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Where are the Taliban? Online, using anonymity, cover of Web to spread message | (KRT) The Web site Taliban Online quotes a senior Taliban commander vowing to continue war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, boasting that the group's "rocket attacks have become an effective tool against the invaders, showing them there's nowhere for them to hide."

Another Web site - al Muhajiroun - threatens to murder, crucify or cut off the hands and feet of anyone who cooperates with American forces in the war on terrorism.

Another - Princess Taliban - details the many ways women can help wage war, including reading the proper bedtime stories to prepare their children to fight.

Still another - 357 Islamic hosting - provides a way to set up such Web sites, "anonymity guaranteed." It even accepts credit cards.

Dozens of militant groups, including al-Qaida and the Taliban, no longer are hiding in caves and recruiting from the desert. Increasingly, they're using the Internet to send messages, spread hatred, recruit members and raise money.

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"With the explosion of the Internet, terrorists can reach massive amounts of people," said Josh Devon, a senior analyst at the SITE Institute, a counterterrorism research center based in Washington. "Now that there's no central base for al-Qaida to operate freely, they're using the Internet to disseminate information and to recruit members."

Devon said militant groups had become sophisticated in their use of the Internet, even getting the Internet company Yahoo! to set up their sites and sponsor chat rooms and message boards, all under the nose of U.S. law enforcement. The sites largely are covered by First Amendment protections on free speech.

"No country is going to block Yahoo!," Devon said. "What you'll find is that they (terror groups) disseminate messages through Yahoo! groups or through MSN (Microsoft Network) groups. They move around a lot, making it hard to track them. Through the message boards, people who look for them can find their sites. And message boards are not easily shut down since there are so many of them."

Neither Yahoo! nor Microsoft responded to requests for information about their policies on hosting and closing radical Web sites. Both have regulations that prohibit using their services to promote violence or hatred, but neither would provide further details of its policies or enforcement procedures.

Philip Henika, an expert on the Internet and terrorism who regularly monitors militant Web sites, said al-Qaida followers changed their Web sites' locations frequently, with the latest at That site stayed up only a few days.

Henika notifies Yahoo! and other hosts when he detects such Web sites, but he said that often the companies didn't act quickly to close them.

A spokeswoman for the FBI said the agency was aware of radical groups' use of the Internet and was "doing a lot" to fight it.

"We are monitoring the Web as one of several investigative tools, and we have more than one person working on this," she said, declining to offer further details, citing security concerns.

Madeleine Gruen, an expert on the Internet and terrorism, notes that many radical Web sites are run by people outside the United States.

"One group - Jund Allah - was based in Egypt. It had a Web site on Geocities. The Egyptian government captured a lot of these guys, and it came out in the trial they were using their Web site to recruit and disseminate info to their members. They were sending diagrams of grenades, diagrams of guns, how to build bombs. We've seen poison manuals everything under the sun."

Gruen said one Web site she discovered gave detailed instructions on how to make the poison ricin. The same site told Muslims to "kill all the kufar," or disbelievers.

"It makes it very, very easy to click your mouse and find a way to make a bomb or make poison," she said. "This is especially dangerous when you think about the prospect of the lone wolf. Some just go out and do something crazy."

Al-Qaida has maintained a presence on the Web since the early 1990s, realizing its importance as a propaganda tool. It targets young, angry Muslim men.

"They are incubating hatred, saying these are the people who are killing your brothers in Bosnia, in Chechnya, in Palestine," Gruen said. "It's your duty as a Muslim to fight the jihad (holy war). If not with a rifle, then with money, to contribute in some way."

It's unknown how many people al-Qaida or other groups have recruited over the Internet or how much money they've raised since no studies have been done on this issue. But Gruen said she thought the Internet had proved to be an effective tool for radical groups.

"If the Web presence were not effective in recruiting and fund raising, then these groups would not invest so much of their manpower and dollars in doing it," she said.

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© 2003, The Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services