10,000 Extremist Sites on Web Today Versus 100 to Counter
“In many ways, the terrorists are very successful in cyberspace,” said counter-terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratana, who heads the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.
Speakers at the International Conference on Terrorist Rehabilitation and Community Resilience (RRG) said that it is imperative for moderate Islamic groups and governments to make a concerted effort to counter extremist propaganda on the internet. “It is very important for us to build in the next 10 years the capacities and capabilities to counter the increasing presence and the operation of these groups in cyberspace,” said Gunaratana.
Experts at the conference, which was attended by over 500 security analysts, academics and religious leaders, warned that social media outlets such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being exploited to spread extremist views. Moderate governments and religious leaders must keep pace with them to counter their arguments.
The keynote speaker at the conference, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that self-radicalization through constant exposure to radical views online was a “growing phenomenon.” Lee said, “Jihadist sites and sermons by charismatic ideologue firebrands are just a mouse click away,” and also stressed the need for closer international cooperation against terrorism.
Most terrorist groups are now utilizing the internet to recruit, train and spread propaganda, especially “global brands” such as al-Qaeda. In the last year, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have all been used as vehicles for international and domestic terrorist communication. Google Earth has been used by al-Qaeda operatives to locate potential targets such as military recruiting stations.
Extremist websites are surprisingly easy to find and access. Some sites are published in English, and others offer quick translation for the interested reader. Many web pages look benign and unassuming and appear to be classified ads or an online directory, however, with one click, a window opens to the actual home page.
A Sarasota, Florida-based private investigator and self-proclaimed cyber-crusader
Bill Warner said that a popular extremist Internet site received nearly 19 million hits over the last 10 months. It is among a growing number of sites meant to incite would-be followers to join the ranks of extremist groups like al-Qaeda and provide them with information on how to carry out attacks and build weapons.
“This is what al-Qaeda does now,” said Warner.
He said the World Wide Web is where the real fight for global jihad is being fought.
Sites such as these are often hosted by ISPs in the U.S. because they have large bandwidth, making posting and viewing large videos easier. Due to the anonymous nature of the internet and foreign language content, these ISPs cannot provide sufficient screening and oversight.
Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) co-chairman, Islamic scholar Ali Mohamed, said cyberspace “is shaping up to be the new battleground for hearts and minds. RRG believes that this is one of our greatest challenges today, to deal (with) and counter the pervasive spread of terrorist ideologies and extremist views online.”
Meanwhile, terror groups are becoming more and more sophisticated and savvy in the use of the web.
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