By Michel Moutot
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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