Four years later, al-Qaeda has become the first terrorist organization that moved into cyberspace
Hamid Mir, Osama bin Laden's personal biographer, remembers one day in the snow-clad Afghan mountains back in November 2001. He saw “every member of the organization carry a computer aside from his Kalashnikov” as the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters were leaving Afghanistan. The pictures of Mohammad Atta, one of the suicide pilots of 9/11 attacks, were popping up on the computer monitors.
Four years later, al-Qaeda has become the first terrorist organization that moved into cyberspace. Meeting at some hideout or an Internet cafe on the fringes of the city, young jihadis try to use their laptops and DVDs for setting up training, communications, and planning network previously used in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda suicide bombers and units with links to al-Qaeda in Iraq are fully dependent on the Internet in terms of tactical support and training. Terrorists in Iraq take advantage of anonymity while going online. According to Italian newspaper La Republica, al-Qaeda-related terrorist cells in Qatar, Egypt, and Europe were using only the Net for carrying out their painstaking preparations for the latest terrorist attacks.
“These days al-Qaeda is using the Internet, and therefore our agencies' capability to launch surprise attacks has been limited, now it is more difficult to strike the al-Qaeda fighters when they are most vulnerable, when they are on the move,” said a former head of CIA unit involved in the manhunt for Mr. bin Laden. Today the Al Qaeda members would not have any criminal materials on them even when they go to some training camp. “They no longer need layouts, fingerprints or formulas,” said the source.
The number of web sites related to jihadis grew considerably following the September 11 attacks. Gabriel Weimann, a researcher with the University of Haifa in Israel, detected 12 web sites of radical Islamists eight years ago. Today's number of such websites exceeds 4,500.
Brushing aside ideology and secretive nature of the radical Islamic web sites, they are largely structured in the same ways as those dealing in on-line games, coins collecting or shopping on eBay. There was a significant increase in the number of radical Islamic websites after U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Using the Internet to spread certain doctrines and orders is fully consistent with Osama bin Laden's original plans. Bin Laden set up his al-Qaeda network as the driving force behind the global uprising of Moslems.
These days Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants seem to be left behind. They keep recording their statements in makeshift studios and dispatch the tapes by courier. Young jihadis download the statements from the Web and spread them around. Recent evidence indicates that al-Qaeda supporters use the Internet for reaching tactical objectives.
“The Internet has all necessary instructions and advice for those who want to carry out a terrorist attack,” said Rita Katz, a director of an association that monitors the web sites advocating Jihad.
Some analysts believe that terrorists might have used the Internet for conducting last month's attacks on the London transport system. A few days after the bombings, a question arrived to one the web forums related to al-Qaeda. Somebody was seeking information regarding ways and methods of operating on his own.