Mail & Guardian online [South Africa]
23 November 2006 11:59
Electronic jihad's cyber soldiers
Michel Moutot | Paris, France
They neither carry weapons nor lay ambushes for soldiers in Iraq
or in Afghanistan.
But thousands of radical Islamists are waging a different kind of
war from behind their computers, called "electronic jihad".
These radical Islamic sites have sprung up over the past few
years, specialising in the organisation and the coordination of
concerted cyber-attacks against Israeli, American, Catholic and
All you need to join this anonymous cyber world is an address
registered in Iraq or in tribal zones in Pakistan, and basic
computer savvy to carry out concerted attacks in which internauts
from the four corners of the world take part.
Among their most high-profile attacks to date was that on the
Danish internet site of daily Jyllands-Posten, which outraged
Muslims -- and sparked violence worldwide -- by publishing
controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in September 2005.
"It is the internet version of jihad: you can telecharge viruses,
which will be activated at the planned date ... I downloaded one
which was called 'jihad reminder'," said Anne Giudicelli, a
French specialist who runs a "terrorism" consultancy monitoring
radical Islamic websites.
A recent report from the American Jamestown Foundation -- a group
that aims to inform policymakers about countries of strategic and
tactical importance that might restrict access to such
information -- highlights a so-called electronic jihad website,
where the "electronic jihad program 1,5 silver edition virus" is
It also offers to install a toolbar on your personal computer
that connects and then automatically brings up back dates, times
and targets of cyber attacks.
"In the radical Islamist forums, you find sections that are the
electronic jihad equivalent of how to make bombs," Giudicelli
said. "How to cyber attack. That has become part of the
jihadist's basic training."
Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor in political science at Paris's
prestigious Institut d'Etudes Politiques and author of the book
Les Frontieres du Jihad (The Boundaries of Jihad) described the
developments as "an impressive jihadisation of the Islamic
"Ten years ago, friends and I would find videos made in Chechnya
or in Algeria, which were generally rather gory," he said.
"Today we are finding on the web things which are at least as
obscene in terms of violence, but which have a major distribution."
Established in 2003, the Global Islamic Media Front offers about
500 films for download, he said.
"There is no doubt a second layer, accessible only to the
converted with sophisticated passwords, but this first layer,
which is totally open on the network, must already be arousing
interest, feeding and circulating propaganda, whose devastating
impact we have trouble assessing in the West," he said.
Many forums, whether openly Islamic or managed by Arab media like
al-Jazeera, raise the idea of cyber-attacks.
During the uproar in September over Pope Benedict XVI's
controversial remarks about Islam, an internet piracy campaign
targeted the Vatican's website, but it was reportedly little
affected due to its high level of protection.
Thomas Hegghammer, an expert at Norwegian Defence Research
Establishment in Oslo, however, played down the threat from
"Taking down a website is not a big problem," he said.
"So far there has been no example of cyber-attacks that have
caused physical damage. There have been a number of cases where
Islamist hackers have taken down websites, particularly in Israel
and elsewhere, but none of this has caused physical damage or
serious disruptions," he said.
"They are no bigger threat than any other hacker out there.
"There is no reason why the radical Islamists should be more
competent than the professional hackers of Eastern Europe, for
example. It's not because they are jihadists that they are more
dangerous: it all comes down to their technical expertise, and
there is nothing in their ideology that makes them better at
doing this than anyone else." -- AFP
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