CAIRO, Apr 12 (IPS) – For millions of Muslims, invitation to martyrdom is just a mouse click away. So-called “jihad sites” are springing up all over the Internet to offer the latest news, images and slogans of Islamic holy war.
“There are hundreds of these websites, and new ones appear every day,” Egyptian political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb told IPS. “They spread a very negative and incorrect image of Islam.”
I hear that sort of thing daily. What I’d like to see is Hassan Abu Taleb or anyone else explaining to radical Muslims, not to non-Muslim Westerners, why the jihadists’ vision of Islam is incorrect.
Most jihad sites operate as Islamic news portals or mouthpieces for terrorist organisations. They purport to expose persecution of Muslims and highlight actions taken by Muslims against those seen as oppressors.
The sites often contain “photos and movies for propaganda and training, including ‘how to’ instructions on everything from bomb making to firing weapons of all types, to hand-to-hand combat,” says Brian Marcus of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
“They can also post messages and videos claiming responsibility for attacks and/or show the attacks,” Marcus told IPS.
One jihad site recently posted an Al-Qaeda strategy paper that calls on Islamic militants worldwide to “turn the lands of the infidels into hell.”
The document identifies Jews and Christians as primary targets, describing itself as “diplomacy written in blood, decorated with body parts and perfumed with gunpowder.”
The Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad has its own website at www.qudsway.net. The site operates primarily as a news portal, but also features profiles and interviews with suicide bombers.
“God will see you as a knight of martyrdom,” reads the Arabic caption for a photograph of a suicide bomber.
This site has moved from server to server over the past year. Each time the site appears, activists petition to shut it down.
Free speech advocates argue that the Internet should be free of any form of censorship. Marcus stresses that the ADL makes no effort to censor jihad sites. Instead, it monitors content and shares relevant information with law officials and Internet service providers (ISPs).
“Most ISPs have well-drawn rules of use, and if a site breaks those rules by posting something that is prohibited, then a company has every right to remove the site/content,” said Marcus. “When these groups are forced to continually find new places to host their sites they are forced to expend time and effort in this quest.”
At the forefront of the crusade against jihad sites is Internet Haganah. Founder Aaron Weisburd claims to have facilitated the closure of over 420 jihad sites using a name-and-shame strategy “to make the Internet an unfriendly environment for jihadists.”
Haganah tracks websites that are linked to Islamic terrorist groups and their leaders, provide instructions to would-be terrorists, or promote the culture of violent jihad. The NGO identifies the site’s host, administrators and participants. It then informs the site’s ISP about the nature of the website.
Most ISPs quickly remove the site when they learn it belongs to a terrorist organisation or has content that violates their terms of service, Weisburd says. “Unlike porn, jihad sites are not big revenue generators.”
But not all ISPs are responsive. Weisburd recalled the reluctance of Swedish ISP Telia to remove www.palestine-info.com, the mouthpiece of Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
“Attempts to get Telia to respond led nowhere,” said Weisburd. “At that point we simply let the information we had posted about the sites in Sweden ‘ripen’ until people in Sweden decided on their own to make an issue of it.”
When the local press learned of Telia’s terrorist clientele, it began a public awareness campaign that embarrassed the ISP into removing the site.
“Information is, in this sense, viral,” he said. “You put it out there and it has this way of spreading in interesting ways.”
Haganah’s dogged persistence has made it the bane of Islamist websites, discussion forums and chat rooms. In forums on Islamist sites, posters urge Muslim hackers to attack the Haganah web site.
“Anything that can be done to attack a site has been done to attack us,” said Weisburd. “Not that it’s done much good. At this point, efforts to organise e-jihad against us simply become another avenue for gathering information on the jihadists themselves.”
Weisburd is currently pursuing www.al-fateh.net, a website that seeks to educate Arab children on the history and merits of self-sacrifice. Run by Hamas, the site uses cartoons and bedtime stories to stress the glory of death while fighting in the Intifada.
“The children of stones are the heroes of today and tomorrow,” reads one caption.
The site moves often as ISPs learn the meaning of its Arabic content and drop it from their servers. It recently joined the growing number of jihad sites that have taken refuge on servers in Russia, where ISP administrators are less likely to drop a paying client.
The official Al-Qaeda site, www.alneda.com, made similar moves until a U.S. vigilante hacker hijacked its domain name. Anyone accessing the site is now greeted by the message “Hacked, tracked and NOW owned by the U.S.A.”
Al-Qaeda’s training videos are still available at www.maktab-al-jihad.com. The slick looking site is linked to Sheikh Abu Hamza Al-Masri of the Finsbury Park mosque in London, who U.S. officials accuse of recruiting for Al-Qaeda. The radical cleric’s fiery sermons feature prominently on the site.
Activists are also targeting another Abu Hamza site, Supporters of Shareeah (SOS).
“We are constantly under attack from irrational organisations like Haganah,” SOS spokesman Ahmed Al-Muraabit said in a statement to IPS. “We have faced site closure many times (and) even our right to use a mailing list has come at a big price.”
SOS recently closed its discussion forums due to constant harassment by “Zionists who attempted to tarnish our image by making us seem as bloodthirsty people who want to go on a rampage attacking the innocent inhabitants of UK and other European countries which don’t have much to do with the war against Islam.”
Activists say the forums were used to promote hatred and coordinate plans to topple governments with the aim of installing an Islamic theocracy.
“It seems that one has the right (to freedom of speech) only if he is pro- democracy and pro-manmade law systems,” said Al-Muraabit. “As for those who seek reform by totally changing the governing system on earth, they are labelled as terrorists and evil people.”