WASHINGTON – The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Thursday held the third in a series of hearings as part of the Committee’s investigation into the domestic threat of violent Islamist extremism. Today’s hearing focused on the sophisticated use of the Internet by extremists to recruit and train terrorists, and to carry out attacks.

A report released at the hearing by the Homeland Security Policy Institute at the George Washington University and the Critical Incident Analysis Group at the University of Virginia described how use of the Internet has empowered terror networks by allowing them to disseminate their extremist message beyond national borders to reach disaffected youth. The report, entitled, “NETworked Radicalization: A Counter-Strategy,” recommended that the government combat Internet recruitment by creating an online counter-offensive and bolstering cross-cultural dialogue.

“It is an irony of the digital age that the Internet – invented by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as a way to ensure undisrupted communications in the event of an enemy attack – is now being used to recruit and train the terrorists who plot such lethal attacks against America and other western targets,” Lieberman said. “Islamist extremists use the Internet to reach across national boundaries to recruit new soldiers, sympathizers and financial supporters. These are not the efforts of amateurs. Terrorist groups run their own professional media production companies that produce video and audio for Internet broadcast. They create websites, chat rooms, online forums, libraries and video games that promote the Islamist agenda. They are a clear and present danger.”

“Our country must take the challenge posed by these Internet terrorists very seriously and launch an aggressive, coordinated and effective response,” he said. “We cannot cede cyberspace to the Islamist terrorists. We must do everything we can as quickly as we can to disrupt their websites and compete with them for the attention those who frequent those sites.”

Senator Collins said, “The Internet has dramatically expanded the ability of radical groups to recruit, train, motivate, and coordinate terrorists over vast distances without direct contact. Terrorists can consult websites to learn techniques for shooting down helicopters, watch videos of hostage beheadings, read letters left by suicide bombers, or listen to messages from militant leaders. And, even if there were no websites, the Internet would still allow radicalizing messages as well as operational instructions to be passed along by e-mail. We must work to prevent the World Wide Web from being perverted into a weapon of worldwide war.”

Witnesses at the hearing included Michael S. Doran, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support for Public Diplomacy at the Defense Department, Lt. Col. Joseph H. Felter, Director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, and Frank J. Cilluffo, Director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at the George Washington University.

The Committee plans to continue its examination of homegrown Islamic radicalization on May 10, 2007, in a hearing entitled, “Violent Islamist Extremism: Government Efforts to Defeat It.”

To read the full report, visit http://www.gwumc.edu/hspi/news/index.cfm?d=4098