indoctrinate, recruit, train, and finance the next generation of terrorists. Increasingly besieged on the battlefield, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and their Islamist brethren now seek anonymity and freedom of movement online through a vast and sophisticated terrorist web network. To counter their influence, policymakers and counterterrorism officials need to treat these outlets as indistinguishable from the terrorist organizations that use them.
The threat is real. A declassified April 2006 U. S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded: “The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the Internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint. We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train and obtain logistical and financial support.” . . .
Major General John M. Custer III, Commanding General of the U. S. Army Intelligence Center, underscores the impact of online terrorist media: “I see 16, 17-year-olds who have been indoctrinated on the Internet turn up on the battlefield . . . You start off with a site that looks like current news in Iraq. With a single click, you’re at an active jihad attack site . . . You can see humvees blown up . . . small arms attacks . . . Next link will take you to a motivational site, where mortar operatives, suicide bombers, are pictured in heaven [providing] religious justification for mass murder.”
Terrorist online platforms are a critical part of the battlefield on which the Long War against violent Islamist extremism is being fought. If they hope to persevere, Western democracies need to take aggressive and direct action against these media properties.
What can be done? A great deal as it turns out — from shutting down these sites to exploiting them for counterterrorism purposes.