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al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat

109th Congress
2d Session
Union Calendar No. 355
Report 109-615

al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat







Exploitation of the Internet

The art of terrorist strategic communication has evolved to a point where the terrorists themselves can now control the entire production process.76 In recent years, the Internet has become the primary tool used to project their extremist message. The increasing use of technology, especially the use of the Internet, by Islamist extremist groups has led to a new phenomenon known as "glocal" issues, whereas global issues are now becoming local issues. Usama bin Laden could not have his current, and increasing, level of success if Muslims did not believe their faith, brethren, resources, and lands to be under attack by the United States and, more generally, the West.77 The Internet has helped al-Qaeda reach Muslim communities around the world with this very message.

The Internet has provided al Qaeda a tool to proselytize its message to an international audience and convince Muslim communities that they are being threatened by their local government.78 Today, almost all terrorist organizations use the Internet in some capacity, and the majority of them maintain one or more websites. Easy access, lack of regulation and the ability to shape the message are all too alluring for terrorist groups to bypass.

Terrorist groups increasingly are reliant on the Internet to accomplish several of their key objectives. First, the Internet provides a means for terrorists to reach out to a larger audience. The Internet allows terrorist groups to communicate not only with their supporters and members, but also to influence the opinion of the general public. The Internet also provides terrorist groups a new means to spread its propaganda and increase publicity. Through propaganda, terrorist seek to communicate a particular message to a particular audience.79 In certain circumstances we have come to learn that terrorists are targeting children as young as seven years old, sometimes younger. Young adults of the Muslim world rely less on the television, cable, or radio to get their news-but exclusively get their information from the Internet.80

Terrorist groups will continue to use the Internet to shape their image and the image of their enemies. They also will use the Internet to raise money for terror activities. In the past, terrorists have used their Websites to advertise bank account numbers that supporters can send money.

The Internet is an ideal vehicle for recruitment. Although terrorists have experienced difficulty penetrating the United States since 9/11, the ability to recruit new members through the Internet poses new challenges for the Intelligence Community and law enforcement officials. Terrorists now can use the Internet to pass along operational guidance. Terrorist groups post messages on their websites letting potential terrorists know that they do not have to travel to other lands to join terrorist organizations or receive training.81 New recruits can now become radicalized without leaving the home.

Finally, terrorists exploit the Internet for intelligence-gathering and targeting. Today, anyone can go on the Internet and collect information against key infrastructure and sensitive components. Terrorists use these sites to conduct reconnaissance on potential targets without ever having to put feet on the ground to conduct surveillance. During raids in Afghanistan, U.S. forces came across computers in the homes of known terrorists that held information on important U.S. landmarks, such as the Hoover Dam, the New York financial sector and government buildings in Washington, D.C.

76 Bruce Hoffman. "The Use of the Internet by Extremists," Testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, May 4, 2006.
77 Michael Scheuer, Imperial Hubris, Potomac Books, 2005, p.xi.
78 Ambassador Francis Taylor, "Emerging Threats to Homeland Security," May 10, 2004.
79 Bruce Hoffman. "The Use of the Internet by Extremists," Testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, May 4, 2006.
80 Ibid.
81 Ibid.



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