US tech firms urged to help combat cyber jihad

“The removal of a handful of You- Tube videos, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages is hardly a serious solution,” Steven Stalinsky warns.

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December 11, 2014 05:00
3 minute read.
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A new in-depth study by the Middle East Media Research Institute shows how jihadist groups radicalize and recruit a new generation of Muslims online.

The study, “From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State (ISIS), Jihadi Groups Engage in Cyber Jihad,” was researched over the past year by MEMRI and its Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor, and published last week, to coincide with the launch of MEMRI’s Cyber Jihad Lab initiative (http://cjlab.memri.org). Steven Stalinsky and R. Sosnow wrote the report.

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The late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is quoted as praising the cyber jihad: “The wide-scale spread of jihadist ideology, especially on the Internet... [is] a major achievement for jihad.”

Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, “The main point of the report is that al-Qaida and now Islamic State and other leading terrorist organizations have launched cyber jihad against the West by utilizing US websites and social media freely.”

Stalinsky points out that Robert Hannigan, the director of the Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters signal intelligence and cryptography agency, stated it succinctly in an article on terrorists’ use of the Internet in the Financial Times last month: “The largest US technology companies” are “the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists. It is a fact that these companies are the drivers of global jihad and enable al-Qaida and now Islamic State to fund-raise, recruit, indoctrinate, train and disseminate their ideology.”

The Obama administration and Congress must deal with this issue, pressed Stalinsky, arguing that the “long-overdue first step in doing so would be summoning the heads of social media companies and having them clarify what exactly their policies are on their usage by designated terrorist groups and individuals.

“There are several clear models for US policy-makers to follow, and which European governments have begun to implement over the past few months,” he noted.

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In October, the European Commission, with ministers from all 28 EU member states, summoned representatives of major US technology companies to a meeting in Luxembourg that dealt with how terrorists are using the Internet. This comes within the context of European worries over jihadists returning to the Continent, going online and targeting their fellow Muslim citizens.

“The meeting’s goal was to come up with a plan for these companies to stop online radicalization on their websites,” said Stalinsky. “It is difficult to understand why no one in the US government has taken similar action yet.”

These companies must commit to “eradicating jihadi content from their platforms,” within the framework of new and enforced laws, he said.

“The removal of a handful of You- Tube videos, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages is hardly a serious solution,” Stalinsky warned.

“One of the missions of MEMRI’s new Cyber Jihad Lab is to explore ways to challenge cyber jihad, including by working and assisting both Western government agencies and the tech community to come up with proper strategies to do this,” he said.

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who is a member of MEMRI’s board of advisers, wrote an introduction to the report. “It is important to note that with the combination of social media and mobile devices, jihadi outlets can make sure that their content is viewable anywhere, anytime,” he said.

“In the photos that they now disseminate on social media, the jihadis, who used to pose in their traditional garb surrounded by weapons such as assault rifles and grenades, nowadays include in these photo images a laptop, smartphone, and tablet, reflecting the importance placed on these ‘weapons,’” Woolsey wrote.

The report is broken into seven sections, charting the emergence of al-Qaida cyber activity, statements by the terrorist group’s leaders on the importance of cyber jihad, and the shift from forums to social media.

Chapter 5 deals with importance of Western social media companies in al-Qaida’s, Islamic State’s and other groups’ outreach efforts and Chapter 6 details how social media is being used in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Reflecting the importance of cyber jihad for terrorist groups, al-Qaida’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, said in an interview with the organization’s Al-Sahab media outlet: “[T]o the knights of the jihadi media, I say: May Allah reward you the best reward for your good job in serving Islam. You must know that you are [fighting] on a great front of Islam, and that the tyrants [of our time] are very disturbed by your efforts...”

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