[ISN] Electronic jihad: Web sites featuring calls to arms, video of attacks

From: InfoSec News (isn@private)
Date: Mon Jun 14 2004 - 22:52:36 PDT

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    By Sarah El Deeb 
    Associated Press
    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
    security issues.
    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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