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Electronic jihad's cyber soldiers

Electronic jihad's cyber soldiers
Electronic jihad's cyber soldiers 

By Michel Moutot 
Paris, France
24 November 2006

They neither carry weapons nor lay ambushes for soldiers in Iraq or in 

But thousands of radical Islamists are waging a different kind of war 
from behind their computers, called "electronic jihad".

These radical Islamic sites have sprung up over the past few years, 
specialising in the organisation and the coordination of concerted 
cyber-attacks against Israeli, American, Catholic and Danish websites.

All you need to join this anonymous cyber world is an address registered 
in Iraq or in tribal zones in Pakistan, and basic computer savvy to 
carry out concerted attacks in which internauts from the four corners of 
the world take part.

Among their most high-profile attacks to date was that on the Danish 
internet site of daily Jyllands-Posten, which outraged Muslims -- and 
sparked violence worldwide -- by publishing controversial caricatures of 
the Prophet Muhammad in September 2005.

"It is the internet version of jihad: you can telecharge viruses, which 
will be activated at the planned date ... I downloaded one which was 
called 'jihad reminder'," said Anne Giudicelli, a French specialist who 
runs a "terrorism" consultancy monitoring radical Islamic websites.

A recent report from the American Jamestown Foundation -- a group that 
aims to inform policymakers about countries of strategic and tactical 
importance that might restrict access to such information -- highlights 
a so-called electronic jihad website, where the "electronic jihad 
program 1,5 silver edition virus" is available.

It also offers to install a toolbar on your personal computer that 
connects and then automatically brings up back dates, times and targets 
of cyber attacks.

"In the radical Islamist forums, you find sections that are the 
electronic jihad equivalent of how to make bombs," Giudicelli said. "How 
to cyber attack. That has become part of the jihadist's basic training."

Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor in political science at Paris's 
prestigious Institut d'Etudes Politiques and author of the book Les 
Frontieres du Jihad (The Boundaries of Jihad) described the developments 
as "an impressive jihadisation of the Islamic landscape".

"Ten years ago, friends and I would find videos made in Chechnya or in 
Algeria, which were generally rather gory," he said.

"Today we are finding on the web things which are at least as obscene in 
terms of violence, but which have a major distribution."

Established in 2003, the Global Islamic Media Front offers about 500 
films for download, he said.

"There is no doubt a second layer, accessible only to the converted with 
sophisticated passwords, but this first layer, which is totally open on 
the network, must already be arousing interest, feeding and circulating 
propaganda, whose devastating impact we have trouble assessing in the 
West," he said.

Many forums, whether openly Islamic or managed by Arab media like 
al-Jazeera, raise the idea of cyber-attacks.

During the uproar in September over Pope Benedict XVI's controversial 
remarks about Islam, an internet piracy campaign targeted the Vatican's 
website, but it was reportedly little affected due to its high level of 

Thomas Hegghammer, an expert at Norwegian Defence Research Establishment 
in Oslo, however, played down the threat from electronic jihad.

"Taking down a website is not a big problem," he said.

"So far there has been no example of cyber-attacks that have caused 
physical damage. There have been a number of cases where Islamist 
hackers have taken down websites, particularly in Israel and elsewhere, 
but none of this has caused physical damage or serious disruptions," he 

"They are no bigger threat than any other hacker out there.

"There is no reason why the radical Islamists should be more competent 
than the professional hackers of Eastern Europe, for example. It's not 
because they are jihadists that they are more dangerous: it all comes 
down to their technical expertise, and there is nothing in their 
ideology that makes them better at doing this than anyone else." -- AFP

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