The Economist reported a few weeks ago on Younis Tsouli aka Irhabi007, self-styled cyber-jihadi and apparent coordinator of al-Qaeda’s internet propaganda. Tsouli was arrested in London in 2005 along with two other cyber-jihadis and received a ten year sentence. The London Police counter-terrorism bureau delivered a textbook definition of the network society when describing the case as “networks within networks, connections within connections and links between individuals that cross local, national and international boundaries”.
The article claims that once al-Qaeda was defeated in physical Afghanistan, “Al-Qaeda (‘the base’) and its followers moved to cyberspace, the ultimate ungoverned territory, where jihadists have set up virtual schools for ideological and military training and active propaganda arms.”
It further argues that the internet is qualitatively different from previous communications revolutions (radio and telephone, for instance) because of its highly distributed nature, low barriers to entry, and multiple in/multiple out network structure that allow for aggregation and distribution of cyber-terrorism – from digital video to bomb-making instructions.
However, the most potent use of the internet is an age old one: propaganda and indoctrination. The Counter Terrorism Centre at West Point released in 2006 its Militant Ideology Atlas mapping the ideological influences of prominent jihadis from online sources. The report is worth a glance for its sophisticated network mapping techniques.