Internet Seen as Terror Tool

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Terrorism experts now see the Internet as a virtual training camp for international jihad, as well as a possible command and control mechanism. Several significant postings since last year pointed to attacks in London, like those last week. One, "Iraqi Jihad — Hopes and Dreams," anticipated attacks in Madrid and London. It also suggests the strategy of expanding violence in Western Europe in an effort to separate the United States and its allies.


Months before the bombs exploded in London, postings on several jihadi Web sites anticipated such attacks. As far back as late 2003, a document appeared on the Internet calling for the expansion of the war in Iraq to Europe. As many as 100 radical Islamist Web sites are in operation around the world, making the Internet a virtual training camp for terrorist recruits and possibly a method of command and control for operations. NPR's Mike Shuster has more.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Just hours after the London bombings, a claim of responsibility appeared on the Internet from a previously unknown cell calling itself the Secret Group of al-Qaeda's Jihad in Europe. Then two days later, another claim of responsibility from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade, named for a known al-Qaeda leader who died in Afghanistan. Neither claim provided any sort of verification, but Reuven Paz, a terrorism researcher in Israel who closely follows the discussion of global jihad on the Internet, believes that the London attacks and the bombings in Madrid last year are evidence that the war in Iraq has been exported to Europe.

Mr. REUVEN PAZ (Terrorism Researcher): Global strategy of al-Qaeda or similar groups under the ideological umbrella of global jihad is done mainly according to the interests of the jihadis in Iraq.

SHUSTER: For Paz and other terrorism researchers, the key to this strategy is contained in a lengthy document that surfaced on the Internet in late 2003. It's called Iraqi Jihad: Hopes and Risks. It suggested a strategy of separating the United States from its allies in order to weaken the US military effort in Iraq. At that time, Spain was seen as the weakest link, and the attacks in Madrid followed by just a few months. Reuven Paz believes that with the London bombings, a clear plan of attack from al-Qaeda has emerged.

Mr. PAZ: There is the strategy now of threatening European countries involved in Iraq. The groups in Europe--they don't need direct communications or orders from Iraq or from Afghanistan to carry out these operations. They are part of the global strategy of al-Qaeda.

SHUSTER: Another document surfaced on the Internet last year entitled Yes, Mr. Blair, This is an Historic War that pointed to London as a possible target. It was posted again in May and then the day after the London bombings by the Global Islamist Media Front, which has become a kind of all-purpose propaganda arm, distributing written material as well as audio and video messages from al-Qaeda. Bernard Haykel, a New York University scholar who monitors jihadist Web sites, says materials like these are widely read by supporters of the al-Qaeda movement.

Mr. BERNARD HAYKEL (New York University): It's hard to use these message boards and these Web sites for predictions. What you can say, though, is that they form part of the context; they form part of the message machine of this global jihadi movement.

SHUSTER: They could also actually function as a command-and-control mechanism, some analysts believe. But others point out that telephone and personal contacts between insurgents in Iraq and operatives in Europe are far easier now than between Afghanistan and Europe.

Not all terrorism analysts are convinced of the link between the Iraq War and the bombings in London.

Mr. STEPHEN ULPH (The Jamestown Foundation): We're still guessing as to what the purpose of the bombing was.

SHUSTER: Stephen Ulph is a London-based terrorism analyst for The Jamestown Foundation. He is skeptical of the link with Iraq.

Mr. ULPH: Personally, at the moment, I don't see that. Although there is a claim that this is linked to something, the claims tend to be opportunistic.

SHUSTER: Ulph points to another document that recently surfaced on the Internet called The Management of Barbarism. This is also an analysis of the worldwide jihadist movement, and it calls for a strategy of `vex and exhaust': attack the West in ways that force the US and other nations to spend far too many resources trying to protect possible targets such as municipal rail systems, according to Stephen Ulph.

Mr. ULPH: The beginnings of a strategy which simply outlines something quite broad: divide the enemy, confuse them, pop up here and there so they don't know where they are, and disperse the enemy's resources.

SHUSTER: This echoes the videotape message from Osama bin Laden just a few days before the US presidential election last November in which he called for an economic war of attrition against the US. So far it is impossible to say that communications on the Internet actually set attacks in motion. But Bernard Haykel believes they must be taken seriously.

Mr. HAYKEL: Tactical decisions that are made or ideological orientations that are expressed on these Web sites have real-life consequences.

SHUSTER: And one of those consequences, Haykel believes, is the disclosure that British-born young men of Pakistani descent were the suicide bombers responsible for the London attacks.

Mr. HAYKEL: It's a very, very bad sign because it means that basically this indoctrination and propaganda is working without any direct links with the home movement, you know, with the base.

SHUSTER: A number of jihadist Web sites have called for attacks against Italy next, but there have also been suggestions that both Poland and Denmark, which have small troop contingents in Iraq, might become targets as well if this campaign of terror attacks in Europe continues. Mike Shuster, NPR News.

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