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[infowar.de] 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 "jihad.com."
"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
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
"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
"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,"
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
"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
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,'"
"You're not a proper Muslim, but here's how you can be a proper Muslim?"
"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
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
"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."