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Iraq's tech-savvy insurgents find supporters on Internet
San Francisco Chronicle


July 12, 2005

Insurgents and their supporters have created a sophisticated network on the Internet to help them recruit suicide bombers to Iraq, according to interviews with terrorism experts and a review of the online material.

Using the latest technology available to anyone with a laptop, they are publishing detailed videos of hostage killings, online magazines that recap violent actions in and around Baghdad, and dense manuals that explain everything from how to enter Iraq illegally to how to make a suicide bomb vest or plant deadly explosives.

Online forums have also been created that applaud coordinated bombings such as the one that hit London three days ago. Within hours of the attacks, which killed dozens of people and injured hundreds, a Web site that promotes fundamentalist viewpoints,, was inundated with jubilation over the deadly action. Typical was a posting that said, "London has been shook by the attacks of those heroes. ... I feel victory is coming. Great Britain's day of loss is coming."

"If you want to join the jihad, you will find a way on the Internet," says Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, a Washington organization that stands for Search for International Terrorist Entities and monitors Web sites run by Islamic fundamentalists.

Going beyond just publishing their views online, Iraqi insurgents and their sympathizers are monitoring users of their Web sites, then contacting those who seem the most sympathetic to killing American soldiers, Iraqi military and others, says Gabriel Weimann, a communications professor and author of a study, "How Modern Terrorism Uses the Internet." While U.S. authorities are aware of the mushrooming presence of these extremist sites, there's little they can do to stop them - partly because the sites are quick to reappear with a different Web address when they are disabled.

It's unclear exactly how many Web sites are devoted to promoting holy war in Iraq and in other countries, but terrorism experts say that Iraqi insurgents and their supporters have created dozens and dozens, possibly hundreds, of these Arabic-language Web sites. The sites range from simple message boards where people can post their feelings about Iraq to intricate multimedia centers that have downloadable magazines and videos. A recent "Road to Iraq" guide published by an online magazine called Jihadweb advises recruits coming through Syria to "wear jeans" and "use a portable music player" so they'll appear more westernized.

With the help of an Arabic translator, The Chronicle reviewed some of the most popular sites. Besides serving as recruiting tools, these sites are intended to boost the morale of the insurgents and their sympathizers. The sites have increased greatly in the past year, coinciding with the uptick in Iraq's suicide bombings.

There's "a great deal of evidence to suggest a direct correlation between (insurgent) propaganda and the recruitment of individuals into the terrorist movement," says Evan Kohlmann, a New York terrorism analyst who monitors Islamist Web sites and has testified before Congress.

In the past three months, more than 200 suicide bombings have occurred in Iraq, according to news accounts. In the first year of the conflict, fewer than 70 suicide bombings occurred.

One recent bombing, Kohlmann says, involved a student who was an ardent follower of a Web forum connected to Ansar al-Sunna, one of the most violent insurgent groups operating in Iraq. Abu Osama al-Sudani was active on the Muntada al-Ansar Web forum, which has appeared in different incarnations, including and, both of which no longer operate. Al-Sudani was a Sudanese student living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who killed himself in a suicide operation in Baquba, Iraq, according to a Web posting viewed by The Chronicle.

"He was an active participant on these forums," says Kohlmann, who has monitored Islamist Web sites since 1997 and says the Muntada al-Ansar forum was the main one used by Iraqi insurgents to post messages. "Every time a representative of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group would post a message, (al- Sudani) would say, 'Congratulations.' A few months ago, he posted a message saying he had seen enough. He could not bear to hear the news of jihad from Iraq anymore without participating himself. He issued a goodbye note, saying, 'I'm off to Iraq to be martyred' and 'Wish me luck.' About a month later, somebody else posted a message with the phone number of his family in Sudan, explaining that he had gone to Iraq and been martyred there fighting with Zarqawi's group."

The posting of al-Sudani's death referred to a "martyrdom operation" that happened on March 16, the same day a suicide bomber killed four Iraqi soldiers and wounded 15 in Baquba, a city about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The Internet is such an infinite resource that the holy war videos, manuals, photos and articles would - if published - fill a large university library. A recent Internet edition of the "Encyclopedia of Jihad" alone is 600 pages, though it takes up just 28 megabytes of computer space, according to Kohlmann, who has translated brief sections of it. The encyclopedia's table of contents lists such chapters as "How to Kill," "Explosive Devices," "Manufacturing Detonators" and "Assassination with Mines."


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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