NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 3, 2006

The Internet has long been essential for terrorism, but the rapid growth of Web sites supporting radical Islam and jihadists (persons engaged in an armed struggle in defense of Islam) suggest that recruitment for a "holy war" against the West could proceed unabated, despite the capture of key leaders, says Scientific American contributor Luis Miguel Ariza.

The war in Iraq provides plenty of motivation for radicals, and the Internet appears to be facilitating them in creating a virtual Islamic nation, says Ariza:

  • The number of all terrorist Web sites -- those advocating or inciting terrorism or political violence -- has grown from a dozen in 1997 to almost 4,700 today, a nearly 400-fold increase.
  • By comparison, the total number of Web sites has risen about 50- to 100-fold.
  • The growth includes various Marxist, Nazi and racist groups, but the dominant type is the Islamist-jihadist variety, which accounts for about 70 percent.

Moreover, the open, anarchic structure of the Internet lends support to terrorists groups so they can recruit new members, look for goals or inspiration and develop more autonomous groups, says Ariza.

However, solutions do exist since the nature of Islamist-jihadist sites could be turned against them; but they might come at the expense of the Internet's promised freedoms, says Ariza:

  • Data mining could sniff out jihadists or remove information before would-be terrorists see it.
  • The lack of authenticity created by the many jihad Web sites could serve as a basis for a misinformation campaign to foil jihadists.
  • Chat rooms could also serve as a forum for life-affirming ideas as it does for terrorist ones.

Source: Luis Miguel Ariza, "Virtual Jihad," Scientific American, January 2006.

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