Terrorists Turn to the Web as Base of Operations
By Steve Coll and Susan B. Glasser
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 7, 2005; A01
In the snow-draped mountains near Jalalabad in November 2001, as the
Taliban collapsed and al Qaeda lost its Afghan sanctuary, Osama bin
Laden biographer Hamid Mir watched "every second al Qaeda member
carrying a laptop computer along with a Kalashnikov" as they prepared to
scatter into hiding and exile. On the screens were photographs of Sept.
11 hijacker Mohamed Atta.
Nearly four years later, al Qaeda has become the first guerrilla
movement in history to migrate from physical space to cyberspace. With
laptops and DVDs, in secret hideouts and at neighborhood Internet cafes,
young code-writing jihadists have sought to replicate the training,
communication, planning and preaching facilities they lost in
Afghanistan with countless new locations on the Internet.
Al Qaeda suicide bombers and ambush units in Iraq routinely depend on
the Web for training and tactical support, relying on the Internet's
anonymity and flexibility to operate with near impunity in cyberspace.
In Qatar, Egypt and Europe, cells affiliated with al Qaeda that have
recently carried out or seriously planned bombings have relied heavily
on the Internet.
Such cases have led Western intelligence agencies and outside terrorism
specialists to conclude that the "global jihad movement," sometimes led
by al Qaeda fugitives but increasingly made up of diverse "groups and ad
hoc cells," has become a "Web-directed" phenomenon, as a presentation
for U.S. government terrorism analysts by longtime State Department
expert Dennis Pluchinsky put it. Hampered by the nature of the Internet
itself, the government has proven ineffective at blocking or even
hindering significantly this vast online presence.
Among other things, al Qaeda and its offshoots are building a massive
and dynamic online library of training materials -- some supported by
experts who answer questions on message boards or in chat rooms --
covering such varied subjects as how to mix ricin poison, how to make a
bomb from commercial chemicals, how to pose as a fisherman and sneak
through Syria into Iraq, how to shoot at a U.S. soldier, and how to
navigate by the stars while running through a night-shrouded desert.
These materials are cascading across the Web in Arabic, Urdu, Pashto and
other first languages of jihadist volunteers.
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