Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Social Networks & The Online Jihad

Candice Lanier - In July, the British government warned that Al Qaeda’s exploitation of social networking websites is on the rise. According to IdeasThatShape.Com, they, as well as other terrorist groups, are using social media in an attempt to launch a cyber jihad against the West.

Islamic terrorists, online, seek to reach as large an audience as possible, with the emphasis being placed on connecting with youth.

For example, Abu Talhah, in the “Islamic Instruction Manual,” states that the most important site to figure out is Twitter. He goes on to inform the reader that this will allow for the possibility of mass e-mailing or sending tweets to potentially hundreds of thousands of people. To be sure, Tallah recognized the immense potential of Twitter, thus exhorting readers to utilize it “in sha’a Allah.”

Other jihadists who have been found plying their trade on the Internet include Antonio Martinez (aka Muhammad Hussain). According to Pajamas Media, Martinez, who was arrested for plotting to blow up an Army recruiting center, used Facebook as a tool for recruitment.

A few days after the Martinez arrest, Awais Younis was nabbed by the police in Alexandria, Virginia. Younis had aspirations of blowing up D.C. area targets and unwisely said as much on Facebook.

And then there’s Samir Khan. Khan was a well-known figure in counterterrorism circles.

Reportedly killed in an airstrike in Yemen on Friday, Sept. 30, alongside his mentor, Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan is credited with helping to create and organize that which is the American online jihad community. ForeignPolicy.Com describes this community as an incubator for radicalization. They report that:
“After connecting with ITS in 2001, Khan created his own blog, The Ignored Puzzle Pieces of Knowledge, under the online handle Inshallahshaheed (God willing, a martyr). At times over the course of his online jihadi career, he also went by Abu Risaas and Abu Jabbal. His blog bounced around between a variety of hosts due to ISP violations. But Khan finally found an online home hosted by the Islamic Networking Forum (formerly called ClearGuidance), which was the brainchild of Sarfaraz Jamal.

This blogging and forum community spawned some of the most important figures in the American jihadi movement in the past five to six years.”
Both tactical information and propaganda can be found on Facebook and the social media giant is, effectively, a gateway to radical jihadi websites.

At this time, Facebook is monitoring an Arabic-language page which calls for a “third intifada” against Israel, but have said, according to the Jerusalem Post, that it has not gone beyond the bounds of acceptable speech – and have decided not to remove it.

The page, titled “Third Palestinian Intifada,” has attracted over 330,000 people since its inception and has called for a mass march into Israel, from neighboring countries.

While Facebook may not deem this to be a problem, Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister, Yuli Edelstein has condemned the page for its promotion of violence. Edelstein issued a letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, with a request to remove the page and Anti-Defamation League director, Abraham Foxman, has described the situation as “an appalling abuse of technology to promote terrorist violence.”

The page features rhetoric such as this:

“The neighboring country will start a march to Palestine on the 15th of May. After that, all the Muslim countries will soon march, [and] Palestine will be liberated.”

“Prepare: Death comes to you, O raider of this abode.”

“The hour [of redemption] does not come until the Muslim fight the Jews and even the stones and trees say, ‘O Muslim, a Jew is behind me, so kill him.”

Other posts have made reference to “paradise,” a term often used in Islamist circles to promote acts of terrorism.

TheNewInternet.Com explains that the same is the case for Twitter, as terrorists and jihadists can distribute content quickly and to a vast amount of people. Particular innovations in technology – such as encryption software and cloud computing – enable them to store and disseminate material online, while disguising their activity.

UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, affirms that “terrorists are increasingly using online technology, including Google Earth and Street View, for planning attacks. While radicalization continues to be primarily a social process, terrorists are making more use of new technologies to communicate their propaganda.”

YouTube is yet another medium through which jihadi groups have been distributing information, according to MEMRI. Also used are free web hosting sites – due to the anonymity afforded, not to mention the cost effectiveness.

MEMRI goes on to report the case of Taliban commander, Abdul Sattar Maiwandi, who on February 17, 2011 boasted about defeating the U.S. in the media field. He elaborated on the Taliban’s online media campaign, including its presence on Facebook and Twitter.

The fact that the Taliban has set up shop on Twitter may come as a surprise to some but it is hardly a new development and has been reported on by various media outlets over the course of the past year. What is astonishing, however, is that these Twitter accounts, which further expand the Taliban’s propagandized efforts against U.S. and coalition forces, have not been shut down.

MEMRI expounds upon this:

“The Taliban’s Twitter activity could be described as sophisticated; it uses services and apps such as FeedTwit which sends RSS feeds to Twitter by Direct Message. FeedTwit keeps “tweeters” from overloading followers with information in which only their actual readers are interested, and offers readers an opportunity to follow RSS feeds through text messages if they have enabled SMS through their Twitter accounts. This can be used by jihadists such as Taliban fighters in the field to communicate with each other directly using their phones, rather than via the Internet or email.”

The Taliban has two official Twitter accounts: Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and Abdulqahar Balkhi. The former has made a point of showcasing attacks on coalition forces, as is demonstrated below:

• Kabul operation ends after 20 hours of straight fighting: 69 foreign invaders and puppets killed: KABUL, Sep. 1… (September 14, 2011)

• US invader shot dead by Mujahideen: HELMAND, Sep. 14 – A Mujahid sniper in Nad Ali district shot dead a US invad… (September 14, 2011)

• Enemy logistical vehicle burnt down: HERAT, Sep. 14 – An enemy vehicle carrying logistics to Shindand airfield w… (September 14, 2011)

• Martyr attack hits NATO’s ISAF HQ and US embassy along with local and foreign intelligence agencies: KABUL, Sep… (September 13, 2011)

• 7 puppets killed Paktia; US invaders’ military campaign comes under attack: PAKTAI, Sep 13 – Two of the martyr… (September 13, 2011)

• 3 invaders killed in firefight: URUZGAN, Sep. 13 – The firefight which erupted yesterday morning in Khas Uruzgan… (September 13, 2011)

The Taliban has also exchanged tweets with NATO-led forces. According to The Guardian, the electronic melee unfolded as follows:

@ISAFmedia; (in reply to a Taliban spokesman): “Re: Taliban spox on #Kabul attack: the outcome is inevitable. Question is how much longer will terrorist put innocent Afghans in harm’s way?”

@ABalkhi: “@ISAFmedia i dnt knw.u hve bn pttng thm n ‘harm’s way’ fr da pst 10 yrs.Razd whole vllgs n mrkts.n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout ‘harm’s way’”

@ISAFmedia: “Really, @abalkhi? Unama reported 80% of civilians causalities are caused by insurgent (your) activities”

@ABalkhi: Unama is an entity of whom? mine or yours?”

The exchange ended, temporarily, but later @ABalkhi tweeted a “LOL” in response to a CNN article titled, “Pentagon: Afghan insurgency ‘less effective’ this year.”

Adding to the mix of online threats, several days ago it was reported that Duqu, a virus similar to Stuxnet and first spotted in Europe, had been unleashed. The name “Duqu” was chosen because it creates files with “DQ” in the prefix. Stuxnet wreaked havoc on Iran’s nuclear program. Who will be the next target?

The massive and multifarious network of websites and social media has presented a challenge to authorities in trying to combat it. Additionally, civil liberty concerns have conflicted with government efforts to spy on communications.

Reducing terrorist activity on social media sites has been particularly difficult because users have adopted new forms of communication to conform with the new formats. Many Arabic speakers on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other sites use Arabizi, a form of colloquial Arabic written in the Latin alphabet and numbers. This allows the use of a standard English-
language keyboard for typing messages. There exists, however, no standard version of Arabizi. It varies from country to country, even among groups within countries and is affected by differences in dialect.

The Obama administration is attempting to fight radicalization on the Internet  via its counterterrorism strategy. To assist with the administration’s counterterrorism efforts, a company based in Herndon, Va., Basis Technology, has developed software that can analyze and map Arabic chat on social media sites.

The strategy also depends substantially on working with Muslim community groups in the United States, which could prove to be problematic unless a more effective vetting process is put into place.

This approach has also drawn criticism from some lawmakers who would like to see more concrete efforts. Politico reports that in a letter to White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said that the administration’s strategy does not adequately address the problem.

Cross-Posted on World Threats