Counterterrorist and legal scholars, as well as private citizens, are carrying on a vital debate about the pros and cons of eliminating Islamist websites.
Brian Fishman, an official at the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point, stresses the intelligence value of leaving the sites up.
Peter S. Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University, points out that even under material-support legislation, it’s hard to put the operators of these sites behind bars.
Others are concerned that bringing the sites down might drive some jihadists yet farther into cyberspace.
Contrarily, Andrew C. McCarthy, a former chief assistant United States attorney who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, believes that prosecutors should consider treason. He added that the 1996 antiterrorism law should “make it much easier for prosecutors to win cases, especially in national security.”
The debate is certainly critical from a security standpoint, for as a Christian-Lebanese engineer named Joseph G. Shahda states (as reported in The New York Times), “the threat from the online jihadists now includes not only recruitment but also battlefield know-how.” “’They tell people how to build car bombs, use suicide belts, be snipers, do guerrilla warfare,’” he says.
This particular battle on the terror front will be hard won. Through his private efforts, Shahda succeeded in getting 40 Islamist militant sites bumped off the internet. Yet most of these sites eventually reappeared online when their operators changed to new Internet providers.