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07-10-2005, 12:04 PM
Iraq's tech-savvy insurgents are finding supporters and luring suicide-bomber recruits over the Internet

Jonathan Curiel, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Insurgents and their supporters have created a sophisticated network on the Internet to help them recruit suicide bombers to Iraq, according to interviews with terrorism experts and a review of the online material.

Using the latest technology available to anyone with a laptop, they are publishing detailed videos of hostage killings, online magazines that recap violent actions in and around Baghdad, and dense manuals that explain everything from how to enter Iraq illegally to how to make a suicide bomb vest or plant deadly explosives.

Online forums have also been created that applaud coordinated bombings such as the one that hit London three days ago. Within hours of the attacks, which killed dozens of people and injured hundreds, a Web site that promotes fundamentalist viewpoints, www.tajdeed.org.uk (http://www.tajdeed.org.uk), was inundated with jubilation over the deadly action. Typical was a posting that said, "London has been shook by the attacks of those heroes. ... I feel victory is coming. Great Britain's day of loss is coming."

"If you want to join the jihad, you will find a way on the Internet," says Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, a Washington organization that stands for Search for International Terrorist Entities and monitors Web sites run by Islamic fundamentalists.

Going beyond just publishing their views online, Iraqi insurgents and their sympathizers are monitoring users of their Web sites, then contacting those who seem the most sympathetic to killing American soldiers, Iraqi military and others, says Gabriel Weimann, a communications professor and author of a study, "How Modern Terrorism Uses the Internet." While U.S. authorities are aware of the mushrooming presence of these extremist sites, there's little they can do to stop them -- partly because the sites are quick to reappear with a different Web address when they are disabled.

It's unclear exactly how many Web sites are devoted to promoting holy war in Iraq and in other countries, but terrorism experts say that Iraqi insurgents and their supporters have created dozens and dozens, possibly hundreds, of these Arabic-language Web sites. The sites range from simple message boards where people can post their feelings about Iraq to intricate multimedia centers that have downloadable magazines and videos. A recent "Road to Iraq" guide published by an online magazine called Jihadweb advises recruits coming through Syria to "wear jeans" and "use a portable music player" so they'll appear more westernized.

With the help of an Arabic translator, The Chronicle reviewed some of the most popular sites. Besides serving as recruiting tools, these sites are intended to boost the morale of the insurgents and their sympathizers. The sites have increased greatly in the past year, coinciding with the uptick in Iraq's suicide bombings.

There's "a great deal of evidence to suggest a direct correlation between (insurgent) propaganda and the recruitment of individuals into the terrorist movement," says Evan Kohlmann, a New York terrorism analyst who monitors Islamist Web sites and has testified before Congress.

In the past three months, more than 200 suicide bombings have occurred in Iraq, according to news accounts. In the first year of the conflict, fewer than 70 suicide bombings occurred.

One recent bombing, Kohlmann says, involved a student who was an ardent follower of a Web forum connected to Ansar al-Sunna, one of the most violent insurgent groups operating in Iraq. Abu Osama al-Sudani was active on the Muntada al-Ansar Web forum, which has appeared in different incarnations, including www.al-ansar.biz (http://www.al-ansar.biz) and www.inn4news.net (http://www.inn4news.net), both of which no longer operate. Al-Sudani was a Sudanese student living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who killed himself in a suicide operation in Baquba, Iraq, according to a Web posting viewed by The Chronicle.

"He was an active participant on these forums," says Kohlmann, who has monitored Islamist Web sites since 1997 and says the Muntada al-Ansar forum was the main one used by Iraqi insurgents to post messages. "Every time a representative of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group would post a message, (al- Sudani) would say, 'Congratulations.' A few months ago, he posted a message saying he had seen enough. He could not bear to hear the news of jihad from Iraq anymore without participating himself. He issued a goodbye note, saying, 'I'm off to Iraq to be martyred' and 'Wish me luck.' About a month later, somebody else posted a message with the phone number of his family in Sudan, explaining that he had gone to Iraq and been martyred there fighting with Zarqawi's group."

The posting of al-Sudani's death referred to a "martyrdom operation" that happened on March 16, the same day a suicide bomber killed four Iraqi soldiers and wounded 15 in Baquba, a city about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Most of Iraq's suicide bombers are foreign-born, with the highest proportion coming from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

The Internet is such an infinite resource that the holy war videos, manuals, photos and articles would -- if published -- fill a large university library. A recent Internet edition of the "Encyclopedia of Jihad" alone is 600 pages, though it takes up just 28 megabytes of computer space, according to Kohlmann, who has translated brief sections of it. The encyclopedia's table of contents lists such chapters as "How to Kill," "Explosive Devices," "Manufacturing Detonators" and "Assassination with Mines."

Kohlmann discovered a training video on the Internet -- made by a supporter of the Iraqi insurgency who goes by the name "Terrorist 007" -- that shows how to make a suicide bomb vest. The three-minute video details, step by step, the process of sewing the vest and hiding its detonation device inside. The video, reviewed by The Chronicle, ends with a vest strapped on a male mannequin, which is blown up along with a group of surrounding objects.

Last month, the Northeast Intelligence Network -- a Pennsylvania anti- terrorism firm that tracks Web sites operated by Iraqi insurgents and their supporters -- released the contents of a new monthly online magazine from Ansar al-Sunna, whose name means "Protectors of the Faith." Its pages trumpet Ansar al-Sunna's ability to take hostages and kill them, and the group's effort to expel "Christian and Zionist crusaders" from Muslim countries.

"Kill them, torture them -- God will support you and will heal the hearts of those faithful to God," the magazine says in words translated by The Chronicle. "God and the angels are not with the infidels."

A companion video to the magazine shows in graphic detail the slayings of two Iraqis deemed traitors for working with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. The four-minute video incorporates slick graphics and what could be described as "intro music." Reviewed by The Chronicle, the video's opening credits say, "The Department of Media, Army of al-Sunna, Presents ..." Then two middle-age men speak to the camera and to the insurgents who took them hostage.

"It was a good job -- it was good money," says one of the hostages who is identified as a member of the Iraqi military.

The men are forced to sit in front of a banner that says, "Army of al- Sunna" and "There is only one God; Muhammad is his prophet." Throughout the video, the men are called infidels. At the video's conclusion, the two are turned around, hands tied behind their back, and shot repeatedly in the head by gunmen who shout, "Allahu akbar!" The camera pans over the dead men's bodies as a credit says, "The sentence was executed."

Videos are the insurgents' most effective recruiting and propaganda tool, Kohlmann says. Insurgents have put so many videos of killings and beheadings on the Internet that fan clubs have sprung up around the most extreme ones.

"They trade these videos like baseball cards," says Kohlmann, who runs the site www.globalterroralert.com. (http://www.globalterroralert.com.)

Because their videos require lots of bandwidth and because the insurgents always look for ways to save money, they sometimes use the servers of American organizations to put out their Internet publications, terrorism experts say. Last year, for example, Web masters appropriated the servers of George Washington University and the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, says Douglas Hagmann, founder and director of the Northeast Intelligence Network. The holy war Web maneuvers, which included putting a training manual and beheading video on the Arkansas site, lasted only a few days, until authorities caught on, Hagmann says. Once they're found out, Web masters often move their sites, uninvited, onto other computer servers, spreading the sites' existence by e-mail and word of mouth.

"They're sophisticated even by our standards," Hagmann says. "For instance, you might find on a (Web) forum a message that says, 'Go to this server between 8 to 10 p.m. and pick up these files.' That's where we found portions of the 'Jihad Encyclopedia' and where we found portions that relate to assassination and kidnapping."

These Web sites are often restricted to those with protected passwords, which means they're not easily accessible by Web users who do a simple Google search. Still, many of the sites are "open source" sites that give anyone who speaks and writes Arabic a chance to join in on discussions and get more information on how to be a suicide bomber in Iraq. The Web sites themselves don't reveal such information as names and numbers of contacts in Syria or Iraq, Weimann says. Instead, he says, the sites are portals that lead to one- on-one relationships with the people who run them -- and it's through those relationships that converts learn better how to smuggle themselves into Iraq.

In addition to the Web sites, holy warriors are using other Internet services to communicate with prospects, Hagmann and other terrorism experts say. One such service is www.paltalk.com (http://www.paltalk.com), which lets people in disparate places connect via their computer. The service features voice and video capabilities.

Even without this direct communication, Iraq's insurgents appear able to send coded messages via their videos. In the past few months, Zarqawi, who is the most wanted insurgent in Iraq, has released videos that show him holding a gun, says Laura Mansfield, associate director of the Northeast Intelligence Network. She has noticed a pattern: When the gun sight is pointed toward his body, that usually means a major attack is imminent. When the gun sight is pointed away from his body, the video is usually just to rally Iraqi insurgents and their supporters. In one of Zarqawi's recent videos, the sight of the gun he held was aimed at his body, says Mansfield, who believes Zarqawi was connected to the London bombings. Mansfield says there was "increased chatter" on message boards and chat rooms in the past two months before Thursday's attacks in London.

"I've seen a dramatic increase over the last month in chatter," Mansfield says.

Weimann, who teaches at Israel's Haifa University, says violent fundamentalists are lured by the Web's easy access. In his report, "How Modern Terrorism Uses the Internet," Weimann cites a list of past terrorist Web sites that are no longer in use, including www.alneda.com (http://www.alneda.com) and www.jehad.net. (http://www.jehad.net.) Weismann writes that terrorist organizations "capture information about the users who browse their Web sites. Users who seem most interested in the organization's cause or well suited to carrying out its work are then contacted. Recruiters may also use more interactive Internet technology to roam online chat rooms and cyber cafes."

Al Qaeda has long used computer technology to spread information, including during the war in Afghanistan. Zarqawi regularly releases news on Web sites that are run by his associates, and he even has a "media coordinator, " Abu Maysara al-Iraqi. In December, Kohlmann says, supporters of al-Zarqawi uploaded files on the Internet that showed readers how to use surface-to-air missiles to take down aircraft.

The "Road to Iraq" guide published by Jihadweb tells recruits to enter Syria via Turkey so they'll have a Turkish visa. That way, if they're stopped by Syrian authorities suspicious of their motives, "you can pretend you're in transit to Turkey." To avoid suspicion, potential insurgents should also "make sure to wear jeans and eat doughnuts and use a portable music player which has a tape of any singer," says the guide, which the SITE Institute found and translated into English from Arabic. Once in Syria, the guide says, there are plenty of "secret roads" that let would-be suicide bombers travel to insurgent centers in Iraq.

In March, Ansar al-Sunna's Web forum warned recruits that Syrian authorities had set up checkpoints in Al Qamishli and Dayr Az Zawr, two major Syrian cities near the Iraq border. The forum suggested that recruits avoid hotels along the border because Syrian authorities were "giving orders to the notification about any Arab that stays (there)." Ansar al-Sunna is the same group whose Web site had a gruesome video last year that showed the decapitation of American Nicholas Berg.

Web masters are always changing the sites' names to avoid scrutiny by authorities. The names they choose often have obvious Islamic references, such as www.islam-minbar.net. (http://www.islam-minbar.net.) (A minbar is a mosque pulpit.) Other recent sites, which are now defunct, include www.qal3ah.org/bb (http://www.qal3ah.org/bb) and www.ekhlaas.net (http://www.ekhlaas.net), Mansfield says.

The U.S. government is well aware of these sites, says Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman. Department of Defense personnel monitor the sites "as a matter of routine," and information from the sites provides "one more layer of intelligence analysis," Venable says. A spokesman with the Defense Intelligence Agency, a unit within the Department of Defense, says U.S. authorities regularly investigate who's behind the Web sites. The spokesman would not say what authorities do with that information.

Last month, John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said the Internet had become a prime recruiting tool for Iraq's insurgents, saying, "People come (into Iraq) from Damascus in a way that allows them to get inside Iraq sometimes with forged documents, sometimes with a lot of money for bribery, etc. These people are recruited on the Internet. They're young. They're idealistic. They think they're coming to fight the jihad. They immediately move on up into Damascus. They're met by facilitators. They're moved to safe houses."

Besides recruiting suicide bombers to Iraq, insurgents are discovering new ways to use technology. Recently, they've learned to watch and forward beheading videos from their cell phones, Kohlmann says. These tech advances mean that militants in remote deserts or places without Internet access can still participate in what he calls "Internet jihad."

"The same way the Internet has revolutionized life in the United States, it's also revolutionized the business of terrorism," Kohlmann says. "The same way we've jumped on the Internet, they have, too."

web page (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/07/10/MNGHADLOR01.DTL)