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[infowar.de] irakischer "Al-Qaeda-Hacker" festgenommen
Terrorist 007, Exposed
By Rita Katz and Michael Kern
Washington Post, Sunday, March 26, 2006; B01
For almost two years, intelligence services around the world tried to
uncover the identity of an Internet hacker who had become a key conduit
for al-Qaeda. The savvy, English-speaking, presumably young webmaster
taunted his pursuers, calling himself Irhabi -- Terrorist -- 007. He
hacked into American university computers, propagandized for the Iraq
insurgents led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and taught other online jihadists
how to wield their computers for the cause.
Suddenly last fall, Irhabi 007 disappeared from the message boards. The
postings ended after Scotland Yard arrested a 22-year-old West Londoner,
Younis Tsouli, suspected of participating in an alleged bomb plot. In
November, British authorities brought a range of charges against him
related to that plot. Only later, according to our sources familiar with
the British probe, was Tsouli's other suspected identity revealed. British
investigators eventually confirmed to us that they believe he is Irhabi 007.
The unwitting end of the hunt comes at a time when al-Qaeda sympathizers
like Irhabi 007 are making explosive new use of the Internet. Countless
Web sites and password-protected forums -- most of which have sprung up in
the last several years -- now cater to would-be jihadists like Irhabi 007.
The terrorists who congregate in those cybercommunities are rapidly
becoming skilled in hacking, programming, executing online attacks and
mastering digital and media design -- and Irhabi was a master of all those
But the manner of his arrest demonstrates how challenging it is to combat
such online activities and to prevent others from following Irhabi's
example: After pursuing an investigation into a European terrorism
suspect, British investigators raided Tsouli's house, where they found
stolen credit card information, according to an American source familiar
with the probe. Looking further, they found that the cards were used to
pay American Internet providers on whose servers he had posted jihadi
propaganda. Only then did investigators come to believe that they had
netted the infamous hacker. And that element of luck is a problem. The
Internet has presented investigators with an extraordinary challenge. But
our future security is going to depend increasingly on identifying and
catching the shadowy figures who exist primarily in the elusive online world.
The short career of Irhabi 007 offers a case study in the evolving nature
of the threat that we at the SITE Institute track every day by monitoring
and then joining the password-protected forums and communicating with the
online jihadi community. Celebrated for his computer expertise, Irhabi 007
had propelled the jihadists into a 21st-century offensive through his
ability to covertly and securely disseminate manuals of weaponry, videos
of insurgent feats such as beheadings and other inflammatory material. It
is by analyzing the trail of information left by such postings that we are
able to distinguish the patterns of communication used by individual
Irhabi's success stemmed from a combination of skill and timing. In early
2004, he joined the password-protected message forum known as Muntada
al-Ansar al-Islami (Islam Supporters Forum) and, soon after, al-Ekhlas
(Sincerity) -- two of the password-protected forums with thousands of
members that al-Qaeda had been using for military instructions, propaganda
and recruitment. (These two forums have since been taken down.) This was
around the time that Zarqawi began using the Internet as his primary means
of disseminating propaganda for his insurgency in Iraq. Zarqawi needed
computer-savvy associates, and Irhabi proved to be a standout among the
volunteers, many of whom were based in Europe.
Irhabi's central role became apparent to outsiders in April of that year,
when Zarqawi's group, later renamed al-Qaeda in Iraq, began releasing its
communiqués through its official spokesman, Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, on the
Ansar forum. In his first posting, al-Iraqi wrote in Arabic about "the
good news" that "a group of proud and brave men" intended to "strike the
economic interests of the countries of blasphemy and atheism, that came to
raise the banner of the Cross in the country of the Muslims."
At the time, some doubted that posting's authenticity, but Irhabi, who was
the first to post a response, offered words of support. Before long,
al-Iraqi answered in like fashion, establishing their relationship -- and
Irhabi's central role.
Over the following year and a half, Irhabi established himself as the top
jihadi expert on all things Internet-related. He became a very active
member of many jihadi forums in Arabic and English. He worked on both
defeating and enhancing online security, linking to multimedia and
providing online seminars on the use of the Internet. He seemed to be
online night and day, ready to answer questions about how to post a video,
for example -- and often willing to take over and do the posting himself.
Irhabi focused on hacking into Web sites as well as educating Internet
surfers in the secrets to anonymous browsing.
In one instance, Irhabi posted a 20-page message titled "Seminar on
Hacking Websites," to the Ekhlas forum. It provided detailed information
on the art of hacking, listing dozens of vulnerable Web sites to which one
could upload shared media. Irhabi used this strategy himself, uploading
data to a Web site run by the state of Arkansas, and then to another run
by George Washington University. This stunt led many experts to believe --
erroneously -- that Irhabi was based in the United States.
Irhabi used countless other Web sites as free hosts for material that the
jihadists needed to upload and share. In addition to these sites, Irhabi
provided techniques for discovering server vulnerabilities, in the event
that his suggested sites became secure. In this way, jihadists could use
third-party hosts to disseminate propaganda so that they did not have to
risk using their own web space and, more importantly, their own money.
As he provided seemingly limitless space captured from vulnerable servers
throughout the Internet, Irhabi was celebrated by his online followers. A
mark of that appreciation was the following memorandum of praise offered
by a member of Ansar in August 2004:
"To Our Brother Irhabi 007. Our brother Irhabi 007, you have shown very
good efforts in serving this message board, as I can see, and in serving
jihad for the sake of God. By God, we do not like to hear what hurts you,
so we ask God to keep you in his care.
You are one of the top people who care about serving your brothers. May
God add all of that on the side of your good work, and may you go careful
We say carry on with God's blessing.
Carry on, may God protect you.
Carry on serving jihad and its supporters.
And I ask the mighty, gracious and merciful God to keep for us everyone
who wants to support his faith.
Irhabi's hacking ability was useful not only in the exchange of media, but
also in the distribution of large-scale al-Qaeda productions. In one
instance, a film produced by Zarqawi's al-Qaeda, titled "All Is for
Allah's Religion," was distributed from a page at www.alaflam.net/wdkl .
The links, uploaded in June 2005, provided numerous outlets where visitors
could find the video. In the event that one of the sites was disabled,
many other sources were available as backups. Several were based on
domains such as www.irhabi007.ca or www.irhabi007.tv , indicating a strong
involvement by Irhabi himself. The film, a major release by al-Qaeda in
Iraq, showed many of the insurgents' recent exploits compiled with footage
of Osama bin Laden, commentary on the Abu Ghraib prison, and political
statements about the rule of then-Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
Tsouli has been charged with eight offenses including conspiracy to
murder, conspiracy to cause an explosion, conspiracy to cause a public
nuisance, conspiracy to obtain money by deception and offences relating to
the possession of articles for terrorist purposes and fundraising. So far
there are no charges directly related to his alleged activities as Irhabi
on the Internet, but given the charges already mounted against him, it
will probably be a long time before the 22-year-old is able to go online
But Irhabi's absence from the Internet may not be as noticeable as many
hope. Indeed, the hacker had anticipated his own disappearance. In the
months beforehand, Irhabi released his will on the Internet. In it, he
provided links to help visitors with their own Internet security and
hacking skills in the event of his absence -- a rubric for jihadists
seeking the means to continue to serve their nefarious ends. Irhabi may
have been caught, but his online legacy may be the creation of many
thousands of 007s.
- siteinstitute -
Rita Katz is the author of "Terrorist Hunter" (HarperCollins) and the
director of the SITE Institute, which is dedicated to the "search for
international terrorist entities." Michael Kern is a senior analyst with
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