. The CIA has said the black-clad militant shown on the video
decapitating Berg was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a former commander for
al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden now believed to be leading resistance
to Iraq's U.S. occupation.
"The aim is really to spread as much terror as possible and make it
available to as many people as possible, especially in the West,"
where Internet use is more common, said Dia'a Rashwan, a Cairo expert
on Islamic militants.
In what Rashwan calls a a war of "ideology, images and perception,"
the Web is a place for militants and their sympathizers to exchange
the latest news, debate their definition of Islam, share how-to
manuals, extoll their heroes and vilify their enemies.
Images of American soldiers pointing guns at children, Iraqi prisoners
being tortured, and Muslim rebels in the Philippines being decapitated
pop up again and again. Contributors sign off with pictures of bin
Laden or large machine guns.
Militants can put images on the Internet most TV news producers would
consider too shocking to televise. The Internet, though, also can be
subject to censorship.
Postings signed by the Saudi branch of al-Qaida -- everything from
claims of responsibility for attacks in the kingdom to training and
diet menus for a fit fighter -- started popping up on a sub-domain of
a Qatar-based Web-hosting company run by Murad Alazzeh.
Alazzeh told The Associated Press he shut down one of his two servers
after his site was repeatedly hacked. He said he has cut subscribers
from 48,000 to 4,000.
The Web savvy, though, have ways around the gatekeepers.
The Malaysian company that hosted the site on which the Berg beheading
video was first posted shut it down days later, but surfers combing
Islamic forums could find it elsewhere.
Contributors on forums or chat rooms alert one another to the latest
postings. Links are sometimes written in a kind of code, with letters
or numerals missing from addresses. The initiated or the patient can
figure out what's missing by perusing the rest of the posting.
Experts say Islamic groups were among the first in the Arab world to
realize the importance of staying connected. Egypt's Muslim
Brotherhood uses dozens of Web sites to post literature banned by the
government. Lebanon's Hezbollah is known for the sophistication of the
propaganda on its Web site.
Until the site was taken over by an American hacker, one site appeared
to be the place where al-Qaida reported on developments in fighting in
Afghanistan, and, some law enforcement officials believe, posted
low-priority information for its to fighters. Some top al-Qaida
operatives were trained as cyber specialists.
The mushrooming of the sites and forums is an indication of the
growing number of people who sympathize with militants who argue Islam
is under attack in by the West, said Rashwan.
Young, educated, unemployed people can spend hours managing or
contributing to such sites from their own homes, rather than traveling
to Iraq or Afghanistan to do battle. Their targets are people like
them in the developing world -- educated and disenfranchised -- and
"They have no other part in holy war. Electronic holy war is their
contribution," said Rashwan, whose book "Electronic Jihad" is to be
published soon in Arabic and was to be translated into English soon.
Some say the sites may offer well-hidden clues about coming attacks.
Other experts say they have little to do with terrorist operations or
planning, but prepare the ground for recruiting.
"Over time, the propaganda is part of the conveyer belt to encourage
people to figure out where they can join," said John Pike, director of
GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Virginia, research center on
While Net cops have many monitoring tools, those who want to hide
their identities and intentions can do so on the Web.
"It is difficult to know when a statement is posted, it is difficult
to know if this is someone who has sworn allegiance to (bin Laden).
... It is difficult to understand who is the ultimate sponsor," Pike
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