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Terrorist Activities on the Internet

Winter 1998
Terrorist Activities
on the Internet
Response to
Terrorist Web Sites
Response to
The Encryption Debate

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Terrorism and the Internet are related in two ways. First, the Internet has become a forum for terrorist groups and individual terrorists both to spread their messages of hate and violence and to communicate with one another and with sympathizers. Secondly, individuals and groups have tried to attack computer networks, including those on the Internet ­ what has become known as cyberterrorism or cyberwarfare.

At this point, terrorists are using the Internet more than they are attacking it. At least 12 of the 30 groups on the State Department's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations maintain Web sites on the Internet. While U.S. officials believe that some terrorists use encrypted E-mail to plan acts of terrorism, most groups appear to use the Internet to spread their propaganda. Former chief of operations at the FBI Buck Revell told U.S. News and World Report that "As long as they don't specifically engage in criminal acts, they can do anything they want to aid and abet their activities. This is a safe haven for them."

Most Internet sites of terrorist groups seek to advance the organization's political and ideological agenda. Immediately after the Peruvian terrorist group Tupac Amaru stormed the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima and held scores of diplomatic, political and military officials hostage in December 1996, Tupac Amaru sympathizers in the U.S. and Canada established several solidarity Internet sites, one of which included detailed drawings of the terrorists' plan of assault on the Japanese Ambassador's residence.

Indeed, Latin American guerrilla movements are among the most electronically sophisticated extremist groups, according to a study in the Wall Street Journal. Mexico's Zapatista guerrillas have been rallying support online since their 1994 uprising. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fields press inquiries through electronic mail. The Web site of Peru's primary terrorist organization, Shining Path, contains scrolls of Marxist-Leninist propaganda.

Islamic militant organizations also use the Internet to disseminate their anti-Western, anti-Israel propaganda. Several Internet sites created by Hamas supporters, for example, carry the organization's charter and its political and military communiqués, some of which openly call for and extol the murder of Jews. Others, like the Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic organization based in Britain, uses its Web site to provide details to the public about its regular meetings around the United Kingdom. Still others use the Internet to raise funds; Hezbollah, for example, the pro-Iranian Shiite terrorist organization based in south Lebanon, sells books and publications through its Web site.

Some Israeli and U.S. officials believe that terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad use the Internet to provide specific instructions to fellow terrorists including maps, photographs, directions, codes and technical details of how to use explosives.

In addition to terrorist sites, the World Wide Web also contains dozens of sites run by domestic white supremacist and militia groups using the information superhighway to promote their radical, anti-U.S. Government agendas. Such sites are run by militias, their sympathizers, common-law "theorists" and activists as well as would-be secessionist groups such as the self-proclaimed "Republic of Texas."

Many of these sites link to other Web pages that are filled with gun-related, survival, paramilitary and pseudo-judicial information and stories of corruption and murder in the highest realms of the government. E Pluribus Unum, for example, served as the online voice of the Ohio Unorganized Militia, featuring a number of pages listing, with accompanying diagrams, the aiming points for a full man-sized target to show where to aim to hit the target in mid-chest "at various distances up to 500 yards."

Other sites actually provide information on how to build bombs as well as instructions for making dangerous chemical and explosive weapons. Many of these sites post the "Terrorist's Handbook" and "The Anarchist Cookbook" which offer detailed instructions of how to construct a wide range of bombs. The anonymous authors of such Web sites often include a disclaimer that the processes described should not be carried out.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Federal agents investigating at least 30 bombings and four attempted bombings between 1985 and June 1996 recovered bomb-making literature that the suspects had obtained from the Internet. Among the many examples, in February 1996, three junior high school students from Syracuse, NY, were charged with plotting to set off a homemade bomb in their school, based on plans they had found on the Internet. While many have called for laws restricting the publication of bomb-making instructions on the Internet, others have pointed out that this material is already easily accessible in bookstores and libraries.

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