Internet Jihadis

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The New York Times has an article dealing with how al Qaeda is using the internet and the media to spread jihad. There are increasing numbers of young Islamists who are choosing not to pick up a rifle but to grab a keyboard and mouse instead. In the process, al Qaeda is reinventing itself as an ideological organization rather than as the planners of operations.

Abu Omar, 28, is part of an increasingly sophisticated network of contributors and discussion leaders helping to wage Al Qaeda’s battle for Muslim hearts and minds. A self-described Qaeda sympathizer who defends the Sept. 11 attacks and continues to find inspiration in Osama bin Laden’s call for jihad, Abu Omar is part of a growing army of young men who may not seek to take violent action, but who help spread jihadist philosophy, shape its message and hope to inspire others to their cause.

Though he does not appear to be directly connected to Al Qaeda, Abu Omar does seem to be on a direct e-mail list for groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda, making him a link in a chain that spreads the organization’s propaganda using code and special software to circumvent official scrutiny of their Internet activity.

As Al Qaeda gradually transforms itself from a terrorist organization carrying out its own attacks into an ideological umbrella that encourages local movements to take action, its increased reliance on various forms of media have made Web-savvy sympathizers like Abu Omar ever more important.

For example, this past Sept. 11, Abu Omar said, a link sent to a jihadist e-mail list took him to a general interest Islamic Web site, which led him to a password-protected Web site, then onto yet another site containing the latest release from Al Qaeda: a lecture by its No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, threatening attacks on Israel and the Persian Gulf. Abu Omar said he then passed the video to friends and confidants, acting as a local distributor to other sympathizers.

In recent years, Al Qaeda has formed a special media production division called Al Sahab to produce videos about leaders like Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri, terrorism experts say. The group largely once relied on Arab television channels like Al Jazeera to broadcast its videos and taped messages.

Al Sahab, whose name means the cloud, has continued to draw on a video library featuring everything from taped suicide messages by the Sept. 11 hijackers to images of gun battles and bombings spearheaded by Al Qaeda and others, said Marwan Shehadeh, an expert on Islamist movements with the Vision Research Institute in Amman who has close ties to jihadists in Jordan and Syria.

This would actually be something that moderate Muslims could help with enormously. They could help monitor this sort of activity and infiltrate these networks. Then pass along the information. There is at least one courageous American woman who is doing just that. (Though I still do not understand why she broadcast her name in the way she did).

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