The Dutch National Anti-Terrorism Co-ordinator Tjibbe Joustra says the Internet is acting more and more like a virtual training camp for terrorists. He finds it worrying that an increasing number of films giving detailed instructions on how to make bombs or explosive belts are appearing on the web. At the moment, the video clips are in Arabic, but he says it is only a matter of time before they appear in Dutch.
Mr Joustra says there are between 100 and 200 Dutch-language radical Islamic websites. In February 2005, shortly after the murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh, parliament ordered a government investigation into radical sites and for them to be blocked. Mr Joustra says little has so far been done to achieve this.
Hard to block
Internet expert Herbert Blankestein believes Mr Joustra has to accept that radical information can be found on the Internet: “The information is out there, it’s all over the place and you can’t get rid of it”. Mr Blankestein says it is possible to block sites but that little is achieved by doing this. The information will just be moved to other sites inside or outside the Netherlands. Many radical Dutch-language sites have already moved to foreign providers for this reason. He says: “Even if the information were removed from the whole civilised world, there would still be uncivilised countries – in South America, Eastern Europe and Asia – where it could not be got rid of.
The report, ‘Jihadists and the Internet’, by the National Anti-Terrorism Co-ordinator and the Dutch intelligence service, the AIVD, indicates that radical Muslims make frequent use of the Internet to form virtual networks, to facilitate training and for propaganda purposes. Such virtual networks provide an informal pool of people willing to further the ‘jihad’. Being willing to take part in a terrorist attack is one thing, but such an attack also requires the knowledge, skills and means of carrying it out. And the Internet offers an abundance of training possibilities. Written instruction manuals on how to make bombs were already available on the Internet, but now there are videos showing exactly what materials are needed to make a bomb, the necessary quantities and how to put them together.
Professor Gabriel Weiman, from Israel’s University of Haifa Communications Department, researches terrorist websites and published the book, Terror on the Internet, in April 2006. When he first started work on the project eight years ago, there were only 12 terrorist websites on the Internet. Today, there are more than 5,000 and the number is growing by the day.
A large group of international researchers observe the sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week; they are translated and archived. Locating radical sites is often difficult as some are short-lived, disappearing after a period. It is even more difficult to find out who is behind a particular website because it so easy to publish anonymously.
Professor Weiman says radical websites are becoming more technologically advanced, and are often ahead of, for example, United States government sites. Terrorists were aware of the possibilities of the Internet at a very early stage and they still have this lead. He says radical sites aimed at special target groups, such as women, children or ‘the enemy’, are a new development designed to reach the broadest possible public.
Propaganda on radical Islamic websites reaches a wide audience (especially among young people) and there are relatively few competing voices to counter the message. The research indicates the propaganda is not just one-way: jihadists also try to make contact with the like-minded. The report also points to the (further) radicalisation of Muslim women. They often cannot move around easily and the Internet can provide them with a limited view of the world.
Tjibbe Joustra hopes his research will lead to more moderate Muslim groups spreading their vision of Islam via the Internet. “We’ve tried, in the report, to show the size of the problem and to make it clear that there is a huge amount of fundamentalist, Salafist or jihadist interpretations of Islam on the Internet. And we hope that this information will encourage other groups to put their far more moderate vision of Islam on the Internet”.
Mr Joustra thinks a ‘cyber attack’, launched by radical Muslims on the Internet itself, is unlikely. It is true that a terrorist attack on the Internet’s infrastructure would be easier to mount than a suicide attack. However, such an attack would also affect the jihadists’ virtual network and would not involve martyrdom. Besides, many measures have already been taken to guard against a possible cyber attack.
* RNW Internet translation (mw)