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Jihadists Use Internet as Recruiting, Networking Tool, Intel Official Says

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2007 – The Internet is the most important venue for the radicalization of Islamic youth, the head of intelligence at U.S. Central Command, said in an interview aired yesterday.

Army Brig. Gen. John Custer and other experts described the effects of terrorists’ online recruiting and networking methods during a 60 Minutes interview with correspondent Scott Pelley.

“I see 16-, 17-year-olds who have been indoctrinated on the Internet turn up on the battlefield,” Custer said. “We capture them; we kill them every day in Iraq, in Afghanistan.”

Stephen Ulph, a researcher and writer on militant Islam, is a consultant at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where cadets are learning to recognize the Web’s power as a new weapon. Ulph told 60 Minutes that Jihadist recruiters online are waging a massive battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims.

“They throw a bomb into (a recruit’s) mental universe … and shatter it,” he said. “And, then (they) say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to reassemble these fragments.’”

Recruiters use the Internet to deconstruct moderate interpretations of Islam and then repaint the scripture in a more radical version, he said

“If your parents aren’t proper Muslims, if the sheik of a mosque isn't a proper Muslim, what are you doing obeying them?" he said. “Once they’ve softened (the recruit) up and he’s now in freefall, they say, ‘This is your identity. We're going to put the “j” back into Islam. It’s jihad.’”

Jihadist Web sites exploded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and an estimated 5,000 terrorist sites exist online, 60 Minutes reported. One Jihadi site they investigated had 17,869 members.

Custer described how Web sites are set up to entice possible recruits.

"You start off with a site that looks like current news in Iraq; with a single click, you're at an active jihad attack site,” Custer said. “You can see Humvees blown up. You can see American bodies drug through the street. You can see small-arms attacks.

“Next link will take you to a motivational site, where martyr operatives, suicide bombers, are pictured in heaven; you can you see their farewell speeches,” he said. “Another click and you're at a site where you can download scripted talking points that validate … religious justification for mass murder."

Custer said today’s warfare is a different type, which takes place on an asymmetric battlefield.

“There is no front line of troops. Civilians are targets. The press has no credentials here. Kidnap them. Put a gun to their head, and put them on the evening news," he said. “It's a battle of perceptions, and al Qaeda understands it. And America needs to understand it.

"Can you imagine thousands of tanks on a battlefield now?” Custer said. “I can’t.”

The general’s comments echo remarks that another military official, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, made Feb. 26 at the Special Operations and Low-Intensity Symposium, in Arlington, Va.

Al Qaeda and it associates operate within a “full-spectrum network” that extends beyond the physical battlefield into the virtual world, Kimmitt, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, said.

“It has the ability to use the virtual and physical network, all tied together in this center of gravity of this radical Islamist ideology,” he said. “The fact that it uses the most advanced methods of communications to get what it needs to be done is truly remarkable.”

In addition to recruiting, terrorists who seek to obtain chemical, biological weapons, and radioactive material for dirty bombs, use the Internet to wire money and to transfer tactics, techniques and procedures, he said.

“It has truly got its stuff together in terms of fighting as a network,” he said. “Those (improvised explosive devices) … going off in Afghanistan weren’t sent over there by books, they were sent over by information directly available on the internet.”

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Related Sites:
U.S. Central Command

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