By Michael Levenson
May 7, 2006
A plumber who loves glass etching, Andrew Roberge had crafts to sell.
His son, Mike, knew Web design. Carriage House Glass is the marriage
of their talents, an online catalog of sandblasted vases and goblets
that ''caters to those who love beautiful and unique gifts," the site
But the website, which they started four years ago, offered more than
just beautiful baubles, specialists in terrorism say. The site
contained hidden files filled with the radical writings of a top aide
to Osama bin Laden, including ''The International Islamic Resistance
Call," Abu Musab al-Suri's 1,600-page manifesto advocating jihad.
The website was hacked a year ago by followers of Suri, a Syrian-born
Al Qaeda leader, who turned the Roberge's labor of love into an online
reading room for aspiring mujahadeen, the specialists said. The
revelation came as a shock to the Roberges, who said they had no idea
that Islamic extremists had intruded on their website.
''We got hacked! Unbelievable!" exclaimed Mike Roberge, when told last
week of the hidden content on his site.
His startled father added, ''Believe me, I wouldn't let this
[expletive] get on my site. I don't need that. I don't need none of
that. I'm a firm believer in minding my own business."
The father and son from Lawrence vowed to delete the postings and
replace them with images of eagles and American flags, ''something
wicked patriotic," Mike Roberge said.
A link to the hidden files on the website was circulated on bulletin
boards frequented by Muslim extremists for a year, said Jarret
Brachman, director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center at
the US Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
Regular visitors to www.carriagehouseglass.com could never see the
hidden material, specialists said. Only visitors who knew the address
of the pages inside could access the cache of downloadable Arabic
writings, and see the flash animation featuring the Kaaba, the black
stone cube that Muslims face when they pray in Mecca.
Brachman and other researchers had been aware of the files, but said
the intrusion onto the site was not unusual in the burgeoning world of
online Islamic extremism.
''This is a very tangential, very peripheral site that only those who
are actively following this sort of literature would be accessing,"
''It doesn't cause me alarm: these guys are pests in terms of this
stuff," he said. ''This is standard procedure for these guys to post
this kind of material."
FBI spokeswoman Gail A. Marcinkiewicz declined to comment on whether
the agency knew of the website or was monitoring it. She said the FBI
would investigate a website only if it directly advocated violence.
Specialists said Suri's writings advocate violence, but Marcinkiewicz
said, ''unless . . . there's something very urgent in that paper, it's
not that we wouldn't take a look at it, it's just that we have to
prioritize. There's no quick and easy answer here."
''Without knowing what it's saying, it may go the bottom of the pile
of all the 101 things we have to do over here," she added.
Piggybacking on Carriage House Glass, which is password-protected,
allowed extremists to avoid using a credit card or other traceable
data needed to start a new website, said Rita Katz, director of the
Search for International Terrorist Entities in New York.
''Of course, it's a disturbing phenomenon, but we know that Al Qaeda
and the jihadist online community is quite sophisticated, and they use
our own techniques against us," Katz said. ''It's disturbing because
it could happen to anyone."
As more terrorist training grounds shut down globally, more extremists
are going online, said Steven R. Corman, an Arizona State University
professor who has studied the shift.
Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson (at) globe.com.
=A9 Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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