Report by Morten Skjoldager and Jakob Sheikh: “Danish Islamists are in Holy War on the Internet”
Cyber-warriors have links to al-Qaeda, for example, and pose a real terrorist threat, experts say.
It was past midnight on New Year`s Eve last year, when the 18-year-old secondary school student NW sat down at the keyboard.
The Dane of Somali extraction responded to a letter that a radical imam charged with terrorism had disseminated on Facebook a few hours before from his prison cell in Florida.
The FBI`s antiterrorism unit had found weapons in the imam`s apartment, and he is suspected of being a link in a network that sends Islamists and weapons for terrorist attacks to Europe, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.
Encouraged the Imam
Seated at his computer thousands of kilometers away in Aarhus, NW decided to encourage the imam suspected of terrorism:
“Allah said in the Koran : `They want to extinguish God`s light with their mouth; but God will make his light perfect, even if the infidels hate it.` May Allah liberate our brother,” he wrote.
For the 18-year-old Somali Dane, there is nothing unusual about supporting an imam suspected of terrorism on Facebook. He often shares radical views on his publicly accessible Facebook profile, and for example, as his favorite quotation, he cites an Islamic scholar`s view of the fight against the enemies of Islam:
“What can my enemies do to me? In my breast, I bear both my heaven and my ocean. If I travel, this is with me; it never leaves me. For me, imprisonment is a chance to be alone with the Lord. Being killed is martyrdom.”
Charged with Planning Terrorism
NW and his older brother, aged 23, are today charged with preparing for a concrete terrorist attack: “among other things through conversations on the methods, targets, and use of types of weapons,” as PET (Danish Security and Intelligence Service) stated in connection with the arrest of the brothers in May.
NW`s older brother is also suspected of training as a terrorist in a camp associated with the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab.
The Public Prosecutor is currently considering whether a formal indictment should be issued, so it is not yet certain that PET`s charges will hold.
But 18-year-old NW is still a good example of the modern generation of Islamists who fight their religious war on the Internet.
For several months, Politiken has followed the communication in the social media among several radical Muslims living in Denmark. We have followed their activities into the underground of the Internet, into closed militant forums inPakistan and Yemen, where thoughts about jihad and terrorism were exchanged.
Share Videos of Beheadings
This has allowed us to chart a loosely associated cyber-network of primarily young Muslim men who were born or grew up in Denmark. They go to secondary school here or hold ordinary jobs, such as fitness instructor, welfare worker, and air-mechanic apprentice at Copenhagen Airport.
But these same Danish men also express support for banned movements and concrete actions, which, under Danish law are defined as terrorism.
On Facebook and other homepages they share videos of beheadings and propaganda from the terrorist network al-Qaeda, and when they write to friends on these social networks, their statements are permeated with a deep hatred of Denmark.
Several of them welcome the killing of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan and urge like-minded people to carry out terrorist acts in the service of holy war.
According to the world`s leading experts on cyber-terrorism, these young cyber-jihadists do pose a threat, because these activities in cyberspace can radicalize young Muslims and motivate them to commit terrorist acts in the real world.
The terrorist network al-Qaeda`s longstanding chief ideologist, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over as top leader after the death of Usama bin Ladin, discovered many years ago what opportunities the Internet presents. In October 2005, Zawahiri wrote in a letter to the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, al-Zarqawi:
“I am telling you: we are in the midst of a battle, and more than half of this struggle is taking place on the media battleground.”
A symbolic example of this development came the night before 30 December 2011, when a man who has taken on the role of spokesman for the Taliban inAfghanistan, logged onto the social network Twitter in order to pass on an important message to the more than 6000 people who follow him.
“Breaking: Three French terrorists have been killed by shots from Afghani soldiers at the Shamshad base in the Tagab district (Kapisa) at 06:30 hours today,” he wrote in an update.
The Taliban communicating with the rest of the world is not sensational in itself, but on this occasion, the terrorist movement was so quick to publish its report that several news agencies picked up this information and published articles even before the French authorities had managed to confirm or deny the casualties.
Not Only the Taliban are Stepping up Use of the Internet
According to the world`s leading expert on cyber-jihad, Professor Dominique Thomas of the Institute for Islamic Research in Paris, this episode made the world aware of the way in which terrorists increasingly use the Internet to further their cause:
“The social media in particular give the jihadists several advantages: they are safe to use, easy to maintain, and they are decentralized, so they can be directed from anywhere on the globe. In addition, Western anti-terrorist units cannot simply close down a profile on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube without attacking the entire mother site,” he said.
The cyber war has become part of the struggle against the enemy, and the Taliban are by no means the only terrorist movement that has stepped up its campaign to recruit new warriors on the Internet. In Somalia as well, Al-Shabaab`s official Twitter profile often responds directly to the military`s announcements.
The cyber-jihadists` inspiration comes to a large degree from the now deceased al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed last year in an American drone attack in Yemen.
In his influential sermons, which were disseminated via the Internet to millions of sympathizers around the world, the charismatic Awlaki repeatedly urged jihadists to make use of YouTube, Facebook, and closed jihad forums.
“We Love Osama”
It is hardly accidental that NW, who is charged with terrorism, chose on 8 May of this year to replace his Facebook profile picture with a photo of Awlaki. The new generation of cyber-Islamists openly proclaims views that no one would have publicly stated or written just a few years ago, and NW from Aarhus is no exception.
In his Facebook profile, the Somali-Dane has uploaded pictures of al-Qaeda leader Abu Basir and added the caption “true victory belongs to the Muslims” flanked by an automatic rifle.
He also says he supports jihad and wants to die at prayer. Sympathy for radical forces was also reflected later the same month when NW published a status update:
“If a mujahedeen (holy Muslim warrior, ed. note) fights to glorify Allah`s words, he is called a `terrorist.` In the Prophet`s time, he who did all of these things was called a `Muslim.`”
Politiken`s monitoring of Danish cyber-Islamists shows that NW communicates with a number of Islamists all over Denmark who also use Facebook to cultivate radical views. On 9 February, more than two months after the correspondence with the imam suspected of terrorism in Florida, NW uploaded two new pictures from his mobile phone to his Facebook profile.
“The Blind Sheikh”
The pictures are from the local mosque, where pastel green prayer carpets and empty plastic chairs are illuminated by naked fluorescent tubes.
Also attending prayers that day was his friend from Langkaer secondary school outside Aarhus, the 19-year-old Turkish-Dane MA, who has contact through the social media with a broad section of key individuals in radical Muslim groups.
In his Facebook profile, in words and pictures, MA praises the leading Egyptian terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman, also called “the blind sheikh,” who since the mid-1990`s has been serving a life sentence for terrorism in an American jail.
In a status update on Facebook, MA quotes the blink sheikh as saying not to regret being punished for “purging suspicion and that which is wrong:”
“I have no fear of imprisonment or execution. . . And I would not be sad if they decided to kill me, because that would be martyrdom for Allah`s cause.”
Call for Violent Jihad
MA is not charged with terrorism like his friend from school NW, but he has not tried to hide his radical views on Facebook:
He has uploaded a video from a demonstration against the Muhammad film Innocence of Muslims, where the Turkish-Dane himself can be seen shouting “jihad, jihad,” and “Obama, Obama, we love Osama,” referring to the deceased al-Qaeda leader.
MA also praises al-Qaeda`s “great warrior” Usama bin Ladin while he urges his friends to take part in violent jihad.
“If you do not take the initiative to attack them (the infidels, ed. note), they will move first to attack you,” he wrote in a comment on a friend`s picture.
Real Terrorist Threat
The big question is how seriously it should be taken when secondary-school students like NW and MA boast of their radical opinions on public Facebook homepages. Is this really that dangerous?
Yes, is the response if you ask PET or a number of international researchers, who are increasingly focusing on radicalization through the social media.
In the first place, there are actually examples of terrorists who have apparently been radicalized by the Internet. And secondly, PET and the experts are concerned that the increasing use of seemingly innocent social media like Facebook can lead young Muslims on to other and more serious homepages and individuals.
(Passage omitted on statement by American terrorism researcher) Contact with Militant Islamists Abroad
If you follow the trail from the secondary-school friends NW and MA out into cyberspace, you can see, for example, that they are both linked on Facebook to a man residing in Copenhagen who has a previous conviction for planning a terrorist attack in Denmark.
The Dane convicted of terrorism supports European jihad, and in his statements on Facebook, he makes no secret of the fact that his opinions have not changed.
“Exploit your power and strength to the utmost, including your warhorses, against them, in order to instill fear in your enemies` hearts,” wrote the Danish terrorist, who said he is inspired by the mujahedeen, and that he studied at the fictive Taliban University.
If the two secondary-school students want to put actions behind their words about going to war, there are people in their online networks who claim they have contacts with militant Islamists abroad: for example, the Danish-Pakistani HA, whom MA has communicated with several times in recent months.
Unofficial Recruiting Platform for al-Qaeda
The Pakistani-Dane`s activity on Facebook is limited, but the trail can be followed on to two Urdu-language jihad forums, both with ties to the radical “red mosque” in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
In these closed forums, to which Politiken has gained access, the Danish-Pakistani is in written contact with users who call themselves foot soldiers in the Somali al-Shabaab organization and in al-Qaeda in Yemen. HI is also a diligent translator.
Immediately after sentence was passed on the Somali-Dane Mohammed Gelle, who tried to kill caricaturist Kurt Westergaard, HI published a translated version of that story with the personal comment: “Sooner or later he (Westergaard, ed. note) will die, God willing.”
In the Internet forum al-Qital, which functions as an unofficial recruiting platform for al-Qaeda, the Danish Pakistani replied on 6 April this year to a user`s call for jihad: “I volunteer for any occasion.” Later he translated an article about the jailing of NW and his brother with the addition of a comment: “May blood flow from the infidels in Denmark.”
(Description of Source: Copenhagen Politiken.dk in Danish — Website of independent, large-circulation, left-of-center national daily. URL: http://www.politiken.dk)
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