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[] CBS 04.03.07: Terrorists Take Recruitment Efforts Online

Terrorists Take Recruitment Efforts Online
March 4, 2007

(CBS) Recently the Bush administration acknowledged that al Qaeda is reorganized and gaining strength. As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, that's been possible, since the fall of Afghanistan, through the explosive growth of al Qaeda on the Internet. Last week, word spread on the web that Vice President Cheney was in Afghanistan. In hours the base where he was staying was bombed. It's not clear the bomber was targeting the vice president, but U.S. Intelligence noted the coincidence.

It is certain that virtual reality is doing real damage with intelligence, recruiting, fund raising and the spread of Islamic extremism. This assault may start with bytes, not bullets, but American generals will tell you, it's a hot war all the same on a battlefield called ""

"Without a doubt, the Internet is the single most important venue for the radicalization of Islamic youth," says Army Brigadier General John Custer, who is the is head of intelligence at central command, responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Custer says he knows where the enemy finds an inexhaustible supply of suicide warriors. "I see 16, 17-year-olds who have been indoctrinated on the Internet turn up on the battlefield. We capture 'em, we kill 'em every day in Iraq, in Afghanistan," he says.

Asked if the Internet is training up new battalions of those young people, Custer tells Pelley, "It's a self-fulfilling prophesy that's exactly what the jihadist Internet is there to do."

And this, Custer told 60 Minutes, is just how they do it. "You start off with a site that looks like current news in Iraq. With a single click, you're at a active jihad attack site. The real meat of the jihad Web site, Jihad Internet. Beheadings, bombings, and blood. You can see humvees blown up. You can see American bodies drug through the street. You can see small arms attacks. Anything you might want in an attack video. Next link will take you to a motivational site, where mortar operatives, suicide bombers, are pictured in heaven. You can you see their farewell speeches. Another click and you're at a site where you can download scripted talking points that validate you have religious justification for mass murder," he explains.

"It's ironic, isn't it, this whole idea of martyrs living forever. Turns out to be true," Pelley remarks.

"It is," Custer remarks. "Every martyr craves immortality. And on the Internet, they can have it."

The number of Internet sites has exploded since 9/11. It's estimated there are 5,000 today. Custer says anyone watching them could actually believe the U.S. is on the run.

"It's a war of perceptions. They understand the power of the Internet. They don't have to win in the tactical battlefield. They never will. No platoon has ever been defeated in Afghanistan or Iraq. But, it doesn't matter. It's irrelevant," Custer says.

That's what Abu Musab al Zarqawi understood when he used the Internet to promote himself as head of al Qaeda in Iraq.

"When Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a street thug, beheaded an American businessman he became a rock star over night," Custer says.

"Nicholas Berg was beheaded just to provide material for broadcast," Pelley remarks.

"Exactly, Custer agrees. "The same with American contractor's bodies in Fallujah in April of '04. The same is Daniel Pearl havin' his throat slit havin' a gun put to his head. The power of the Internet is unbelievable."

That power is so menacing, General Custer wouldn't say anything at all about how the U.S. is fighting the Jihadi Internet online. But 60 Minutes found other Americans who have started their own counter attack. Aaron Weisburd joined the battle from his home in Illinois.

"I'm in Carbondale. In the middle of middle America. Waging war against them. It makes a very small world. What works in a cave in Afghanistan, you know, works in a living room in Carbondale," Weisburd says.

Weisburd was so angered by what he saw on the Web that he quit his job as a programmer and now spends every day attacking extremist websites.

His goal is to mess with them online. "Absolutely. In as many different ways as I can," he says.

And he says he's "sowing seeds of distrust."

Weisburd cooperates with the FBI, Homeland Security and British police, all of whom know him as unrelenting. He blows the whistle on the Web sites and asks Internet providers to take them down. He says he's helped shut down nearly a thousand.

Asked how he would describe what he does, Weisburd tells Pelley, "Part of it is, you know, rodeo clown, essentially. I jump into the ring and make the bulls angry and they come after me. And I do that to good effect. That's my own particular expertise, if you will."

"Tell me about that," Pelley says.

"Well, the Irhabi 007 case comes to mind. I simply publicized what he was saying, made fun of him, called him out and it worked," Weisburd says.

Irhabi 007 was the networking genius who helped al Qaeda regroup online after the U.S. forced them out of Afghanistan. With an ego to match, he was a legend in his own mind.

This is the kind of thing Irhabi 007 made possible for al Qaeda, posting videos long before it was common on YouTube.

"Well, he solved problems. They had content distribution. They had problems moving large files, he solved that problem," Weisburd explains.

He solved it by hacking into computers around the world and using them to store and share terrorist files. He even got into a computer system owned by the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

The Arkansas terror files were discovered and removed. And in 2005, so was Irhabi 007. Scotland Yard, raided a London house in a terrorism case involving credit card fraud. They arrested a 22-year-old Moroccan named Younis Tsouli. Later they discovered Tsouli was Terrorist 007. The network administrator was off line, but his network is still pulling recruits into jihad.

"If you want to go wage jihad, you've got to let them know that there's a jihad going on and lead them to believe that this is something they want to be involved in. And so these videos are essentially, you know, all recruitment films, you know, join the army, seen wonderful places, kill people," Weisburd says.

"I don't think anyone knew that the Internet is going to become so important," says Rita Katz, who has made cyber war her business.

In a secret location, somewhere in the U.S., she runs the Site Institute, a private firm hired by the U.S. government and major corporations to monitor terrorist activities on the Web ? activities like those in chat rooms where thousands of Internet surfers meet online.

How does she infiltrate these chat rooms?

"You pretend to be one of them. You try to convince them that you are part of this community. And that's how you do it. And you communicate with them online," Katz explains.

She logged onto a jihadi site for 60 Minutes to demonstrate how many people were online. One forum had 17,869 members.

Katz's Arabic speaking staff has invented jihadi personalities who are part of the conversation in terror chat rooms. Online, sometimes they see terror operations in the making.

"It happened just in April that one of the most important members of the forum was going to commit his suicide operation. He posed a message saying 'This is the last time I'm communicating with you my turn had arrived.' And to us it was an indication that's he's going on his suicide operation," Katz recalls.

Asked if they ever saw him again online, Katz says, "We were able to track down his IP address, meaning identify the location that he was signing with his computer and contacted the authorities in his jurisdiction and they actually arrested him as he was boarding a plane to Afghanistan."

How can a Web site convince someone to kill themselves? Well, part of the inspiration comes from Abu Musab al Suri. A 49-year-old Syrian, a sort of warrior-philosopher, he is among the most important teachers of global jihad.

"His message is, 'Let's understand what kind of a jihad we want. And, he basically laid down the strategy of al Qaeda," Katz explains.

He laid it down in his 1,600 page encyclopedia, "The Call For Global Islamic Resistance," which he wrote while running a training camp in Afghanistan.

"It's all about guerilla warfare, who to target, what kind of bomb, you know, how you set up your target," Katz explains.

Al Suri videotaped 15 hours of lectures. He urges students to study bomb making and calls for killing on a grand scale. He's a powerful influence on the Web today, even though he's been in U.S. Custody since 2005.

Al Suri may be arrested, but Katz says, "Who cares?"

"For the jihadist it really does not matter at this stage. He did what he needed to do. When 9/11 happened, his training camp was destroyed. He retired and the only thing that he wished for is that I know that eventually I'm going to be arrested or killed. All I want to do is put all my knowledge and everything I learned in my life in this book, so it will be my brain and my knowledge will be in the possession of every potential jihadi," Katz explains.

At West Point, cadets are being taught to recognize the Web's power as a new weapon.

Stephen Ulph is a consultant to West Point. He's a researcher and writer on militant Islam. He told 60 Minutes the greater danger on the Web isn't beheadings, it's a much wider scheme to hijack Islam itself.

"What they're dealing with is a massive battle for Islam, for the hearts and minds of Islam, of Muslims," Ulph explains.

In Britain, authorities say Web sites create terrorists at home. Ulph says the approach to a new recruit goes like this. "They throw a bomb into his mental universe. They throw a bomb into it and then and shatter it. And, then say, 'Right. Here's how we're going to reassemble these fragments,'" Ulph explains.

"You're not a proper Muslim, but here's how you can be a proper Muslim?" Pelley asks.

"That's how they argue it. And, they say, 'And, you're not a proper Muslim, nor are your parents.' Very important implication there. If your parents aren't proper Muslims, if the sheik of a mosque isn't a proper Muslim, what are you doing obeying them?" Ulph agrees.

Asked what they're told a proper Muslim is, Ulph says, "Well, once they've softened him up and he's now in freefall, they say, 'This is your identity. We're gonna put the "j" back into Islam. It's jihad.'"

In January, several suspects were arrested in Britain in a plot to behead a soldier and put the video on the Web. An elder from the local mosque had this to say.

"We never taught him like that, how he become, then we found out he has a friend somewhere on the Internet," he said.

The effort to radicalize Muslim youth has gone corporate with jihadi media organizations. One called as Sahab is a production studio for Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri. Another, the al Fajr Media Center, turns mayhem into music videos.

"What you're dealing with al Fajr is a small number of individuals who have organized themselves into a tight network, they trust each other, and they've developed a really good distribution system so that when they have something the material propagates and gets published all over the Internet fast. I mean, it's a really remarkable thing to watch," says Aaron Weisburd.

"You know, when I mentioned al Fajr, you eyes lit up. Why?" Pelley asks.

"Well, al Fajr is interesting, al Fajr took the system of content distribution that for example Irhabi 007 was involved in, and really made it made a system out of it," he explains.

"Now, they are able to distribute, touch of a button, anything they want anywhere they want. This is unheard of in history. We're witnessing this war, we're witnessing this ideological war on our own desktops," says Stephen Ulph.

General Custer sees this as one of those moments in history when innovation changes warfare, like tanks in the First World War and atom bombs in the second.

"Can you imagine thousands of tanks on a battlefield now? I can't. It's a battlefield now of asymmetric. There is no front line of troops. Civilians are targets. The press has no credentials here. Kidnap them. Put a gun to their head and put 'em on the evening news," he says. "It's a different type of warfare. It's a battle of perceptions. And al Qaeda understands it. And America needs to understand it."