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How Are Terrorists Using the Internet to Spread Their Message of Hate?

By Robert Kaye

We’re at war. 

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You may recall that some of our earlier blogs discussed how major U.S. corporations, various government agencies (including the FBI, and the military), financial institutions and its citizens – you and me – are being attacked by individual, criminal syndicates and foreign government-sponsored hackers. (See our previous blogs such as “ The Hack Attack is BackWho Wears a Black Hat on the Wild, Wild Web?  How Close is the US to Experiencing a Digital Pearl Harbor?” and others.)

The frightening news is that these aren’t the only groups using the Internet for nefarious purposes. Many Islamic terrorist organizations are using the Internet to further their sworn campaign to conquer the Western world. These groups don’t want peace. They don’t want an equal place at the world of nations. The Islamic terrorists and countries such as Iran want to destroy Israel, and from there, to conquer Europe, the U.S., and the democratic world at-large. They want their own flag of religious zealotry and intolerance to wave over the White House, Buckingham Palace, Palais de l'Élysée, 24 Sussex Drive, and the Knesset, establishing an Islamic caliphate around the world. 

Jihad-hacking the Internet

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In 2011, the Congressional Research Service issued a detailed report entitled, “Terrorist Use of the Internet: Information Operations in Cyberspace.” Its introductory paragraph states: “The Internet is used by international insurgents, jihadists, and terrorist organizations as a tool for radicalization and recruitment, a method of propaganda distribution, a means of communication, and ground for training. Although there are no known reported incidents of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure as acts of terror, this could potentially become a tactic in the future.” It is known, however, that our utility providers are being attacked by hackers on a daily basis.

Furthermore, in its chapter entitled, “Why and How International Terrorists Use the Internet,” the report elucidates that “Terrorists make use of the Internet in a variety of ways, including what are often referred to as ‘jihadist websites.’” Violent Islamic groups draw on the Koran and other Islamic religious texts to adapt historical and mythological events to current circumstances. This approach is prominently displayed in jihadists’ use of the Internet for their own recruiting and propaganda purposes. 

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“The Internet is used as a prime recruiting tool for insurgents,” the report states. “Extremists use chat rooms, dedicated servers and websites, and social networking tools as propaganda machines, as a means of recruitment and organization, for training grounds, and for significant fund-raising through cybercrime. These websites and other Internet services may be run by international terrorist groups, transnational cybercrime organizations, or individual extremists. YouTube channels and Facebook may radicalize Western-based sympathizers, and also provide a means for communication between these ‘lone wolf’ actors and larger organized networks of terrorists. The decentralized nature of the Internet as a medium and the associated difficulty in responding to emerging threats can match the franchised nature of terrorist organizations and operations. It is unclear how great a role the Internet plays in coordinating the efforts of a single group or strategy.”

The report goes on to point out that many Arabic-language websites purportedly contain coded plans for new attacks. Some supposedly give advice on how to build and operate weapons and then how to smuggle them through border checkpoints. Other news articles report that a younger generation of terrorists and extremists, such as those behind the July 2005 bombings in London, have learned new technical skills to help them avoid detection by various nations’ law enforcement computer technologies. I'll discuss more about this is subsequent segments.

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According to the report, one website reportedly carries a downloadable “e-jihad” application, whereby a user can choose an Internet target and launch a low-level cyberattack, overwhelming the targeted website with traffic in order to deny its service. Several jihadist websites contain instructions for building kinetic weapons, such as bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as for conducting surveillance and target acquisition.

“Cybercrime has now surpassed international drug trafficking as a terrorist financing enterprise,” the report continues.  These may include Internet-based Ponzi schemes, identity theft, counterfeiting, and other types of computer fraud, which have all netted various terror enterprises with significant profits under a cloak of anonymity.  More disconcertingly, it states, “There may be some evidence that terrorist organizations seek the ability to use the Internet itself as a weapon in an attack against critical infrastructures.”

Recently, groups such as Islamic State (IS) have posted videos and images of beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions and other gruesome acts to heighten the West’s “fear factor” about its barbaric practices and as part of its ongoing recruitment campaign. Other Islamic terrorist organizations have also used the "regular Internet" and the Darknet for recruiting would-be militant jihadists. Some additional uses: 
  • Facebook fan pages
  • Online chat rooms
  • Free email for transmitting encrypted emails
  • VOIP phone calls
  • Laundering money via bit coins

Who Are These People in Masks and Keffiyahs?

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Terrorism has existed since before biblical times. The history of terrorism is as old as humans' willingness to use bloodshed to influence policies and politics. 

The massacre of the Israeli sports team by the Palestinian terror group, Black September, during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany radically changed the U.S.’ perception of and subsequent handling of terrorism. 

According to the U.S. Department of State, there are nearly 60 active terrorists groups around the world.  Some, such as the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), have been active since 1997; others, such as the Mujahidin Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC), originated as recently as this past August. 

Today, religiously motivated terrorism is considered the most alarming of threats. Throughout history, many mainstream religions have had their own share of fringe terrorist groups. However it is today’s radical, militant Islamic terrorist groups ― Khorasan, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram and others ― that are some of the most dangerous.

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According to Islamic terrorism is a form of terrorism committed by Jihadists. It has occurred globally, including in Africa, Australia, Middle East, Israel, Europe, South and Southeast Asia, South America, The Caucasus, The Pacific and North America. Terrorist organizations linked to Islam have been known to engage in a variety of often violent tactics including suicide attacks, bombings, spree killings, hijackings, kidnappings, beheadings, and recruiting new members through the Internet.” To that list of crimes you can also add mass rape, building a vast network of terror tunnels and using human shields.

Funding Fanaticism

Different groups receive operating capital by various means. Some, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, are in-part state-funded. They receive money from countries that are anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-democratic and anti-Western. Iran is the major financier of Islamic terror organizations; in fact, terror is one of that country’s largest exports. “Since the declaration of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the government of Iran has been accused by members of the international community of funding, providing equipment, weapons, training and giving sanctuary to terrorists,” says Wikipedia.

The U.S. State Department describes Iran as being an “active state sponsor of terrorism.” “Islamic Jihad” is widely believed to be the nom de guerre of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other jihadist groups, which have repeatedly received millions of dollars of financial backing, considerable training, tons of military materiel, and logistical support from Iran.  

Other countries that continue to fund and support terrorist organizations:

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Hamas has also stolen money that was previously earmarked for the Palestinian Authority (which receives billions of dollars of aid from the U.S.). Hamas leaders are known for their wealth and accumulated assets.  A report published by Israel’s “Ynet” news site claims that they and their associates have been scoring multi-million dollar deals and lining their pockets with public funds. They’re involved in land sales, purchasing luxury villas, and trading in black-market fuel from Egypt, but they primarily profit via an ongoing smuggling business through tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza, the report says.

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Incidentally, some of these funds have gone directly into the pockets of Hamas’ top-ranking personnel, such as its billionaire leader Khaleed Mashal, who is living in luxury in Qatar.  

Even the Palestinian Authority has publicly accused Hamas of stealing $700 million that was originally given as aid to the citizens of Gaza. The Arab news site, “Ahram” reports that a Fatah spokesman, Ahmed Assaf, speaking to the “Awda channel,” stated that Hamas received this vast sum of money donated by Muslims from around the world during Operation Protective Edge, but didn’t use the funds for the benefit of the residents of Gaza.  Assaf further accused the terrorist organization of exploiting “the circumstances of war and death and destruction to collect money at the expense of the blood of the children of Palestine.”

Jihadist terror organizations also sell contraband, female sex slaves, traffic drugs and sell arms as a means to raise working capital. IS has been partially funding itself from the sale of oil since it captured various oil wells and processing facilities while reigning havoc and death throughout Iraq and Syria.  That’s one reason the U.S. and several Arab countries have conducted air attacks on oil wells and processing facilities in Iraq and Syria over the past few weeks.  According to Vox: “Unlike some other Islamist groups fighting in Syria, [IS] doesn't depend on foreign aid to survive. In Syria, they've built up something like a mini-state: collecting the equivalent of taxes, selling electricity, and exporting oil to fund its militant activities.” IS also extorts money from humanitarian workers and, in a bizarre business arrangement, sells electricity back to the Syrian government that it's currently fighting. 

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These Islamic militant terror organizations, backed by Iran and others, will stop at nothing to destroy Israel, the U.S., and the West. This is stated specifically in their charters, and is frequently reiterated by militant Islamic clergy members and political leaders:

"This is Islam, that was ahead of its time with regards to human rights in the treatment of prisoners, but our nation was tested by the cancerous lump, that is the Jews, in the heart of the Arab nation ... Be certain that America is on its way to utter destruction, America is wallowing [in blood] today in Iraq and Afghanistan, America is defeated and Israel is defeated, and was defeated in Lebanon and Palestine ... Make us victorious over the community of infidels ...”  Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Bahar, acting Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council

We’re at war. 
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In this first segment of “How Are Terrorists Using the Internet to Spread Their Message of Hate?” I provided an overall view of how terrorist organizations ― particularly Islamic fundamentalist terror groups ― are using the Internet to further their ongoing mission to destroy Israel, the U.S. and the West. I also discussed which countries are sponsoring these groups, and provided an overview as to how some of the groups are funded.  In the next segment, I’ll explore in greater detail some of the online tactics jihadist terrorist groups are using to further their aims, and also discuss other contemporary issues pertaining to these militant Islamic groups.  If you found this article interesting, please share and forward. If you’d like to leave a comment or question, please do so in the Comments section below.

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Robert Kaye is an internationally published, multi-award-winning writer and editor.  To date, he’s been published over 450 times in a wide variety of print and electronic media (Internet, TV, radio, and podcasts). He currently serves as the Associate Producer for Working the Web to Win.

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  1. I have been a victim of Cybercrime and it infuriates me that I have to get an attorney to handle my case due to the total hack job that someone has done on my internet connection. All of my safe or http sites were transferred to https or ftp sites and it has been a real nightmare fighting back.

  2. This is a fantastic article by Robert Kaye on Cyberterrorism and well researched and written. You should be proud of his fascinating details and a bit afraid as well at the level that this blog deals with the Cybercriminals that our country and others are dealing with. A real eye-opener for me and anyone else interested in this subject matter. Kudos to Mr. Kaye for his detailed information and impressive research.

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  4. Robert your research on this article is superb. Great stuff.

  5. While I was aware of some of the issues presented in this article, there was still much more info that was news to me. I'm eager to read more of this important, eye-opening series.

  6. Well researched and extremely well written piece by Robert Kaye.

  7. This is a very thorough, well researched article by Robert Kaye. He clearly sees the situation as it is. Thank you Robert for your work. It can hopefully help to open the eyes of those who are ignorant to what is truly happening. Thank you.
    Ira Millman

  8. Please explain to me why we (the USA) are not just deleting or blocking or shutting down these websites and Facebook pages? It would be so simple - why aren't we doing it?