Terrorists Use Internet to Recruit, Train, and Launch Attacks

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., today held the third in a series of hearings as part of its investigation into the threat of 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 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.

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.”
“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.”

Senator Collins questioned witnesses about efforts to shut down some of these radical websites. She pointed out that some believe doing so is a waste of resources since the sites simply reappear in other locations.

Witnesses said that such decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature and threat of a particular radical website, but that more resources should be directed to this issue. In addition, Frank Cilluffo said that chat rooms, which are the ‘battlefield’ of ideas, should be more closely monitored.

Witnesses at the hearing included Michael S. Doran, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Support for Public Diplomacy in the Defense Department, Lit. 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 Georget 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