The recent hacking and shutting down of some jihadi websites has raised concerns among jihadi forum members seeking alternatives in case all jihadi forums go down. These forums have, in many terrorism cases, been a launching pad and deployment point for jihadi activities. One still-operational jihadi forum posted a message entitled “Guerrilla Warfare on the Mountain Range of the Internet,” offering contingency plans for the disruption of existing websites and proposals for new methods to keep jihadi internet communications and propaganda efforts alive (alhesbahweb.net, September 28).
Posted by a forum participant nicknamed “Riah al-Ghobar,” the message says that it is time to devise plans to counter the Western campaign against major jihadi forums. The suggested plans should be implemented in case all jihadi forums are attacked and shut down. Al-Ghobar begins his posting by laying out the components of internet guerilla warfare (IGW) and ways to implement these tactics on the web.
Firstly, al-Ghobar outlines “email support” as the number one method of digital warfare. This method can be carried out by members who follow jihadi events and view video clips without participating in militant activities. It is important for this category of jihadis to sign up and receive jihadist material through their emails. Therefore, they are instructed to open new email addresses and register with the “email support” group. After the creation of new email addresses and considering internet security precautions such as the use of secure proxies, mailing lists are compiled and divided into groups of participants and moderators.
Secondly, virtual jihadis should install Encrypted Messenger software and add to it the compiled email addresses. Each moderator should have his own messenger group to discuss issues or jihadi events and future jihadi activities in coordination with other moderators. Next, al-Ghobar suggests jihadis surf the internet, searching for forums and email groups in order to join them and gradually disseminate the Salafi-Jihadi ideology among their members. Once a certain forum is targeted, moderators may instruct participants to register at these groups and start a dialogue directed at convincing the members of the merits of jihad. Although small forums and email groups would welcome the increase in group members, they might also reject the Salafi-Jihadi influence and ban the jihadis. In that case, jihadis should be persistent in the face of such rejection and if the targeted website insists on banning them, they should attack the website and shut it down in a coordinated group effort.
The spread of Salafi-Jihadi ideology will not be impeded when jihadi websites, such as alhesbah or eklaas, are shutdown, says al-Ghobar, who adds: “If our forums are blocked, truth will spread through the many email addresses of influential people that we should search and add to our lists.” The enemy will not be able to restrain this campaign, especially when the guerilla network expands. Al-Ghobar believes his plan would spare jihadis unwanted scrutiny by security forces because each member of the network will belong to a small cell connected to another cell through one jihadi who would remain anonymous.
Al-Ghobar concludes his plan by emphasizing the procedures necessary for secure internet communication, such as proxies recommended by alhesbah and ekhlaas website administrators and encryption programs, revealing that he has already obtained and tested the necessary software for his proposed plan. Until his internet invasion battalions can be launched, al-Ghobar suggests uploading websites to the internet with specious domain names.
There are disadvantages to al-Ghobar’s concept of internet guerrilla warfare. The decentralized structure of al-Ghobar’s scheme might cause slackness, consequently leading to disconnection among jihadis. Female jihadis, who al-Ghobar regards as the spearhead of all jihadi operations for their commitment and perseverance, might get involved in unreligious practices through private contacts between males and females. According to Islam, females are not allowed to communicate privately with marriageable males. To overcome this religious taboo, al-Ghobar suggests females communicate over the internet through a male sibling or unmarriageable relative.
Forum participants responded positively to al-Ghobar’s proposed IGW and contributed to the plan with further comments and revisions. To encourage members’ participation, one participant suggested the imposition of new regulations banning non-active members from the forums. Another member added the need to build strong infrastructure for the proposed IGW, comprised of flexible email addresses, strong proxies and decentralized administration, comparing the plan, once implemented, to a nuclear fission-like chain of action spreading jihad across the internet. Other participants asserted their willingness to become part of jihadi media support groups in crisis situations. To evade scrutiny by security forces, forum members suggested changing the name of the jihadi encryption software “Secrets of the Mujahideen” into something less suspicious and dividing the groups non-geographically to avoid identification and restriction by intelligence services (see Terrorism Monitor, September 27, 2007).
The question is whether we are better off without jihadi websites. The decision to shut down jihadi websites should be based on the separate examination of each website. The decision making process must weigh the intelligence value against the security risk posed by the website, information attainable only through prolonged monitoring and analysis of the activities and contents of rogue jihadi websites.