Afghanistan’s Taliban Declare War on Mobile Telephones
Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 9
A previous issue of Terrorism Monitor (September 8, 2006) discussed the cellular technology know-how that jihadis exchange over the internet to help their fellow fighters evade interception by security forces. The implicit question at the time was: to what extent do jihadis learn and implement these internet training lessons? Lately, the republication of the magazine Technical Jihadi by a pro-jihadist website (chebabmr.com, January 24) and a message from an active jihadi website forum member concerning a threat by the Taliban to limit the use of mobile communications in Afghanistan reaffirm that jihadis are fully utilizing the technological training they exchange over the internet (muslm.net, February 26).
The second issue of Technical Jihadi magazine trains followers, among other topics, on the use of secure mobile communication; i.e., how to avoid interception by security services when using cellular phones. Other al-Qaeda-related websites have published material pertinent to mobile phone SIM cards—Subscriber Identity Module, a removable smart card that carries subscriber identification information—voiceprints and methods for misleading security services’ surveillance. One such method involves using unregistered mobile phones, then making a call from a certain spot and abandoning the phone at the same location.
In the same context, an active forum member, nicknamed “Windows XP,” posted a communiqué from the Taliban in Afghanistan entitled “Shura command/Taliban sends final ultimatum to mobile companies in Afghanistan.” The communiqué reads: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan warns mobile companies to disrupt their communication services from 5:00 PM until 7:00 AM daily to spare innocent bystanders and mujahideen [from] the espionage, unethical and irresponsible activities of the enemy.” The communiqué claims that occupation forces exploit the mobile communication system to pinpoint the location of the mujahideen. The Taliban believe that occupation forces strike at suspected mobile phone locations, killing innocent women and children in the process. Therefore, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan contacted all mobile communication centers operating in Afghanistan and asked them to interrupt mobile services (Hasht-e Sobh [Kabul], February 27). This effort proved to be of no avail, and the Taliban did not accept the excuse of the mobile companies that they cannot control U.S. forces’ mobile espionage and investigative capabilities. As a result, the Taliban threatened to destroy their offices and communication towers (muslm.net, February 26). Other chatters warn jihadis not to use mobile phones confiscated from Afghan collaborators, explaining that the U.S.-supplied phones serve two objectives. Firstly, they are used by the collaborators to convey intelligence to U.S. forces and, secondly, if the phones are captured and used by jihadis, U.S. intelligence services can hunt down the mujahideen by tracking their mobile signals.
In Iraq, the jihadis are also aware of the risks involved when using mobile phones. One forum chatter warns: “Please be careful: if the targeted jihadi is not captured it doesn’t [necessarily] mean he is safe. It means the intelligence services are listening in on him until he reveals the identities of all his contacts, and, afterwards, a simultaneous arrest operation will be launched.” Another contributor advises the jihadis to turn off cell phones 300 meters away from their homes and to take out the phone battery and SIM card (tawhed.ws—now removed from server).
The technical training jihadis exchange over the internet is of significant value to them, especially in the field of technological know-how. Signal intelligence (SIGINT), an essential intelligence gathering technique, has to be initiated through a human intelligence source (HUMINT); therefore, jihadis are studying the implications of communications technology for their operations and security. Most importantly, a reminder to the mujahideen of the dangers of Coalition signal intelligence operations is likely to reduce the success rate of security service measures.