More and more terrorists and extremist groups are using the Internet to fund their activities, recruit, covertly communicate and coordinate activities with their followers around the world. The use of the Internet now plays a key role in terrorist activities throughout the world. This fact has given rise to a number of questions coming amidst the three recent events. The most controversial question being that of preemptive cyber strikes. In the past few weeks three significant events took place that has raised the concern about the way terrorists leverage the Internet to further their cause.
Event 1 — The investigation of the Delta Flight 253 attempted terror attack by the 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab uncovered Internet activity including viewing a blog and web site of al-Awlaki. In fact sources have stated that the suspected terrorist used the Internet for “counseling and companionship.” Intelligence organizations have stated that al-Awlaki, a cleric in Yemen with a popular jihadist web site and ties to Sept. 11 hijackers, may have played a key role in the attempted bombing.
Event 2 — Five young Americans all from the state of Virginia stand accused of planning terrorist attacks. Pakistani officials have said the Taliban had planned to use them to carry out attacks inside Pakistan. A joint investigation team has concluded that these five individuals contacted militant groups over the Internet in an effort to wage holy war. Pakistani law enforcement will seek life sentences under anti-terrorist laws.
Event 3 — U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, used the Internet to communicate with the radical cleric al-Awlaki before the attack that left 14 of soldiers were shot dead in November. In fact, the web based interaction was said to have occurred for over a year. Electronic intercepts and other supporting information show a connection between terrorism, the Fort Hood suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Anwar al-Awlaki.
Cyber warfare analysts at Technolytics say these cases reflect a strategic shift where terrorists and extremists are forming social networks and have focused on using the Internet to further their global influence. These events have clearly illustrated the ease by which anyone who wishes to pursue joining militant groups and participate in jihad can do so through the Internet. This is a very troubling reality for counter-terrorism efforts around the world. Cyber intelligence analysts estimates that there are approximately 30 primary cyber jihad web sites that generate and initiate over 90 percent of the communications, content and activity direction to an estimated 15,000 + web sites that serve as localized and focused points of distribution.
The interconnected nature of these primary sites creates a resilient architecture for the distribution of content and coordination of activities. Recently, the question of whether the United States should launch a cyber attack and “take out” the primary sites has come up in multiple venues. In fact, the question arose in a recent U.S. House Armed Services Committee — has the time come to view cyberspace as an al-Qaeda battlefront?