Nets of Terror
Terrorist Activity on the Internet
by Paul Piper, Reference Librarian, Western Libraries, Western Washington University
I approached this article with both fascination and some trepidation.
My original interest was piqued by a Knight Ridder news article written in late September of 2007 1 claiming that the internet was the new terrorist frontier. I have to admit the concept of terrorists openly advertising on the web seemed astounding. Though we all know anything is possible on the internet, it also seemed like a media ploy to drum up more fear. Two websites referred to in the articles, Jihad University and Terrorist 007, proved to be something other than specific websites. However, this opened the door to thinking about how terrorists were using the internet, if at all. On one hand, what better way to spread propaganda, recruit volunteers, and raise funds than via the web? On the other hand, didn’t this open one’s group to infiltration and subsequent destruction?
Just what is a terrorist anyway? The word has become ubiquitous and been used to describe individuals, nations, policies, religions, and on the other end of the spectrum, abusive spouses, angry drivers, and even “tough love” parenting.
The decision to write the article raised other more personal concerns. Would these sites be in English? I can’t read Arabic and online translation services are faulty. Would the sites be password guarded? And, if so, how would potential recruits get the passwords? Would I be monitored for visiting them (either by our government, the terrorist group, or both)? What might the consequences of such monitoring be? The last thing I wanted was to end up taped to a chair under mercury vapor lights and have sand drizzled into my eyes — particularly after an all-expenses-paid government flight to Gitmo.
Terrorism: Defining the Concept
Terrorism is an emotionally charged word. It is also overused and misused, referring to anything from a suicide bomber to an abusive husband to a politician of different stripes. Section 2331 of Chapter 113b of the Federal Criminal Code defines terrorism as “[A]ctivities that involve violent or life-threatening acts; that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; and appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and … (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States … [or] … (D) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States …” 2 However, even this language can seem vague and even contradictory, particularly when examining rules of armed conflict. Some of the numerous other definitions are also contradictory.
Several overarching concepts apply when discussing terrorism. The first is the concept of warfare. Terrorist states and organizations often claim that they are at war and that this status justifies so-called terrorist acts. While according to the Geneva Convention, this is debatable, it does bring to light another concept, the concept of rules of engagement, torture, and so forth. If the rules of warfare or engagement are created by the “opposition,” then the terrorists often refuse to follow them, claiming a disenfranchised or marginalized contribution in creating the rules. The concept of Jihad, or Holy War, is an example of warfare that operates under very different rules of engagement than many countries, including those who signed the Geneva Convention, would recognize.
Another concept is innocent civilians. Civilians, innocent or not, are often killed in warfare. The distancing and deceptive military term is “collateral damage.” However, the term terrorism implies the actual targeting of civilians, such as the 9/11 attack. Many terrorist groups would argue there are no such things as civilians. From this standpoint, one could ask if the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which targeted primarily civilians, would today be considered terrorism or warfare.
The third concept is “illicit activity,” meaning “crimes” outside actual killing and torture. Many terrorist groups are impoverished and resort to drug trade, smuggling, theft, kidnapping for ransom, and other illicit activities to fund their cause. These crimes are of course justified by the “higher cause” of their battles.
A fourth concept, related to the first, is perspective. The Israelis and Palestinians offer a prime example. Depending which side one is on, it’s easy to overlook or amplify the atrocities done by both entities.
With all these concepts plus other factors, one can see that the term itself is extremely messy. Groups identified by one government, or consortium of governments, as terroristic may consider the other side the true terrorists. Given the confusion and complexity, this article will feature groups considered terrorist by our own and other Western governments in hope of demonstrating how such groups use the web to function.
Terrorist Use of the Internet
Terrorists use the internet in a variety of ways. While this article will concentrate on websites, and, to a minor degree, chat rooms, bulletin boards, blogs, forums, and discussion groups, other significant internet uses also benefit terrorists. Terrorists use the internet quite simply because it is easy and inexpensive to disseminate information instantaneously worldwide and relatively uncensored.
Information and Data Mining
The internet is rife with information of potential use to terrorist groups. For example, these groups could find maps, satellite photos (Google Earth), blueprints, and information on transportation routes, power and communication grids and infrastructures, pipeline systems, dams and water supplies, explosive-device instructions, biological and nuclear weapons, and much, much more. It was no accident that the U.S. and many other governments scrambled after 9/11 to reclassify and remove information from the web. According to a USA Today article3 quoting an AP release, the U.S. government alone pulled over 1 million documents from public view, many from the web. In some ways, much of this was futile, since a large proportion of this material was archived in various ways, but it still represented a wake-up call to the availability and accessibility of information that could prove harmful in the wrong hands.
Once documents and information, such as those listed above, are obtained, the internet provides an excellent communication medium for sharing such information among sympathetic groups.
This is a loaded category. Obviously, certain groups attempt, via traditional advertising and propaganda techniques (rhetoric and images playing on fears and desires) to attract volunteers to their cause. In the case of terrorism, the recruitment is often based on political and/or religious rhetoric. But a basic fact is often overlooked — much marketing is oriented toward young adults, the most prolific internet users, who, by their younger age, are consequently among the most susceptible to propaganda.
The Site Institute [http://www.siteinstitute.org], although no longer extant (morphing into the Site Intelligence Group [http://www.siteintelgroup.org], extensively monitored Al-Qaeda’s internet communications in the early 2000s. It documented an extensive effort to recruit fighters to travel to Iraq and fight. Potential recruits, typically identified through secret chat rooms and bulletin boards, were fed a diet of religious fundamentalism and anti-American rhetoric, as well as training manuals. Most of those targeted were young men — angry, bored, and easily manipulated.
While similar to all-out recruitment in techniques, fundraising is often more open and blatant. Websites for “popular” terrorist organizations often have links such as “What You Can Do” or “How Can I Help.” Visitors to such websites are often monitored and researched; likely candidates (repeat visitors and those who stay for long periods of time) are contacted and offered additional information or asked for assistance.
Networking and Information Sharing
They say that information, like love, is only useful if it’s shared. Terrorist groups by necessity share information, whether how to manufacture explosives, obtain fraudulent passports, perform identity theft or by holding news events, publishing manifestoes, or supplying logistical and tactical information. While typically relying on password-guarded forums, chat rooms and bulletin boards (using products such as Pal Talk), a number of large-scale terrorist groups, such as Hamas, have become less centralized and more extensively networked. Information is often mirrored at many sites with sites functioning in a parallel fashion, although with local emphasis. This way wholesale disruption of information flow can be circumvented if one site crashes.
Information sharing also includes sharing information mined from other legitimate sites, as well as the online distribution of newsletters, magazines, reports, and analyses. Publications such as The Terrorist’s Handbook [http://www.capricorn.org/~akira/home/terror.html], The Anarchist Cookbook [http://www.anarchistcookbookz.com/download.html], The Mujahadeen Poisons Handbook (available from a charming site called TheDisease.net — http://thedisease.net/functions.php?PHPSESSID=
nbc/chemical/Mujahideen_Poisons.pdf], The Encyclopedia of Jihad (in Arabic), and the Sabotage Handbook are all available with a bit of digging.
Logistics and Tactical/Strategic Planning
The internet cannot be separated, qualitatively, from any other means of communication, in that terrorists are just as likely to use cell phones, radios, and face-to-face communication to communicate tactical and strategic planning. We know now that Al-Qaeda operatives used email extensively to plan the 9/11 attacks. According to Gabriel Weinmann,4 Hamas largely uses chat rooms to coordinate attacks and plan operations across Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Israel. Information, such as maps, photographs, directions, and technical details of explosives, is often encoded or encrypted.
There is no standardized definition of cyberterrorism. The concept previously focused on hacking or cracking into computers for the purpose of disruption. Potential targets are numerous, e.g., telecommunication systems, defense systems, medical facilities, power grids, transportation, and so forth. The FBI’s definition5— “the use of cyber tools to shut down critical national infrastructures (such as energy, transportation, or government operations) for the purpose of coercing or intimidating a government or civilian population” — fit this criteria. Lately however, the scope has expanded. The National Conference of State Legislatures [http://www.ncsl.org/programs/lis/CIP/cyberterrorism.htm] defines cyberterrorism this way:
The use of information technology by terrorist groups and individuals to further their agenda. This can include use of information technology to organize and execute attacks against networks, computer systems and telecommunications infrastructures, or for exchanging information or making threats electronically. Examples are hacking into computer systems, introducing viruses to vulnerable networks, web site defacing, denial-of-service attacks, or terrorist threats made via electronic communication.
Under this definition, particularly the last clause, many terrorist groups are culpable, but so are anti-terrorist groups trying to take down terrorist websites.
While cyberterrorism remains an area of great concern, since the majority of all operations of any significance worldwide are computerized and use networks, there have been no major significant attacks on any national infrastructures involving terrorist groups. However, this remains an area of grave concern for most international defense and security organizations.
Terrorist and Anti-Terrorist Websites
Most terrorist groups either do not have websites; have sporadic websites or sites that continually change URLs; appear in languages — or alphabets — foreign to most of us; or are very difficult to locate. As always, one starts with Google searches. Limiting to country and using blog searches also yields results. I had some limited success using Wikipedia (the links at the bottom of the article) as well as lists compiled by some of the sites below. You can also monitor Whois [http://www.whois.com] the official domain registry for particular words or phrases (such as Al-Shaheed) and examine the results. Clicking on the resulting links can be quite fruitful. If you have access to various mail groups, searching these and other discussion groups can help, as well as examining the little literature in the field. Once found, links on existing terrorist websites often link to other organizations. The World of Islam Portal [http://www.worldofislam.info] is an exceptional portal into Islamic culture, but, some of its numerous links to sites, forums, and organizations may reach questionable sites.
Terrorist groups use websites for a number of reasons and feature particular categories of information: organization history, biographies, writings, speeches, ideological and political aims, field reports, maps, and news. Some even provide gift shops. Information on sites is typically biased. Some sites, particularly some of the Iraqi sites, glorify all kinds of violence, while others feature only violence by their enemies, downplaying their own.
Information About Terrorist Groups
A number of sites, e.g., the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) [http://www.memri.org], track the web presence of terrorist organizations. In its words, MEMRI “explores the Middle East through the region’s media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu-Pashtu media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.” This organization provides continuous updates of sites it considers Jihadist, particularly those hosted by U.S. servers [http://www.memri.org/iwmp.html]. Many of these reports contain URLs to websites. MEMRI also publishes lists of sites with a brief description, a photo of the homepage, and the URL. MEMRI’s information is considered authoritative and high quality and is often used for translation services.
The best source for URLs of terrorist websites is the Internet Anthropologist [http://warintel.blogspot.com]. The Internet Anthropologist exemplifies citizen involvement in monitoring terrorist activity on the internet. Written by a man who calls himself Gerald, the blog has many offerings, including a list of websites hosted by reputed terrorist groups, primarily Islamic; a database of 24,000 names and bios of known terrorists; a specialized terror search engine, and even an anti-terrorist toolbar. This site is a bit confusing to use, so try going directly to its site map.
The Southern Poverty Law Center [http://www.splcenter.org] tracks sites with possible connections to domestic national terrorist activity, such as known hate groups. Many of these groups, such as white separatist skinheads, advocate violence and are linked to domestic terrorism. This site provides a map [http://www.splcenter.org/intel/map/hate.jsp] of acknowledged hate groups in the U.S. Groups are divided into Black Separatist, Christian Identity, General Hate, Ku Klux Klan, Neo-Nazi, Neo-Confederate, Racist Skinhead, and White Nationalist. This site does not give URLs; however, you can search Google to find sites for the groups listed.
Founded in 1913, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) documents violent and prejudicial activities targeted primarily against Jewish people. In addition to international activities, it has posted archives [http://www.adl.org/learn/Events_2001/events_archive_2004_print.asp] of extremist events. Perhaps more importantly, its online newsletter, Terrorism Update [http://www.adl.org/main_Terrorism/default.htm], is quite adept at ferreting out recent developments in national and global terror. A recent issue reveals the name of a North Carolina Jihadist blogger; the fact that Al-Qaeda has released videos formatted for cell phones; and the identification of a new English website for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). While perhaps a bit peripheral to the scope of this article, the ADL is also in the forefront of attempting to combat hate speech on the internet [http://www.adl.org/main_internet].
The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism [http://www.mipt.org] is a nonprofit, nationally recognized think tank responsible for creating databases and sharing information on terrorism. This organization was established in 2000 primarily as a response to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It has been active in a number of areas including bioterrorism, research exercises and simulations, public safety, technical research, legal projects, and case studies and reports. Its board of directors includes leaders from academia, business, and government. This group offers web users several databases, referred to on the site as “knowledge bases.” One of these, the Terrorism Knowledge Base [http://www.mipt.org/TKB.asp] is a sophisticated tool that allows a user to search for groups, incidents, leaders and members, and cases by geographic region. Various tools offer an array of capabilities, such as incident statistics by several variables, group reports and information, and graphing tools. Among other capabilities, these tools allow one to explore the relationships between different groups. While the Institute currently documents and abstracts 43 terrorist groups, it does not provide website or internet activity on them.
Terrorism Central [www.terrorismcentral.com], sponsored by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, is dedicated, in its words, to “building a central information repository [on terrorism] comprising original and secondary sources spanning over four decades of research.” While the site doesn’t have extensive information on terrorists and the internet, it does have an extensive list of terrorist organizations and a section of documents (full-text) relating to cyberterrorism and information warfare.
The Federation of American Scientists offers — in a rather bland web presence — what it terms the Intelligence Resource Program [http://www.fas.org/irp]. This program is primarily dedicated to intelligence work and, though unadorned, provides copious online reports, hearings, and the like dedicated to this topic. In addition, they provide an extensive list of worldwide intelligence agencies. Specific to terrorism, this site provides a number of online reports [http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/terror.htm], including the State Department’s Pattern’s of Global Terrorism Reports dating back to 1989. One of the more useful features of this site for identifying terrorist organizations is a list of groups that may fall into the category of terrorist; note that liberation movements, substance cartels, and other para-state entities are also included here There are currently descriptions of 385 groups but no URLs.
Global Security.org [http://www.globalsecurity.org] claims to be “the leading source of background information and developing news stories in the fields of defense, space, intelligence, WMD, and homeland security.” The organization, which began in 2000, caters primarily to journalists and the media. It hosts an extensive list of global military organizations divided by country [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world]. These military organizations, agencies, and groups all have highly detailed write-ups. There is some very useful information in here about para-military groups, many of which have terrorist intentions.
While it may seem a major oversight to not include an in-depth analysis of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [http://www.dhs.gov] here, there isn’t enough relevant information to justify it. In the past several years, the DHS has morphed into a gigantic and often labyrinthine bureaucracy. Its website reflects this and makes it difficult to ferret out information on terrorist organizations and their web/internet activities. To give credit, the organization seems very focused on internal, national coordination.
More useful for this article is the list hosted by the U.S. Department of State of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) [http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/fs/37191.htm], even though it only amounts to a rather basic list of 42 organizations with no annotations or website links. The State Department also publishes an annual review of global terrorism, along with other relevant related documents [http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls].
The U.S. Institute of Peace [http://www.usip.org] is “an independent, nonpartisan, national institution established and funded by Congress.” The organization is dedicated to the art of peacemaking and peacekeeping. It has a considerable collection of online publications, among them a collection of terrorism and counterterrorism documents. Of these, take particular note of www.terror.net by Gabriel Weinmann [http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr116.html] available in PDF. This pivotal work details the variety of methods that terrorists use to manipulate the internet for their purposes. Weinmann has expanded greatly on this paper in his recent book Terror on the Internet: The New Arena, the New Challenges, published by the U.S. Institute of Peace in 2006. I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in pursuing this topic.
Examples of Terrorist Websites
As previously mentioned, terrorist websites are notoriously unstable. Groups often play cat-and mouse with their enemy, which leads to transitive URLs. Websites are often crashed by well-meaning citizen geek-groups. For example followers of the Jawa Report [http://mypetjawa.mu.nu] were credited with taking down the original Taliban site. Attackers often hack sites or use denial of service (DoS) attacks. The U.S. government, to my knowledge, does not have a policy of crippling or eliminating these websites, although it does monitor them.
Terrorist organizations also suffer from the labile nature of revolutionary struggle, fracture internally, have problems with critical mass and funding, and suffer severe casualties. None of these leads to a robust internet life.
These sites can disappear or change URLs as quick as the wind, so the URLs below may no longer be current. Accessing cached copies in Google or other search engines, as well as archived copies on the WayBack Machine [http://www.archive.org/index.php], typically yields good results.
No terrorist group of the time has the cachet and household recognition as Al-Qaeda, which in Arabic means “the base.” Currently led by the nefarious and elusive Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda is an international Sunni Islamic organization founded in 1988. It has bases and training centers in many countries, primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, and has many sympathetic groups and apostles. Al-Qaeda does not have a central website; rather, it uses a network of sites that disseminates news, speeches, mandates, polemics, etc. These sites mirror many of Al-Qaeda’s cells. Gabriel Weinmann6 estimates there are as many as 50 such sites. Examples of these cells are groups such as al Muhajiroun and the Supporters of Shareeah [http://www.geocities.com/suporters_of_sharia].
For scholars interested in examining the early central Al-Qaeda sites, the original URL was http://www.alneda.com; another early URL is http://www.news4arab.org. As-Sahab, Al-Qaeda’s media and production arm, uses the al-Ekhlaas forum [http://www.ek-ls.org/forum] to distribute information and videos.7 This forum is however, password-protected and in Arabic.
Iraq has become a central battlefield for many different factions of violent Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists. As the smattering of examples that follow demonstrate, there are many terrorist websites with strict Iraq ties that are often sympathetic to Islamic resistance as a whole.
The Al-Zarqawi [http://www.alamer.biz/ameer/home.html] (Arabic-only) website is dedicated to the followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi was a Jordanian-born terrorist who formed the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq sometime in the 1990s. He was killed in 2006. He was known primarily for focusing anger and military rage on U.S. troops in Iraq, whom he considered invaders. A Sunni, he also severely criticized Shiite Muslims in Iraq.
The Ansar website [http://www.al-ansar.biz] represents Ansar al Sunna, a conglomerate of terrorist factions formed in 2003. The website first aired the video of the beheading of American citizen Nicholas Berg. This airing unwittingly led to its web demise by crashing the Malaysian-hosted server with excessive traffic and drew enormous attention to their site. While many terrorist sites downplay their own actions and amplify the atrocities of their enemies, this site, and many of the younger, angrier cooperatives, take the opposite approach, tapping into sentiments of violent anger.
The Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) [http://www.iaisite-eng.org] is a Baathist mujahideen organization dedicated to getting foreign troops out of Iraq. Its website has an English option. Choices include Military Operations and Filmed Operations, which feature footage of “our brothers” blowing up an American Humvee and other acts of violence against American troops. The site also includes Media Statements, Political Statements, Jihad information, and a forum [http://alboraq.info/forumdisplay.php?f=72].
Juba, a self-proclaimed soldier of the IAI, has created a site called Baghdad Sniper [http://www.baghdadsniper.com] (English available). “I am not a criminal…. I am not bloodthirsty … I just defend our land you invaded … defend our children [from] whom you stole their happiness and their right to live in peace.”
Subhanaka Forum [http://sobhank.com/vb] posts communiqués by jihad groups in Iraq, while http://www.iraqipa.net posts videos and messages. Both of these sites are in Arabic. The blog MNHATT [http://kjgafd.blogspot.com], also in Arabic, is sympathetic to Jihad in Iraq.
Saraya Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqas [http://www.sarayasaad.com] has posted videos of attacks on American convoys; the group Shabkat Qawafil Al-Islam [http://kwaflislam.com/vb/index.php] hosts a forum for Islamic State of Iraq communiqués. Both sites are in Arabic.
While the media and politicians often attempt to paint a cohesive and evolutionary picture of the current war in Iraq, serious scholars realize the complexities of populations, issues, politics, and economies. Although offensive, websites such as these offer alternative interpretations to a complex reality.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas uses numerous sites to target and address many populations. Its primary site, the Palestine Information Center [http://www.palestine-info.info], is available in eight languages and incredibly elaborate. The site welcomes you with music and features news, graphics, comments, reports, analysis, and much more. It is obviously a site that stretches out a friendly, virtual arm and hand to the Western visitor.
Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni Islamic group founded in 1987 during the first Intifada, or uprising against Israeli rule, currently hold a majority of elected seats in the Palestinian Legislature. Its military wing is considered terroristic by many countries worldwide.
Other Hamas sites include the Palestine Gallery [http://www.palestinegallery.com], which is in Arabic only, and the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades [http://www.alqassam.ps/english], a site for the military wing of Hamas, which is in English. Numerous other websites, such as the Hamas-run Al-Fateh.net, which, according to Israeli news, recruits children for martyrdom, exist as well.
Hamas was among the first terrorist groups to use the internet,8 publishing the U.K.-based Filastin al-Muslimah online in the late 1980s.
The Hezbollah (aka Hizbollah, Hizbu’llah — Party of God) site is in Arabic but has an English-language version, Islamic Resistance in Lebanon [http://english.hizbollah.tv/index.php]. The Hezbollah is a group of Lebanese Shiite militants, formed in 1982, as a reaction to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It had numerous early ties to Iran and was particularly influenced by the beliefs of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Extremely media-savvy, the Hezbollah operates al-Manar [http://www.almanar.com.lb/NewsSite/HomePage.aspx], a radio and television station. Al-Manar TV is a high-production site that broadcasts in English and offers text, audio, and video streams of national, regional, and world news that is slanted toward Islamic resistance and unity.
Iran is currently recognized as a terrorist state by a number of Western countries. The President’s homepage [http://www.president.ir/eng/government] links to an extensive list of government websites, including the Ministry of Defense [http://www.mod.ir]. The Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran (Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) [http://www.shahid.ir], a radical branch of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s military, is accused of executing numerous terrorist acts and sponsoring terrorist training camps within the borders of Iran. An Islamic news site with ties to this group is Tabnak [http://tabnak.ir].
The Taliban, who also use the moniker “Islamic emirate of Afghanistan,” are a group of extreme Sunni Islamic fundamentalists who seized control of Afghanistan using weapons the U.S. had given them to fight Russian invaders. Their previous website, viewable on the WayBack Machine at http://www.alemarah.org, was taken down by a group of self-described terrorist fighters. Its new site, in Arabic, is http://www.alemarah.110mb.com.
After 9/11, the Taliban were accused of harboring Bin Laden and driven from power in Afghanistan by U.S. and allied forces. They have continued to have a presence, however, and, according to some military strategists, are rebuilding forces.
Examples of Non-Islamic Terrorist Sites
Basque separatists and the movement for Basque independence dates back to early 19th-century battles with the Crown of Spain. Currently, the movement is thriving, and Basque people reflect every aspect of tolerance and intolerance, from live-and-let-live to violent terrorists. The Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) movement of Basque separatists, a terrorist group, originally used a website called Euskal Herria Journal [http://www.igc.apc.org/ehj] to espouse their beliefs. Though the site has been repeatedly hacked and is no longer active, you can view it on the WayBack Machine.
Basque News [http://www.eitb24.com] is in English and, while embracing the Basque culture, may provide links to more violent organizations. It is primarily a centrist publication with an excellent overview of the breadth and diversity of this group.
The group Aleph [http://english.aleph.to], formerly known as Aum Shinrikyo, is a religious organization/cult that relies on a pastiche of beliefs from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and other spiritual practices. Aum Shinrikyo was never a stranger to controversy, criticized early on for its recruiting methods and treatment of disciples. Its cult took a demonic turn in 1993, however, when it began manufacturing sarin and stockpiling weapons. Several assassination attempts were also blamed on the group. It was the orchestrated the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995, that catapulted this group to international notoriety. While the current group, re-named Aleph in 2000, claims to have severed any ties with terrorism, it is still considered a terrorist organization and is highly monitored. Its website contains a seemingly innocuous selection of dogma and readings.
Tamil Eelam [http://www.eelam.com], or Tamil Nation, is a perfect example of how the definition of terrorism often lies in the eyes of the beholder. This ethnic minority considers itself to be waging a legitimate war for recognition against the Sinhala government. The site endorses the Tamil Tigers as freedom fighters; however, many nations, including the U.S., consider them to be terrorists. The group, unlike FARC (see below) and Hamas, but similar to the Basque Separatists, is attempting to gain its own country status. The site is in English and offers insight into the group’s history, politics, and news.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) [http://www.farcep.org] is a Marxist-Leninist organization founded in 1964 within Colombia that fights the Colombian government for a political voice. FARC has been involved in killings and kidnappings, as well as the cocaine trade. Its website was hosted by a Swiss IP (the site is currently down) in Spanish with an English option. Previous examples of this site can be examined on the Internet Archive.
The Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) [http://www.philippinerevolution.net] has a very advanced website in English and Tagalog that details the history of the CPP and the NPA, as well as featuring press releases, documents, publications, photographs, videos and songs, among other information. This site has been hacked several times but is currently up and running.
Certain websites are no longer active but played a formative role in web presence for the pursuit of terrorist activities. Examples include Assam [http://www.assam.com], a propaganda site for jihad in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Palestine; 7hj7hj [7hj.7hj.com], which taught visitors how to hack into government networks and contaminate websites with worms and viruses; and the Islamic Studies and Research Center [http://www.drasat.com], a news site for Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists.
Jihadunspun [http://www.jihadunspun.net] is an interesting and controversial site. Considered by some parties to be sponsored by terrorists and by others to be a CIA front, Jihadunspun is a large Canadian website (currently attempting to move to Malaysia) that claims to offer an uncensored version of the U.S. war on terror. The site appears Islamic in origin and contains articles, news feeds, both mainstream and what they call “uncensored” regional reports and information, and a members-only area and forum.
The mail group alt.security.terrorism [http://groups.google.com/group/alt.security.terrorism/topics], a member of the Google Groups fiefdom, is comprised of people dedicated to tracking and discussing terrorist activities. This site is quite active and represents a wide variety of opinions. There are many references to news items, actions, political issues, etc.
There is no way to underestimate the power of language. Many sites by organizations large and small that are labeled as terrorist, or engage in activities that are by definition terroristic, do not publish in English. Scholars and interested parties who wish to harvest information from these sites and don’t read the language are at the mercy of translators, who are often expensive, or, worse yet, must rely on horrible web-based translation devices. Only use these devices, which are often language-selective and only translate short sections of text, as a last resort. If used sparingly and with caution, these devices can, however, give one an idea of what a site is about.
Several of the more “legitimate” terrorist groups, for example, the Hezbollah, offer sites in English as well as their native language. Groups such as the Hezbollah obviously realize that in today’s world, offering an alternative to the mainstream English-speaking media’s perception of their organizations is a necessary spin. These sites are rich in propaganda, alternative scenarios, arguments, philosophies, and often feature donation and/or recruitment options. Anyone truly interested in researching an organization such as Hezbollah should consider the information on these sites critical.
If we consider the internet analogous to geography, virtual space as it were, we begin to witness a mirror or map of the world and its inhabitants. Terrorist groups, in all their variety and complexity, feel compelled to stake a claim to this virtual territory. Their methods vary from those of extremely nationalistic groups, such as the Tamil Tigers or the Basque Separatists, for whom a single website is their resident home, to Al-Qaeda, a group less concerned with national boundaries and more with the boundaries of hearts and minds. Al-Qaeda, just as a multinational corporation, is a product of the 21st century and operates with a fluidity that largely ignores national boundaries.
The internet presence of terrorists and terrorist organizations is in a rudimentary phase. It is still aimed at staking out and defining territory; at information sharing, recruitment, fund raising; etc. Elements of these missions will probably always remain. However, terrorist actions in the real world will eventually be mirrored in virtual space. Cyberterrorism will mirror the suicide bombings and roadside attacks and 9/11s of our physical geography and its scale and human sacrifice will likely increase.
I am tempted to end this article on a positive note, but an ongoing examination of these cultures of violence has not increased my hope for peaceful resolution or co-existence. Some situations may be more easily healed. Groups such as FARC who are fighting for a voice in government may be appeased by obtaining that voice and cease their violent ways. But other groups, such as Al-Qaeda, will continue to fight their perceived enemies, roughly defined as the Western world, indefinitely. One can only hope for brilliant politicians and world leaders, a more tightly defined global community, as well as adequate defenses, to shepherd us safely through the 21st century and beyond.
1 - Blumenthal, Les, “Cyberspace: The Final Frontier in the War on Terror,” Knight Ridder Tribune, Sept. 21, 2007.
2 - The Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives, Jan. 2, 2006, June 26, 2008 [http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/18C113B.txt].
3 - Bass, Frank and Herschaft, Randy, “1M archived pages removed post-9/11” Associated Press, USA Today, March 13, 2007, June 20, 2008 [http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-03-13-archives_N.htm].
4 - Weinmann, Gabriel, “Terror on the Internet: The New Arena, the New Challenges,” U.S. Institute of Peace Press, Washington, D.C. 2006.
5 - FBI Testimony of Dale L. Watson, executive assistant director, Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division, FBI, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Feb. 6, 2002. “The Terrorist Threat Confronting the United States” [http://www.fbi.gov/congress/congress02/watson020602.htm 6/23/2008].
6 - Ibid. Weinmann, Gabriel.
7 - Private email communication with Dr. Rusty Shackleford, 6/18/2008.
8 - Ibid. Weinmann, Gabriel.