Last year, a U.S. think tank published a report on its Web site
on an armored vehicle called the Stryker being used by U.S. forces
in Iraq. Within hours, the report had been linked on a password-protected
al-Qaida Web site.
"The report detailed the weaknesses of the Stryker,"
said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, which tracks and
investigates terrorist Web activity for government agencies and
corporate clients. "[An al-Qaida member] posted that report
on the Web site and asked the members to deliver this report to
the members of al-Qaida in Iraq."
Allah reward the one who translates it with paradise," the
The incident was just one of many where the free and fast flow
of information on the Internet has become a weapon wielded by
insurgents in Iraq. They have access to more information about
U.S. equipment and weapons, and the ability to share technical
and strategic information instantaneously.
The Internet has also provided an international platform for
shaping propaganda, recruiting people to participate in jihad
and raising funds.
Posting videos that glorify violence against U.S. troops and
Shiites, building Web sites, utilizing public and private message
boards and detailed maps, and hacking into sites to steal credit
card information are all tactics used by jihadists and Iraqi Sunni
"A lot of the war in Iraq has been fought on the Internet,"
Katz said, by bringing together recruits, resources and training
materials to wage the physical war.
Iraq's Sunni insurgent groups
Among the militia groups in Iraq, terrorism experts
agree Sunni insurgents are by far more active on the Web.
But within this group, a growing rift between nationalist and
jihadist forces has been reflected in the messages broadcast by
these sites, said Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo in a 70-page
report on Iraqi insurgent media for Radio Free Europe released
nationalist insurgents limit their media messages to Iraq, advocating
the downfall of Iranian and Shiite influence and the defeat of
the occupying U.S. Forces
Katz has observed a major increase in propaganda against Shia
Muslims, as the violent clash between Shiites and Sunnis continues
in Iraq. Jihadist rhetoric has long centered on the concept of
infidels against Muslims, Katz said.
The jihadist groups' message is shaped with Iraq as a piece of
a much wider goal.
"They are more global in focus
they make it clear
they want the whole word under Islamic domination," said
Laura Mansfield, a terrorism analyst who runs a blog of terrorist
Web activity and translates Arabic material for Western media
The videos and media products of the Iraqi insurgency may not
be filmed to support a global jihad, but they are a boon regardless,
said the Kimmage and Ridolfo report, because the powerful images
of violence can be repackaged by the extensive jihadist media
network to fit their purposes.
Influence through media
Terrorist groups have entire media production arms
and some have brigades devoted to multimedia production, indicating
the high priority of crafting the organizations' messages.
Global Islamic Media Front and As-Sahab are two media groups
al-Qaida uses. Al-Qaida and other terrorist or jihadist groups
have a few official password protected sites where they release
This setup allows groups to "maintain the integrity of their
'brand'" because they have sources of authoritative communication,
said Michael Doran, deputy assistant secretary of defense at the
U.S. Department of Defense, testifying at a U.S. Senate committee
hearing in May.
information is then spread and distributed among well connected
Web sites until it reaches sites and users that might have only
a fringe association or are ideological supporters of the jihad.
Videos of glorified attacks on U.S. Troops and Shiites have become
a common part of official releases. The largest producer of videos
out of Iraq is the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization
for Sunni insurgents affiliated with al-Qaida in Iraq, with a
video coming out almost every day, Mansfield said.
A video released by the group in June claimed they had custody
of two missing U.S. soldiers that forces had been searching for
in vain. The video showed the soldiers' ID cards and insurgents
planning the kidnapping. It was picked up and used in Western
Mainstream Arabic media has been a main target of jihadist and
insurgent media products for many years, but increasingly, videos
are released with English subtitles, showing the intent of the
videos to be viewed by a Western audience.
"They are very media savvy and they are manipulating the
heck out of the media," Mansfield said. "The videos
are more flashy and the graphics are better
some of them
could be network documentaries
the software has really improved
over the last few years."
A tool of jihad
Iraqis themselves are not the target audience for online
insurgent media materials, said Kimmage and Ridolfo in their report,
"although DVDs with insurgent films are available for sale
Much of the propaganda is aimed at attracting foreign fighters
to the jihad in Iraq, according to Mansfield. Ideological writings
and videos are available online in many different languages for
Internet can "function as a kind of virtual extremist madrassa,"
said Doran, making the most important writings central to jihadist
ideology easily accessible and easy to distribute. Manuals for
creating weapons or how to carry out attacks are all readily available.
Getting supporters to feel involved in the jihad on any level
possible has spawned popular online jihad-based video games and
Lt. Colonel Joseph Felter, director of the Combat Terrorism Center
at the U.S. Military Academy, described at a Senate hearing one
example of a jihadist group that held an online design competition
with the prize to launch a rocket aimed at a U.S. base in Iraq
by the click of a mouse button.
Coordinating online attacks on sites is another way terrorist
groups use the Internet. Individuals exchange tools for hacking
and coordinate denial of service attacks, by inundating a site
from many different locations to shut them down, said Dorothy
Denning, a professor in the Department of Defense Analysis at
the Naval Postgraduate School. The attacks are sometimes aimed
at anti-terrorist Web sites that provide translations of terrorist
Meanwhile, those working to shut terrorist sites down face an
"There are a whole series of people that go around trying
to find all these [Web sites] and shut them down," Mansfield
said. "They will be back up in 24 hours somewhere else anyway,
it really doesn't slow things down."