Recruiting in the fantasy world for real-life jihad. By Chris Gourlay and Abul Taher for the TimesOnline (thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist):
Islamic militants are suspected of using Second Life, the internet virtual world, to hunt for recruits and mimic real-life terrorism.
Police and the intelligence services are concerned that it may have been infiltrated by extremists to proselytise, communicate and transfer money to one another. Radicals may also be responsible for “virtual” terrorist attacks in which buildings depicted on the website are blown up.
Kevin Zuccato, head of the Australian government’s High Tech Crime Centre, said jihadists may also be using the virtual reality world to master skills such as reconnaissance and surveillance. “We need to start thinking about living, working and protecting two worlds and two realities,” he told a security industry conference in Sydney.
The concerns are shared by Europol, the pan-European police agency, which believes that Second Life provides a means to transfer money across borders in a way that is more difficult for the authorities to monitor. It has recruited security consultants to advise on the use of Second Life for fraud and terrorism.
Of particular concern is the anonymity of Second Life members who can use false names for their digital personas, known as avatars, to disguise their real identity and provide false contact details in the real world.
Intelligence sources said that although communications traffic through Second Life could in theory be monitored, often the only means of tracking an individual is by tracing the user’s IP address – the physical location of a computer in the real world – but even this can be faked. Monitoring complex money movements in the virtual world presents law enforcement agencies with further surveillance challenges.
Second Life, which has a global membership of more than 8.5m, uses three-dimensional graphics technology to create a virtual world. Anyone can become a member or “resident” for free and roam the virtual world after creating an avatar. They then meet and interact with other users” avatars, visiting shops, theatres and sports events, trading goods and services and having sex.
So popular has Second Life become that companies such as Sony, BMW and Reebok have bought “land” and opened premises there. Some governments, including that of Sweden, have opened virtual embassies in Second Life.
Recently, inhabitants of the virtual world have experienced a more sinister phenomenon – virtual terrorist attacks against buildings and avatars. A recent attack took place at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Second Life base. A number of these attacks, known as “griefings”, have been launched by what industry insiders say are “geeky teenagers” giving themselves names such as the Second Life Liberation Army.
Some experts, however, believe the “virtual atrocities” may have been committed by real Islamic radicals. Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, said that for the past three months he had monitored about 12 jihadists who have assumed identities in Second Life. He said they were mostly based in America and Europe.
Some radicals, he said, had given themselves “innocuous” titles, while others had provocative jihadist names such as Irhabi007 (Arabic for Terrorist007). Gunaratna acknowledged that not all Islamists had any intention of carrying out terrorist attacks in real life, but said that they were using Second Life to build a community of extremists.