The terrorist internet campaign-integral to violent extremism

by Fred Hetner, Examiner

The use of the internet by violent Islamist extremists is constantly in flux, with websites appearing and disappearing regularly. Some website material is produced by organized groups committed to advancing this ideology around the world, while other material is produced by self-starting individuals. Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni cleric, posted a message on his website calling the Fort Hood shooter Nadal Hasan a hero. Some experts say al-Awlaki represents a new kind of terrorist: charismatic, young and Facebook-savvy. He is described as a "low-key" extremist, not known for fiery rhetoric. al-Awlaki has over 5,000 friends on Facebook and his influence in the west should not be discounted. After 9/11 al-Awlaki grew angry at the way Muslim-Americans were treated by authorities.

These self-appointed amplifiers of the violent Islamist message may not be part of a known terrorist organization, but they choose to advance the cause, not necessarily with guns but with propaganda.

Today, al-Qaeda manages a multi-tiered online media operation which produces content consistent with the core terrorist enlistment message. Al-Qaeda has long had a media committee and once operated the new defunct which pushed the terrorist enlistment message and disseminated official statements from al-Qaeda leadership. Al-Qaeda also recognized, prior to 9/11, the value of videotaping attacks and disseminating the statements of terrorists who kill themselves in the name of violent Islamist ideology. Post 9/11, al-Qaeda leadership accelerated their media campaign as necessary to pursuing their global ideological cause.

Several examples of al-Qaeda affiliated regional production centers include:

  •  Al-Furquan Media (affiliated with The Islamic State of Iraq)
  • As-Sahab Media (affiliated with al-Qaeda High Command)
  • Sawt al-Jihad (affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula)
These production centers are highly sophisticated operations that utilize cutting-edge technology. The use of songs, symbols and imagery is integral, adding layers of meaning and emotion to what is being seen or heard.

The violent Islamist Internet campaign facilitates the exposure of potential followers to the ideology. It allows leaders of the movement to talk directly to those who may be vulnerable to the influences of the core terrorist enlistment message. Additionally, the Internet can play a critical role throughout the radicalization process, the potential end point of which is planning and executing a terrorist act.

This is a first in a series of articles I will be publishing on The threat of homegrown terrorism, The United States response, Violent Jihad against America and Lone Wolves.

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